Saturday, October 8, 2011

Panoramic Photos of Waikiki Using Pano App

Click on either photo for a larger view.

A friend sent these which he made using the Pano app on his iPhone. Click on either panoramic photo above to view larger versions of both. You'll see that these photos offer great views of the the ocean along Waikiki and peak through the hotels of the area with Diamond Head in the distance. The top is taken from the Hilton Hawaiian Village and the one beneath it is taken from the Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk. Click HERE to purchase and download Pano from the iTunes App Store for your iPhone or iPad2. The developer claims it's easy to use. Pano looks worthwhile for those moments that deserve a panoramic view.

Features of Pano:
- Take 360-degree panoramas with up to sixteen photos.
- Guide helps the user to line up each shot.
- Advanced alignment, blending and color-correction provide seamless images in seconds.
- Finished panoramas saved directly to camera roll.
- Final resolution up to 6800x800.
- Panos can be resumed if interrupted.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Review: 'The Phantom of the Opera' at Albert Hall In Celebration of 25 Years in Cinemas

'Phantom' at Albert Hall (image: Alastair Muir)
Lot 666, the chandelier about to be unveiled. (image: reallyuseful)
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ was served in what could be called the ultimate production. Augmenting the original stage designs for the scope of the huge Royal Albert Hall combined with a cast of over 200 actors and musicians would guarantee this 25th anniversary event (initially presented live on Sunday) would be a full-fledged spectacle.

Few would have predicted that any musical would run 25 years in London’s West End much less Broadway (where the show will hit the same milestone in January 2013). If one would consider why the show is successful, many would agree there would be at least two reasons: The tunes that Lloyd Webber composed for ‘Phantom’ are inviting and gorgeous and now classics of the musical theatre: “Music of the Night,” “All I Ask of You,” “Think of Me,” “Masquerade” and the title song.

Secondly is the sumptuous production design by the late Maria Bjornson. No one can deny the detail and extravagance that is the show’s trademarks costumes and sets. When the music and stagecraft were combined, the effect on the audience was breathtaking. This is probably why unlike the 'Les Miserables' 25th Anniversary Concert last year, this production is staged with costumes and sets.

Of course let’s not forget the marketing smarts of producer Cameron Mackintosh who for years relied primarily on a mask and rose to advertise the production. His triumvirate of producing ‘Cats,’ ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Phantom’ made him one of the most powerful people in the theatre.

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo (photo: Alastair Muir)
Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess (photo: Alasatair Muir)
Twenty-five years since the musical premiered in London, we are all a bit older and hopefully wiser and still appreciative of the achievement and artistry of ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ For the 25th anniversary celebration performance at Albert Hall, the creators have brought some of their best players. As the Phantom, Ramin Karimloo made headlines when he first played the role at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London. At 27 he was the youngest actor to play the role in London or New York and that he was born in Iran (but raised in Canada) added to his mystique. Karimloo’s voice was even richer at this performance than at the two shows of ‘Love Never Dies’ (Lloyd Webber’s ‘Phantom’ sequel) I attended in 2010. If Karimloo is not physically imposing as the Phantom he is a seductive and passionate one.

Sierra Boggess comes to Albert Hall via ‘Phantom – The Las Vegas Spectacular’ at the Venetian and ‘Love Never Dies’ where she appeared as Christine in the launch of both productions. Her vibrant and supple soprano glides blissfully through each note in the score. From an enchanting “Think of Me” to a dramatic “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” Karimloo and Boggess are electrifying in their performances.

Raoul, depending on the actor, can become a non-entity due to limited characterization. It would have been nice if Hadley Fraser had some of the rough features he displayed in his other stage roles but at least he looks pretty (someone should have rethought the eyeliner for the big screen). Sometimes the actor portraying Raoul can be wimpy with vocals to match but Hadley has a strong tenor voice and brings a confident performance. “All I Ask of You” by Hadley and Boggess remains a romantic highlight. Want to hear an excellent full-throated vocal from Hadley? Listen to his performance of the song "I'll Be There" on 'The Pirate Queen' cast recording.

The supporting players offer memorable performances as well. Wendy Ferguson firmly grasps the role of the opera diva Carlotta with a robust voice and a welcomed portrayal that is less broad keeping the character from straying too far into caricature. Ferguson is also playing the role at Her Majesty’s Theatre and is a replacement at the celebration for the ill Keira Duffy. The droll aspects of the script were left to Gareth Snook and Barry James as the opera managers Monsieur Andre and Monsieur Firmin with James particularly oily and pompous in his role.

"Masquerade" (photo: Alastair Muir)
Hadley Fraser and Sierroa Boggess (photo: Alastair Muir)
Madame Giry is a key character in the play with limited stage time and Liz Robertson in the role gives the expected stern and wise portrayal while Daisy Maywood is sweet as the young dancer Meg Giry. By the way the “Prima Donna” septet number is glorious.

Director Laurence Connor (who also helmed the International and U.S. ‘Les Miserables’ 25th Anniversary Tours) and original choreographer Gillian Lynne confidently lead the massive undertaking and large cast befitting the fabled venue. Connor is also directing a version of ‘Phantom’ that like this concert borrows elements of the original but will be newly staged for a U.K. tour starting next year.

The set design by Matt Kinley employs the originals by Bjornson and essentially expands them for the scope of Royal Albert Hall. Three levels of gilded opera boxes now flank each side of the false proscenium. The chandelier (the one in Las Vegas is still unrivaled) perched high above the audience makes a dramatic appearance from underneath a cloth to the strains of the familiar overture. It does not crash at the end of act one but goes out in a flame of fireworks.

Probably the best use of the massive Albert Hall stage is during the ‘Masquerade’ sequence where what appears to be a hundred colorfully costumed actors on not one but three grand staircases (two of which are fixed on the sides and serving as an entrance and exit for the actors and one sliding onto center stage. Unfortunately this scene and others were marred from some poor technical direction. At a few moments the cameras were not focused on the right performer at the right time and probably proved a detriment how each actor’s performance was viewed.

Barry James, Wendy Ferguson and Gareth Snook (photo: Alastair Muir)
Red Death appears at the Masquerade ball (photo: Alastair Muir)
One of the new and most unusual aspects of the presentation was the use of video screens as an element of the set design. With the orchestra perched on a bridge above the rear of the stage, sliding video screens were located below them while a larger one loomed above. These were used to great effect to open up the stage to depict the cemetery where Christine visits her father’s grave; the lavish backdrops for the three mini-operas (“Hannibal,” “Il Muto,” and “Don Juan Triumphant”) within the musical; and the roof of the Paris opera house.

One lost opportunity for the evening was redeveloping the Phantom’s trap in his lair that ensnares Raoul. The lasso around his neck just doesn’t cut it. It appears the knife filled torture cage designed for the Las Vegas version is proprietary to that one production which truly imprisons Raoul could not be used here. But a variation would have been welcomed.

After the film I heard others talking that Christine’s return to the Phantom with one last glance before going back to Raoul was supposedly a hint to the sequel ‘Love Never Dies’ but it was not obvious to me. Still with the right performers such as this evening, the ending remains romantic and heartbreaking. The musical was never designed as a horror story though based on Gaston Leroux's novel.

What would a 25th anniversary celebration be without a special finale? The creators made the obligatory appearance with Lloyd Webber trying to find the right words of gratefulness for the show and the evening followed with the presentation of the original 1986 London cast. A false anticipation happened next with the introduction of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman (the original Phantom and Christine). As much as the audience yearned for it Crawford does not sing at all. Reports indicate due to his current role in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ in the West End he was not able to rehearse for the finale. Other reports say he may have been saving his voice due to the eight-performance schedule. Either way it was a disappointment.

Ramin Karimloo (photo: Alastair Muir)
Liz Robertson and Sierra Boggess (photo: Alastair Muir)
However Brightman did sing and when the strains of the title song began four Phantoms appeared on stage to accompany her: Colm Wilkinson (who originated the role in Toronto), Anthony Warlow (Australian production), John Owen-Jones (who has played the role in London) and Swedish music star Peter Joback (who is announced to star next year in the London production). Wilkinson, Warlow and Jones are greeted to enthusiastic applause and less so for Joback who sports a thin voice that is starkly different to the soaring tenors of his co-Phantoms. Karimloo (still fully masked) joins at the end of the number.

The entire company then sing the lyrics that lead into “Music of the Night” which is then performed by the five Phantoms (once more not including Crawford). Again Joback is the weak link. A burst of fireworks round the auditorium and confetti closes the evening.

The show was presented at Royal Albert Hall in two performances on October 1st and the filmed presentation was of the third sell-out performance the next day. The production is planned for release on DVD and Blu-ray. Let’s hope that the camera issues viewed from movie screens are fixed for video.

After seeing ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ live in far flung places as Los Angeles, London, Honolulu, San Francisco, New York, Toronto and Las Vegas, the show has not lost its theatrical magic by being screened in a movie theater. The honest joy about seeing these and tonight’s production is the simple pleasure of hearing beautiful music, enjoying wonderful performances, seeing magnificent stage designs in a romantic story. No doubt seeing ‘Phantom’ again will be in my future.

This review is based on viewing the filmed presentation at Regal Cinemas Dole Cannery in Honolulu, Hawaii on October 5, 2011. Post has been updated to include additional photos.

(Of note: Steve Barton who originated the role of Raoul passed away in 2001 at the age of 47. Official reports indicate the reason was of heart failure. Mary Millar who originated the role of Madame Giry died of ovarian cancer in 1998 at the age of 62. Both actors’ roles are preserved on the original London cast recording of the show.)

Christine takes her bow after "Think of Me". The Royal Albert Hall
audience projected on the set's video screens. (photo: reallyuseful)
Sarah Brightman, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Michael Crawford, Sierra
Boggess and Ramin Karimloo (photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images)
The end of the show (photo: Alastair Muir)
Update: The U.S. release of this special staging of 'The Phantom of the Opera' on DVDBlu-ray and 2CD Set is February 7, 2012.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Review: 'Sunset Boulevard' Rises at DHT in Honolulu

(all photos: Brad Goda/Diamond Head Theatre)
‘Sunset Boulevard’ finally plays Honolulu, Hawaii in a community production at Diamond Head Theatre. The musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of the best of the last twenty years and is among my favorites by the composer. I felt excited and at the same time had thoughts of trepidation with the prospect of seeing this production.

Like Lloyd Webber’s ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ the popularity with ‘Sunset’ was tied to its opulent set design and costumes but more importantly to the actress starring in the lead role. After seeing a production at Washington DC’s Signature Theatre, I honestly felt this show beyond its original carnation could only be made with very mixed results.

‘Sunset Boulevard’ tells of aging silent movie star Norma Desmond who dreams of making a comeback in the world of pictures with sound, or in her words “a return,” to the big screen. Luckless writer Joe Gillis is pulled into Norma’s dark world where he is a kept man writing her screenplay.

Mary Gutzi (Norma Desmond) and Matthew Pennaz (Joe Gillis)
Mary Gutzi
The musical’s book is an adaptation by Christopher Hampton and Don Black, also the show’s lyricists, from the 1950 film starring Gloria Swanson and William Holden. The black and white film classic was nominated for eleven Oscars and won three for screenplay, score and art direction. Faithful to the piece, Hampton and Black, retain portions of the memorable dialogue from the film (Norma: “I am big. It’s the pictures that got small”)

My worries of seeing a pale version of the musical were quickly cured. ‘Sunset Boulevard’ at DHT is a production worthy of competing with presentations by professional theatre companies across the USA. Mary Gutzi (performing with the permission of Actors Equity) embodies the role of the aging star completely as if she stepped directly from playing the role on Broadway.

Her performance of the show’s big numbers of “With One Look” and “As If We Never Said Goodbye” remain showstoppers. Gutzi’s rich voice never hits a wrong note and shakes the rafters when called for. Norma Desmond has some of the best lines ever written for a role and though many of them humorous, Guzti never side steps the tragic underpinnings of the character.

Matthew Pennaz and Joy Bill (Betty Schaefer)
Matthew Pennaz and Mary Gutzi
As a larger than life character Norma Desmond may be, Gutzi dominates her scenes without stomping over the presence of the other actors especially that of her leading man Matthew Pennaz who stars as Joe. Many are unaware that the character of Gillis is rarely off stage and Pennaz is up to the task and gives a sturdy performance as he crosses worlds from the rich and dark one of Norma to the happy and struggling world of his Hollywood friends. He delivers strong vocals throughout the piece especially in the title number. He and Gutzi create stage magic from their first meeting in her mansion to the waltz-like “The Perfect Year.”

Strong supporting players do not disappoint either. Jody Bill as Betty Schafer is the young writer that falls in love with Gillis. She and Pennaz are enchanting together as evidenced in the song “Too Much In Love To Care.” Bill’s performance is ever more impressive when contrasted to her role as Kate Monster/Lucy the Slut in last season’s “Avenue Q” at Manoa Valley Theatre.

Max Von Mayerling, Norma’s dutiful butler, is probably one of the more difficult roles to cast and play. Olivier Jodloman gives a unique performance of Max that is just a shade this side of Gomez Addams but not less substantial. He makes a dramatic impact with “The Greatest Star of All” and its reprise in the second act.

"This Time Next Year" feating the Ensemble.
Olivier Jodloman (Max Von Mayerling)
A large credit for the strong overall production is due to the well cast ensemble. Technical problems with the sound are often as issue at DHT when there is a large group of musical players. I don’t know if it’s a lack of microphones but there were issues here and there. Still the ensemble performed wonderfully with proper musical staging to control their traffic onstage. They are particularly delightful in the opening “Let’s Have Lunch” scenes as well as in “Every Movie’s A Circus” and “This Time Next Year” later in Act One. The women appear to have some fun with the humorous antics in “Eternal Youth Is Worth A Little Suffering”.

Technical aspects play a role in bringing this ‘Sunset’ to life. Costume designer Amy Schrag conjures up old Hollywood and brings gasps of wonder at each extravagant costume change for Norma. Credit is also given to Jess Aki for Gutzi’s transformation into Norma, wigs and makeup for the women and a lack of Justin Bieber hair among the men.

Many will sing praises of Norma’s opulent mansion complete with grand staircase that smoothly slides in and out of place during the course of the play. But set designer Willie Sable also makes excellent recreations of all of the sets from the Paramount Studio gates to a studio back lot. A drop cloth of palm trees really works on stage in this production. Equal credit goes to Stephen Clear for lighting design that brings proper shades to day and night scenes and adds that extra glamour for the mansion scenes no more so than in the segments that take place on New Year’s Eve.

"Eternal Youth Is Worth A Little Suffering" featuring the Ensemble.
Phillip Foster and Fredrico Biven
Director and choreographer John Rampage appears to have put his cast through a severe rehearsal period with equal demand on his designers to present a musical that really is one of best ever staged productions at DHT.

After the through-sung endeavors of ‘Phantom of the Opera’ and ‘Aspects of Love,' many critics were surprised by the inclusion of large portions of spoken dialogue in a Lloyd Webber musical, something that became prevailing touch in all his future musicals. But his score was still substantial capturing the feel of 1950s Hollywood for all the young hopefuls to the grand sweeping ballads for Norma.

From all appearances the show was a labor of love and the hard work invested by those on stage and behind the scenes is evidenced at every turn. A visit to ‘Sunset Boulevard’ at DHT is worth repeating. See it at least once.

'Sunset Boulevard' is presented at Diamond Head Theatre in Honolulu. Performances run from September 30, 2011 to October 16, 2011; 8pm Thursdays and Fridays, 3pm and 8pm Saturdays and 4pm Sundays. Tickets cost $12-$42. Visit for tickets and information. Call 808-733-0274 or visit the theatre box office at 520 Makapuu Ave, Honolulu, HI 96816. (Review of 10/2/11 performance.) Post photos updated on 10/11/11.

Above and below: Mary Gutzi

Sunday, October 2, 2011

'The Phantom of the Opera' at Albert Hall in Celebration of 25 Years: London Comes To A Cinema Near You

Today is the day when the final performance of the special 25th anniversary staging of 'The Phantom of the Opera' at Royal Albert Hall will be screened live at over 500 movie theaters nationwide. The blockbuster musical first opened in London at Her Majesty's Theatre in October 1986.

The live show of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit musical at Royal Albert Hall is one of three sell-out performances this weekend: an evening performance on October 1st and two performances on October 2nd. The show is not billed as 'The Phantom of the Opera' 25th Anniversary Concert unlike the anniversary event for 'Les Miserables' last year. This special event is a fully staged presentation complete with sets and costumes. It incorporates the original designs of Maria Bjornson with direction by Laurence Connor and choreography by Gillian Lynne.

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo
(photo: Bruce Glikas/
Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess (co-stars of Lloyd Webber's 'Phantom' sequel 'Love Never Dies') play The Phantom and Christine Daae and leads a cast and orchestra of over 200 with special guests. The staging also features Hadley Fraser as Raoul, Daisy Maywood as Meg Giry, Barry James as Monsier Firmin, Gareth Snook as Monsier Andre, Liz Robertson as Madame Giry and Wynn Evans as Piangi.

Keira Duffy who was scheduled to play Carlotta announced on her Facebook page "(very regretfully) that nature has decided that I am not meant to sing in Phantom of the Opera after all. I have come down with a bad throat infection, and have had to pull out of the production." Wendy Ferguson currently playing the role in London at Her Majesty's Theatre replaces Duffy.

This special performance will be released on DVD, Blu-ray, CD and digital download. Also previously reported is the Melbourne production of 'Love Never Dies' will also be made available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Visit for a complete list of participating U.S. theaters. Hawaii audiences will be able to view the presentation tape delayed at Regal Cinemas Dole Cannery Stadium 18 (October 2, 5, 11) in Honolulu and Hollywood Theaters Prince Kuhio Theaters 9 (October 2, 5) in Hilo. (Note: This cinema presentation of 'The Phantom Of the Opera' at Royal Albert Hall will be reviewed at the October 5th screening.)

Update: The U.S. release of this special staging of 'The Phantom of the Opera' on DVDBlu-ray and 2CD Set is February 7, 2012.

Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo. Both
previously starred in 'The Phantom of the Opera': Boggess in the
Las Vegas at the Venetian and Karimloo in London at Her Majesty's Theatre.
(photo: Catherine Ashmore)

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