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Phantom revives spirit of film musicals

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: December 6, 2004 | Publication: The Telegraph | Author: Hugh Davies

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Six Oscars and big profits for Chicago have sparked a new frenzy for filming musicals, with Andrew Lloyd Webber's long-awaited The Phantom of the Opera leading the pack.

Joel Schumacher, its director, said: "Movie musicals went out of fashion for a long time but finally it looks like they're coming back."

With its world premiere in London tonight, his picture is ahead of plans by Sam Mendes to shoot Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd and Mel Brooks's remake of his Broadway and West End hit, The Producers.

Chris Columbus, who directed the first two Harry Potter films, has signed up to put Rent on screen, and Harvey Weinstein, who made Chicago, has snapped up the rights to Damn Yankees, Guys and Dolls and Pippin.

Austin Shaw, who is the executive in charge of filming all Lord Lloyd-Webber's musicals, said: "We were negotiating with Warner Brothers at the time Chicago was in the can, but not yet released.

"Harvey was running around telling everyone it was going to be a huge hit, a return of the musical. Some people thought: 'Oh, that's just marketing hype, don't believe it.' "

With all eyes on the picture for a Christmas hit, a multi-million-pound promotion campaign is under way, including Phantom-themed windows at Dickens & Jones on Regent Street and Bloomingdales in Manhattan. The display uses "whispering window" technology, which plays portions of the Lloyd Webber score into the street.

A full-blown 145-minute production - "It has to be opulent and voluptuous and beautiful," says Schumacher - the film has taken time to produce.

Warner Brothers bought the rights in 1989, but efforts to make the movie foundered after the actress Sarah Brightman dropped out.

Lord Lloyd-Webber has put the cost of the film at 55 million, with "no money for the talent". If he had "got John Travolta to play the Phantom", he said, it would have cost 80 million.

Really Useful has taken the risk of having just one well known actor, Minnie Driver, in a minor role as diva Carlotta, star of the Paris Opera, as well as singing over the end credits.

Shaw said: "She has a beautiful, smoky, bluesy voice. Hers is the only extra new song, and Andrew has written an extra 15 minutes of original under-score music."

Stories that Michael Crawford, the original star of the Phantom 17 years ago, was approached, were untrue, Shaw said. "It would have been quite fun to have him in a cameo role, but sadly we didn't get to that."

Shaw said that the 87 days of filming at Pinewood were a delight. "It was great fun because everyone is younger and less known. There were no egos. The beauty of the film is that all the money has ended up on the screen. We didn't have to pay for luxury trailers or stars with jets."

Emmy Rossum, 18, the lonely chorus girl Christine who becomes the object of the Phantom's obsession, has been named as Hollywood's "breakthrough actress" in the National Board of Review for Motion Pictures awards.

Phantom ranks as the highest-earning stage or screen production, with box office receipts of $3.2 billion (1.6 million). Its worldwide audience so far is 80 million.

Shaw said: "If only half of the people who've seen the Phantom on stage see the film, it could be a very big box office, a gross of $350 million (180 million)." The stage show attendance is expected to rise as the film opens.

Shaw said: "In a multi- media world, people understand the difference between a live theatre experience and one in a cinema. These days, if you've seen one and enjoyed it, you'll hopefully like the other."

He is now working on filming Bombay Dreams and is in talks with Paramount as to how to film Sunset Boulevard.


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