A Closer Look At The Phantom

For years and years Hollywood has looked to the theatre for their next and best movie projects. From Showboat in 1951, West Side Story in 1961, Little Shop Of Horrors in 1986, or Evita in 1996 there has been no shortage of theatre crossovers on the big screen. The resurgence of this has come with 2002’s Chicago. Winning the Oscar no doubt will open up the flood gates with everything Hollywood producers can throw at us.
With the teaser trailer just released, I figured there is no better time to discuss The Phantom of the Opera. A film version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s successful musical has long been in the works. I for one never thought it would happen. Everyone you can think of has been mentioned in the role of the deformed Phantom, from John Travolta (who by the way hasn’t done a musical in years) to Antonio Banderas (after his awesome performance in the film version of Evita).

The Phantom and Christine
The role eventually went to (drum roll please) Gerard Butler. Who? Gerard would be known for the big hit movies Timeline and Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life and the cult favorite Trainspotting. The role of Christine, the young ingenue the Phantom falls in love with, has gone to Emmy Rossum, who has been seen as Sean Penn’s murdered daughter in Mystic River and the love interest of Jake Gyllenhall in The Day After Tomorrow. The role of the dashing Raoul has gone to Patrick Wilson. I had hoped to see Hugh Jackman in this role, but seeing that he is pretty tied up with The Boy From Oz, I figured that wouldn’t happen. Patrick Wilson has recently gained attention in Angels in America  where he played Joe Pitt, a homosexual Mormon man. His performance earned him a Golden Globe Nomination. The strangest bit of casting comes is Minnie Driver as Carlotta, the diva opera singer. Simon Callow, Miranda Richardson, and Ciaran Hinds round out the rest of the cast.

Set to direct the film is Joel Schumacher. He has directed Veronica Guerin, Phone Booth, A Time to Kill, and Falling Down to name a few. The casting choices were left up to Schumacher who wanted the cast to be “young and sexy.” Lloyd Webber’s request was that “the three leads have to be good singers.”  With that I have to assume that this cast has the pipes to perform music as difficult as Phantom’s. 

Emmy Rossum has just turned 17 and has been singing at the Metropolitan Opera since she was 7 and seems to understand the character of Christine and her motivations for being seduced by the Phantom. Rossum said in an interview, “the character, Christine, is very lonely, needy, and vulnerable, and because of that she’s manipulated; so there was a range of emotion to explore. I also had a close friend who died about two months before we started shooting, and that influenced my performance because the character thinks she sees her father, who passed on when she was about 9, and that this man, the Phantom, is a conduit of his spirit.”

Christine and Raoul

Patrick Wilson is no stranger to Broadway.  He has starred in Oklahoma and The Full Monty, for which he has received Tony Award Nominations. He has also starred in the touring companies of Carousel and Miss Saigon. He has the right look for Raoul, young and handsome, and the more I think about him, the more I like him. Although I have never heard him sing, after seeing his performance in Angels in America, I have no doubt he can pull off a loving, desperate, yet conflicted Raoul.

Gerard Butler is an unknown Scottish actor whom I know very little about and seems to have very little theater experience. Schumacher gushed about him saying, “he’s the greatest, he’s like the Scottish version of Colin Farrell. He’s just a regular guy, he says it like it is. And he’s a fabulous singer. I knew him before we started casting Phantom and he told me he’d been in a band. I asked him if he could sing – not just stand up on stage with a guitar, but really sing – and he said ‘I think I could’. Then when he came in to audition he blew me and Andrew Lloyd Webber away. He’s going to be a great Phantom – a young, sexy Phantom.” The Phantom is the glue that holds the story together. To be effective, Butler must make him frightening, horrifying, pathetic, charming and make the audience feel sympathy for him all at the same time.

Now seems the perfect time to address the thousands of fans who were up in arms that Michael Crawford was not cast in the role of the Phantom. Lets think about the age difference. Emmy Rossum is 17 and cannot pass for much older than that. Michael Crawford is 62. We are approaching Anna Nicole Smith territory here.  There is no way he could be the Phantom now, he is just too old. Schumacher has also had some comments on the controversy, “”and I know the Michael Crawford fans are going to be hysterical, but maybe they should stay home then.” Right on Joel!

The cast member I am crossing my fingers for is Minnie Driver as Carlotta.

She has admitted that she is “absolutely not” an opera singer and that “it would have been ridiculously arrogant to believe I could pull it off without a lifetime of training.” She said she can sing “the low stuff, “ but I even wonder about that. I know she is releasing an album this fall, but I have heard nothing that proves to me that she can sing at all. Who new Renee Zellwegger could sing and dance right? I have no doubt she will be able to pull off a convincing diva.