Screen presence

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 12, 2004 | Publication: Star-ecentral.com | Author: editors
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THE dark tale of romance, passion and tragedy from the 1911 French novel Le Fantome de LíOpera by Gaston Leroux has inspired numerous film and television versions. But none is as famous and recognisable as the stage musical The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber that began in London in 1986. In almost two decades, the enduringly popular musical has been staged worldwide in 18 countries to an estimated 80 million people.

Now, the renowned British composer-producer has collaborated with director Joel Schumacher and Warner Bros. Pictures to present The Phantom of the Opera, a US$80mil (RM304mil) film adaptation of the celebrated musical.

Set in Paris in 1870, The Phantom of the Opera tells the story of a disfigured musical genius who falls in love with young soprano Christine and is determined to nurture the talented singer to be the new star of the Opera Populaire, the cityís premier opera house. Just as sheís enthralled by her malevolent masked mentor, Christine is also drawn to Raoul, the theatreís wealthy patron, thus incurring the wrath and jealousy of the Phantom.

Here are excerpts of interviews with the filmís main players from the production notes. The Phantom of the Opera opens in Malaysian cinemas on Thursday. It stars Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson and Minnie Driver.

Joel Schumacher directing the masquerade scene. The director was able to recreate a whole new world - onstage and backstage - within the opera house in the film, something not quite possible in the theatre.
Joel Schumacher, 65, director/screenplay writer

WHAT was it that attracted you to The Phantom of the Opera project?

Two main things appealed to me. First of all this is a very tragic love story, but it is a love story. I think that we identify with the Phantom rather than with the object of desire Ė Christine, because we identify with the person who is rejected and heartbroken. So I think the Phantom is a heart-breaking character, as are the hunchback of Notre Dame and the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.

A second and higher reason to do the film, which Iíve always felt and said to Andrew Lloyd Webber, is that there are millions of people in the world who cannot afford to go to the theatre for Phantom is a very expensive stage production or it could never play in the place that they live. Itís the same with some of the great film musicals, how many people have seen The Sound of Music on stage as opposed to on film?

Why did you choose unknowns to play the leads?

I didnít want to do a middle-aged film. Not that middle-aged people canít have romance ? but I felt that Christineís character, especially, is so innocent that I thought youth would assist it. And so I said to Andrew Iíll do the film if we can have a very young cast, and I donít care whether theyíre known or unknown. Andrew said fine, but they all have to do their own singing.

Tell us more about your relationship with Andrew Lloyd Webber on this project.

When youíve been friends for 15 years and gone through many ups and downs, I think thereís a great deal of trust going into a project.

Andrew wrote this for Sarah Brightman when he was married to her and was very much in love with her, and I think that he was quite inspired when he did it Ė it has some of his most beautiful melodies. And I also think Charles Hartís lyrics are quite stunning. So the music is very lush, very romantic.

I think itís been a very good marriage creatively because I take care of the filming, and Andrew takes care of the music.

How did you approach the movie in terms of the setting?

When I was doing research many years ago, I found out that there were 750 people living in the Paris Opera House at one stage. And so, that excited me because unlike a stage play, thereís a whole backstage world with hundreds of people, chorus and ballet girls, all of the craftsmen that put together a great theatre company. And that was fun, we were able to recreate our own world back there Ė to do things that you canít in the theatre. So that people are really seeing the cinematic experience of The Phantom of the Opera.

How does The Phantom of the Opera compare to the recent hit musical films like Moulin Rouge and Chicago?

I think the numbers in the two movies are more presentational, they stop and do a song. A lot of the songs in Phantom are the dialogue of the film, the songs are the libretto of the whole piece. The music tells you the story or the emotion of the moment.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, 56, producer/screenplay writer

HOW did your interest in The Phantom of the Opera as a musical come about?

I got the book from one of those book fairs in New York for fifty cents or something. I read it and itís a confused book to put it mildly. You canít work out whether itís a love story, a detective story, a historical story or some kind of thriller. But the thing that suddenly came zinging out to me was all these bits of high romance. It made me want to write a high romance. I thought I could take this book and put in some ideas of my own, which I did.

How aware were you that the stage musical was going to be a big hit?

I donít think we anticipated that it was going to sell 25 million albums. But it is such a primal tale. And it has an incredibly strong rock íní roll ingredient to it that is not immediately obvious. I mean it was brilliantly said by Jim Steinman that Phantom of the Opera is in actual fact a rock íní roll show masquerading as opera.

The original Phantom of the Opera single was really almost a heavy metal track. I think one forgets therefore that it has an appeal to a much wider audience. We found very early on in the stage show that we were getting an abnormal number of teenage girls attending the show. There were these extraordinary fan clubs set up. And I know of seven girls who changed their name to Christine Daae by deed poll.

How did the film version come about?

Going right back to the opening of the Phantom on Broadway in 1988. It was clear that it was going to take off in a very major way at that point. Warner Brothers became very interested in making the film. And I happened to have seen The Lost Boys directed by Joel Schumacher. I thought it was very surely handled and the use of music in it was exceptional. Joel and I got on very well and we knocked up a screenplay together. And we were going to do it with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. But we were all very scared that a movie at that time would damage the proliferation of the stage show around the world. It had been so long since a great musical had been made for film. So the project was put on hold.

About 10 years later, Joel and I were having dinner as he was in town and I just said to him: ďWhat about The Phantom of the Opera, donít you think itís time now?Ē Joel just said yes. It was amazing how quickly it all came together.

How nervous were you about making the film this time around?

We were fighting a culture that absolutely had no faith that a musical could work on the big screen, because there simply hadnít been one for such a long time. And then Chicago proved that there was an interest in musicals being filmed again.

Weíve got a director here who has a fantastic eye and ear for music. Joel understands that every bar is there for a musical reason and that the music is what drives it all. That I think has been one of the great joys of my collaboration with Joel.

What changes did you make to the screenplay you wrote with Joel?

We now make more of the story of Raoul and his arrival at the auction and why he is there as an old man. And we see him in the film going to the grave of Christine, his wife. We realise that to some degree the film is his memory of the whole story that we see. We see him as a child in a fairground. Although we touch on that in the stage musical we donít see it visually, we donít go back in time. And I think thatís a very important change because it makes the Phantomís plight a little bit more understandable.

And how important was it to you that the three leads were up to the task vocally?

Itís absolutely crucial as the film is nearly all sung through. Emmy Rossum, who trained with the Metropolitan Opera (New York), was just 17 and has got a fantastic voice. Patrick (Wilson) is one of the great natural lyric tenors from musical theatre. And Gerry (Butler) has a great rock tenor voice. That balance vocally was very important because for the Phantom, we needed somebody whoís got a bit of rock íní roll sensibility in him. Heís got to be a bit rough, a bit dangerous, not a conventional singer in a sense.

Did you need to revisit the score at all?

There is obviously the new song (TK). There are also two other sequences which have completely new music that was not in the original stage show, and theyíre inspired by the visual images that I see.

The film looks and sounds fabulous. Itís different to the stage show but it hasnít in any way challenged it. Itís still got exactly the same essence.