Hero of heartbreak: New 'Phantom' film adaptation features the softer side of Andrew Lloyd Webber

Category: Phantom of the Opera News | Posted by: admin
Article Date: December 23, 2004 | Publication: Metro West Daily News | Author: Ed Symkus
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There is a huge difference between the musical creations of Andrew Lloyd Webber and the man himself. His popular scores for stage and film -- from "Cats" to "Jesus Christ Superstar" to "Starlight Express" -- are full-blown eruptions of melody and orchestration, often overpowering in their scope.

But they can also feature a soft and tender side. And that is more of what Webber -- since 1997 Lord Lloyd-Webber -- is like.

He is soft-spoken, rather shy, and sometimes chooses not to look directly at an interviewer, perhaps because of the slight nervous tic in his left eye.

But the 66-year-old British composer, whose musical version of "The Phantom of the Opera" opened yesterday in its big-screen version, is ready to talk about how the film finally came to be made, how he worked with director Joel Schumacher and about future hopes and plans.

Most prominent on his mind is that "Phantom" actually did finally make it to the screen, directed by Joel Schumacher. It premiered on London's West End stage in 1986, and Webber, who composed it with lyrics by Charles Hart, has been trying, on and off, to get a film made for more than 15 years.

"When we originally talked about it, quite honestly, all my collaborators and colleagues, and it's not just me, but (director) Hal Prince and (producer) Cameron Mackintosh and all the others, were very, very against the idea of a film happening at that time.

"For the obvious reason: Nobody knew what impact it would have on the theater, and at that point a lot of productions (of it) had not opened, like Germany or Japan or touring companies here.

"Hal particularly really didn't want it to happen, and so we just sort of forgot about it. And about four years ago, I began to think, now is the time.

"I found quite a lot of opposition in Hollywood about the idea of doing a film musical and we ended up having to buy the rights back. I'm glad we did because it meant Joel and I were able to make exactly the movie we wanted."

The film's story sticks quite closely to the stage version. The mysterious masked Phantom has mentored a talented chorus girl to become the next star of the Opera Populaire, and will let nothing get in the way of that happening.

"During the process, he also falls in love with her, even though she loves another. But the film is magnificently opened up to take in the environs of Paris, and cameras freely fly up above the opera house's stage, where the shadowy Phantom hides in waiting, and down through seemingly bottomless trap doors to the catacombs below.

The script, which Webber co-wrote with Schumacher, also adds some information about the origins of the Phantom.

"We felt we had to know something of his back story," said Webber. "I don't think people in the cinema would just accept that he's there. I think we had to learn how he got there. So that was a creation for the film. And what was lovely about that was Joel shot that sequence and I scored it to picture. The music didn't come first there."

Interestingly, Schumacher did come first. He was one of the first directors Webber contacted for the film in 1988, even though at that time Schumacher had been making films such as "The Lost Boys" and "St. Elmo's Fire."

"We remained huge friends after (talking about) the original 'Phantom' movie. When we decided it wouldn't take place, we just saw each other socially over the years, so we were friends," he said. "When we finally came to start work on this, the joy was that it was only Joel and I; we didn't have to answer to anybody, and we didn't have to submit a screenplay or anything like that. We just wrote it and then made it.

"We've had a very close relationship because I don't pretend to know about cinema, and I think I do know a bit about theater, but he doesn't," Webber said. "He respected that, and so we had a collaboration which went completely like this: I saw the dailies, and if there was anything there that was at all a worry that we didn't have, he'd just go and shoot it again.

"And the other advantage we had on this film was we devised a way of being able to make scratch tapes as we went along, so most of the performances that you see are in fact the performances. There's no pre-recording on this film."

Which brings Webber to sing the praises of the film's ebullient young star, Emmy Rossum, who plays the heroine Christine.

"I think that a wonderful advantage we have in the film was of being able to cast a girl as young as Emmy" -- who was 17 at the time -- "which we couldn't do in the theater of course because no girl of 16 or 17 could sing eight shows a week."

When the play opened, it featured Sarah Brightman, who was then married to Webber, and Michael Crawford as the Phantom. The 1988 film would have been quite different from this one.

"If it had been made in 1988, I would have thought Michael and Sarah probably would have been cast. But Sarah would have been 26 or 27 then, and I think it's much better that the girl is younger.

The role Crawford might have had is now done by 35-year-old Gerard Butler. Crawford was not considered.

"I think Michael realized, I think we all realized, once we'd gone the route of casting a very young girl, you can't really cast a 65-year-old man opposite. Slightly different resonance, I think, so we weren't going to go there."

And where is Webber going from here?

He said he would love to see film versions of two of his musicals: a live-action "Sunset Boulevard" and an animated "Cats," for which there is already a Tom Stoppard screenplay.

His newest work, "The Woman in White," has just opened in London's West End, and is scheduled for Broadway next October. But he does not have anything new planned, and he is not worried about it.

"I've written 14 musicals now," he said, sighing. "I don't want to rush into doing something just for the sake of doing it. I want to do it when I find a story.

"Two years ago I hadn't even thought of 'The Woman in White.' I was doing a television show and I said I hadn't found a story, and the next day somebody rang me and said have you ever thought of the novel 'The Woman in White.'

"And it sort of jogged a memory of something that I read at school, so I read it, and I thought, 'God, this is it!' So you never can tell. I could find something this afternoon."

Webber had to run to his next interview, but the impulse was impossible to resist. What, he was asked, is his favorite musical?

He ponders and said, "I think 'West Side Story.'"

Then he immediately reconsiders. "I don't know. I'm also very fond of 'South Pacific.' I know everyone thinks it's rubbish, but I loved 'South Pacific."'

"The Phantom of the Opera" is playing in theaters now.