Big-screen adaptation should revitalize Andrew Lloyd Webber’s god status

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 17, 2004 | Publication: Dallas Voice | Author: Steve Warren
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Did Andrew Lloyd Webber’s career end with the 20th century? His mega-musicals are no longer Broadway’s linchpins. They’ve been replaced by movie spin-offs, collections of hits by rock artists and the occasional queer puppet musical.

“The Phantom of the Opera” hangs on life support, hoping the film version will spark new interest, while “Cats” and the other relics of the ’80s and ’90s have closed in New York and their road tours are no longer ubiquitous.

Despite plans and rumors of film versions, it’s been 31 years between “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Phantom of the Opera,” with only “Evita” (1996) between. And despite the way Lloyd Webber’s musicals dominated the stage, it took the success of “Moulin Rouge” and “Chicago” to get the “Phantom” of the cinema greenlighted.

Let me say it here and now — Andrew Lloyd Webber’s second 15 minutes of fame are now just beginning!

As directed by Joel Schumacher (what a cliche, having a gay man direct a musical!), the film “Phantom” shouldn’t disappoint fans of the stage version and will probably expand its audience exponentially. Like Lloyd Webber’s music, the production is a mixture of subtlety and bombast, with the emphasis on the latter.
While “King Kong,” “Beauty and the Beast” (until the Beast’s transformation in the end) and earlier versions of “Phantom” have emphasized horror over a seemingly impossible romance, this “Phantom” is a love story first and foremost. The partial facemask of the Phantom (Gerard Butler) only adds a touch of mystery to an obvious hunk, making him even sexier despite a few obvious character flaws — like committing murder to get his way.
In 1870, the unseen Phantom pulls the strings at the Paris Opera, demanding protection money to prevent tragedy. He’s been secretly training ingenue Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum, who gives an indelible performance) to replace reigning diva Carlotta (Minnie Driver, camping shamelessly).

The venue’s owner can’t take it anymore and sells the building to Andre (Simon Callow) and Firmin (Ciaran Hinds), scrap metal moguls backed by opera patron Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Patrick Wilson, aka Joe Pitt in “Angels in America”), who happens to have been Christine’s childhood sweetheart.
When the new owners try to preserve Carlotta’s star status against the Phantom’s orders and Christine resumes her romance with Raoul, all hell and chandeliers break loose.
The situation is kinkier because Christine believes the Phantom is the “angel of music” her late father promised to send to look after her. She feels something for him (and for her father?), even though he stands between her and her true love, Raoul.

The story is framed by bits of an epilogue set nearly half a century later, including a final twist that makes the ending far more satisfying than that of the stage version.
“Phantom” is a visual feast with fluid camerawork and excellent production design ranging from the gilded lobby and semi-realistic backstage of the opera to the Phantom’s fantastical lair beneath.
A key question is whether it will appeal to younger audiences, who are accustomed to a faster pace and more blood in their slasher movies, not to mention a heavier beat in their music. At least they’re being offered a quality product, whether they accept it or not.

Hoping to repeat his “Evita” Oscar success, Lloyd Webber has added a new song, “Learn to Be Lonely,” that’s sung by Driver (her only vocal contribution — Driver’s other songs are dubbed by Margaret Preece) at the beginning of the closing credits. It may be a decent song, but its simple pop arrangement sounds pathetic after the two-plus hours of heavy orchestrations that precede it.
Lloyd Webber’s poperas have won over millions who wouldn’t think of going to see a traditional opera. His adaptation with Schumacher of “The Phantom of the Opera” should extend his popularity into the 21st century. It’s chandelirous!