The Most Successful Musical of All Time, The Phantom of the Opera, Arrives on the Silver Screen

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: September 17, 2004 | Publication: O GLOBO (Brazil) | Author: F.D.
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This is a translation of the original article (posted by Zinedina) from a poster on another board who goes by vesalius15 who speaks Portugese:

The name of producer and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber might be viewed with contempt by those who are envious of the golden touch that he seems to have for mounting renowned musical theater productions such as Cats and Evita. But he cannot be accused of having a lack of courage or perseverance. In December, after fifteen years in development, the film version of The Phantom of the Opera arrives in movie theaters worldwide. Although it carries the signature of the man that transformed the 19th century horror story into a romance, this production joins a handful of previous versions, including one that dates as far back as 1925. Not to mention the fact that The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful theatrical production of all time, having amassed 3.2 billion dollars in receipts worldwide.

Since its 1986 debut in London’s West End, the musical has been a money-making machine that has rung its bell in 65 thousand performances in 18 countries, receiving 50 dramatic awards including seven Tonys. The original cast recording has sold 40 million copies, a record for the genre. Yet while there is more than enough evidence that the story written by Gaston Leroux in 1911, which Lloyd Webber first came across at a secondhand bookstore in Paris, is more popular than ever, it will not be a novelty when it arrives on screens in the wake of Moulin Rouge and Chicago that have readapted musicals to the eyes of the twenty-first century public. And Sir Andrew (yes, Phantom even won him a knighthood) has already had the bitter experience of seeing his Jesus Christ Superstar flop in its stage to screen transition.

“There were people asking me, for the love of all that is good, not to take Phantom to the big screen. But I think that the result is even better than I had imagined. I do not believe that the film will hurt the stage version, I think it will draw even more people to the theater. The transition to the big screen will allow those that are not in a situation to pay $100 for the show to be able to see it for only $10 at the movies” says Lloyd Webber, in an international press reception last Sunday.

The reception took place one day after journalists previewed the Joel Schumacher film, whose work in Lost Boys captivated Sir Andrew. The two sat down and agreed to work together, but the project only managed to materialize in 2002, delayed by various reasons, including Lloyd Webber’s divorce with Sarah Brightman, the star of the theatrical version of Phantom, and even a contractual clause with American theaters that placed an embargo on a cinematic adaptation. Made for $40 million, the film is banking on the strength of Sir Andrew’s signature and the fascination inspired by the tale of the deformed genius that falls in love with a young chorus girl in the Paris Opera and works behind the scenes to make her the star of the Opera’s productions.

Despite rumors connecting a series of stars with the title role—Antonio Banderas with the role of the young suitor Raoul and John Travolta with that of the monster-genius—Schumacher and sir Andrew insisted that the protagonists be relatively unknown. Christine, the chorus girl, is played by Emmy Rossum, Jake Gyllenhaal’s romantic interest in The Day After Tomorrow, who also portrayed Sean Penn’s murdered daughter in Mystic River. The Phantom is Gerard Butler, the Scot who accompanied Angelina Jolie in the Tomb Raider sequel. Patrick Wilson, a promising newcomer who also appeared this year in The Alamo (curiously, alongside Banderas), plays Raoul.

“I did not want to ruin the impact by putting someone famous like John Travolta in the role. It would nullify the mystery. Banderas could not take the role of the young count Raoul, who also falls in love with Christine, and Emmy was a great discovery for Joel, whose resume of discovered talent boasts people like Julia Roberts. She has formal music education, and with that voice, only God knows how great she’ll be in five years,” Sir Andrew believes.

Director Joel Schumacher changed the plot little, adding only a few flashbacks.

A warning to those that aren’t fans of musicals and want to risk a screening of The Phantom of the Opera, prepare yourself to spend a good part of the two hours and fifty minutes hearing the actors sing. After all, Andrew Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher would not tamper with an already successful combination, and demanded leading actors who were capable of doing their own singing. The only exception was made for Minnie Driver, one of the few well-known names on the marquee, and though dubbed by a professional singer, she steals scenes as the temperamental Italian diva Carlotta. The film is also a chance to give more background story to the characters. The flashbacks showing the Phantom as a disfigured boy who becomes a freak show attraction before hiding himself in the cellars of the Paris Opera, are an example of the extra advantages offered by the transition to film.

The film is long, with few moments of spoken dialogue. And Schumacher seems to be inspired by Baz Luhrman’s work in Moulin Rouge, using the same technique of a black-and-white present transforming itself into a Technicolor past. Visually, the film is first-rate, and the angelic face and voice of Emmy Rossum are an ideal combination for the pain and passion that Gerard Butler brings to the Phantom, leaving Patrick Wilson and his Raoul in second place—it really makes you want to pull for the villain. Minnie Driver maybe deserves a little more screen time, but her Carlotta guarantees laughter for those who identify traces of the actress’s own abrasive personality in her interpretation.

Lloyd Webber believes in the strength of the romantic aspect of the story.

Fans and those familiar with the musical can expect few changes in what has already been seen and heard on stage, with the exception of a few additional sequences, like the swordfight in the cemetery and the touching opening scene in the neglected post-WWI theater. Sir Andrew composed two new songs for the soundtrack; and even though the internet and video game generation might be taken aback by a film set in the 19th century, the composer and producer refuses to doubt the enchanting power of the Victorian romance.

“I couldn’t even think of modernizing the story’s setting, even though there is a certain worry as to how the generation of Big Brother will receive a period piece. The Phantom of the Opera is the only musical making its debut this year. We need more defenders of this marvelous genre,” affirms Lloyd Webber.