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The Phantom reincarnated

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: December 17, 2004 | Publication: CanWest News Service | Author: Jamie Portman

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NEW YORK -- If Joel Schumacher hadn't directed The Lost Boys -- a cult classic about teenage vampires -- 17 years ago, he might never have had the chance to be in charge of The Phantom Of The Opera.

But composer Andrew Lloyd Webber happened to see that earlier film and promptly decided Schumacher was the kind of sumptuous visual stylist that Phantom Of The Opera needed for the big screen.

Schumacher remembers seeing Lloyd Webber's blockbuster stage musical for the first time: "I thought of all the musicals I'd ever seen that it was the most cinematic," he says now. But what also struck him about Lloyd Webber's treatment of this hoary old melodrama was that it offered "a real love story" between ingenue chorus girl Christine Daae and the mysterious, disfigured musical genius who haunts a Paris opera house and makes her his protege.

"The way you see the Phantom is where the girl is repulsed or frightened by him." Such wasn't the case this time: "He wasn't the ghoul."

Schumacher felt the story had been enriched further by the treatment of the aristocratic Raoul de Chagny who becomes the third corner of the romantic triangle. "I thought I'd like to make a film of this."

Schumacher was 46 at the time -- a rising Hollywood director with four films to his credit. What he didn't expect was that it would take another 16 years to turn the world's most successful stage musical into a movie.

Schumacher had seen the show in New York in 1988 before flying to London at Lloyd Webber's expense for a meeting. The two hit it off immediately and started plans for a film version featuring the original stars of the stage musical -- Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman.

"We were going to shoot it in 1990 in Munich and Prague, but for a lot of personal and professional reasons, Andrew cancelled it."

Webber's professional concerns were triggered by a need to safeguard the stage musical and not damage its commercial prospects. His personal reasons were largely due to the break-up of his marriage to Sarah Brightman. But Schumacher and Lloyd Webber remained good friends and two years ago the shaggy-haired American filmmaker had Christmas dinner with Lloyd Webber and his wife, Madeline. "She was very persuasive in getting me to think about it again," Schumacher laughs. "And I did."

Over the years, Schumacher had created a string of successes which included two Batman Films, A Time To Kill, Dying Young, Falling Down and Phone Booth. But he continued to be haunted by Phantom Of The Opera, a lavish piece of 19th Century gothic.

"I really thought it was so challenging and fascinating, and I'd never done anything as romantic as this, that it just seemed more challenging and creative than anything else I could have done among all the films were available to me."

So he agreed to direct the film on one condition: The three principals had to be young, and in the case of Christine Daae he wanted an actress in her teens. And he ended up with Scottish actor Gerard Butler, 34, as The Phantom, Emmy Rossum, 16 as Christine, and Patrick Wilson, 31, as Raoul.

"I analysed the structure. I took the music, the sets, the costumes and all the obligatory glamour and romance and put that aside. I thought: What story am I telling? And the story really has to be this very young girl who for the first time is experiencing a romantic awakening with Patrick Wilson's character and for the first time with Gerry Butler's character a more sexual, obsessional, dark, destructive kind of relationship. These three young people are caught up in this tragic love story.

"So I said: 'Andrew, they've got to be really young. If they're famous, fine. If they're unknown, that's fine. I just don't want anyone that's not right for the story, or else I can't make it work for you.' He said: 'You can have anyone you want, but they have to do their own singing.' I said: 'That's fair!' We shook hands, and that was the deal."

The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2004


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