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.

*Spoilers Ahead*

The Phantom tells the story of a deformed man who lives in and haunts the crypts of the Paris Opera House. He falls in love with the young singer and ingenue, Christine, with whom he takes under his wing to perfect her voice. At the heart of the story is the tortured soul that is that Phantom. The film will include some of his back story. This is severely lacking in the musical. I have not read the famous novel that serves as the source material, but I think the film will be much better for including some of his back story. It gives a reason for the pain he is suffering which leads him to the horrible actions he takes. According to reports the film will include a scene in which Madame Giry first meets Erik (The Phantom) at the fair, and how she helps him hide from the authorities by taking him to the Opera House after he has killed his owner whom has kept him in a cage.

Patrick Wilson is quoted as saying, “it's the same as the play, fans of the musical will love it. I think it will exceed their expectations. There are no songs cut - there's actually one added. This movie is Andrew Lloyd Webber's baby, and he kept the integrity of the show. The things you only imagine in the stage version really happen on the screen." Saying that there have to be some changes in making a good adaptation of a musical. Some of the reported changes include moving the scene in which the chandelier crashes to the stage. Instead of after “All I Ask Of You,” it will fall after “The Point of No Return.” This change will certainly up the drama at the end of the film. This change will make a change in the dialogue during Masquerade a necessity since The Phantom mentions the chandelier. The manager’s second act “Notes” number has been changed to just dialogue spoken by the Phantom after “Masquerade.” This change will force the introduction into Raoul’s plans to be moved elsewhere. The ending has been lengthened to tie together any remaining questions and to connect the beginning and the end of the film. It begins with the auction and an old Raoul journeying through Paris to a cemetery all in black and white. Then we are plunged into color and Raoul’s memory of the events of 1870. The film ends with the camera drawing through the mask the Phantom has left behind for Meg and becoming black and white again with Raoul in the cemetery at Christine’s grave.

The biggest change will be the addition of a new song and three new pieces of music. The new song, titled “No One Would Listen,” will take place in the Phantom’s lair after Madame Giry’s recount to Raoul how she first met Erik at the fair and how he came to be in the Opera. Andrew Lloyd Webber has said this about the additions, “there are three new pieces of music, and one entirely new song. In the film they've added a sequence in which we learn more about back story of the Phantom--where he came from and what happened to him. At the end of the sequence, he sings a song about his emptiness and loneliness and that he's been rejected from the moment he was a child. It's called ‘No One Would Listen'. I'm quite pleased with it!" This is a great edition. I have longed to truly understand the Phantom’s torment.

Masquerade, Hide Your Face So The World Will Never Find You

As for the trailer. Obviously it is just a teaser, and that is a perfect name for it. The countless number of images speed by so fast that it would take many viewing to catch it all. The look of the film looks awesome. The lushness seems just right. The leads have the right look for their characters, and I got a couple of chuckles at seeing Minnie Driver in Carlotta’s elaborate costumes. The beautiful music is there but I still want to hear them sing, and until that happens I will not be totally convinced. If you watch closely you will catch a glimpse of the Phantom unmasked.

The biggest question for me is whether anyone besides fans of the musical will actually want to see this film. Musical films can be very awkward when a character just bursts into song. That is the reason why the film version of Evita with Madonna didn’t work, even though it had some real masterful  performances. The reason why Chicago worked was that the characters had a reason to burst into song, they were in Roxie Hart’s imagination. That is also the reason why Chicago crossed over from just the theatre fan audience to film audiences. Of all the musicals on Broadway, Phantom is one of the most traditional, and without a big name to carry the film, it will have to rely on it’s name and hope it can attract a bigger audience. Most of that will depend on whether it’s cast can actually deliver.

Further Reading on M&C