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It's a different 'Opera' and this phantom shows skin

Category: Phantom of the Opera News
Article Date: December 29, 2004 | Publication: Cox News Service | Author: BOB LONGINO
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His trademark mask in the movie is white kid leather. His shirt, puffy. And unbuttoned halfway down, revealing the smidgens of hair adorning the chest of the phantom of the opera.
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It's never been this way on the stage. As fans readily know, Michael Crawford and every other singer who'sstrutted Broadway as the star of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera have appeared conservatively nipped and tuxed.

But in Joel Schumacher's new $40 million movie version, now playing in area theaters, all bets are off. If the director had his way, that would apply to the men's shirts, too.

"Joel wanted me topless at first," says Gerard Butler, the virtually unknown 35-year-old actor from Scotland selected to portray on film the eerie, disfigured and phantomly "angel of music." He's the mysterious, ghostlike character dwelling in the dark recesses of a vibrant opera house in 19th-century Paris. And he's got his eyes on Christine, a dazzling ingénue he's not only secretly trained as a world-class vocalist, but one he's coaxing to be his lover.
Warner Bros.
There are a few changes in the on-screen version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera that will give viewers pause.

Butler's phantom stalks the screen, whispering and singing Music of the Night to Christine with gaspy intonations more reminiscent of Creed's rock-obsessed Scott Stapp than, say, a pitch-perfect but less sexy Clay Aiken.

Skin is hardly the biggest change in the transfer from stage to screen.

This Phantom adds new scenes, including a clanging sword fight in a cemetery and a flashback to the phantom's youth. There's a much younger heroine than audiences are used to. Emmy Rossum (Mystic River) was just 16 when she was cast two years ago to play Christine. The film alters the musical's trademark chandelier (it's bigger, brighter and bedecked with imported crystals) and delays its renowned crash — a heart-stopping highlight of the stage version — from the end of the first act to just before the film's finale.

All met the approval of Lloyd Webber.

"Joel and I have always been pretty clear about what we wanted to do for the film," Lloyd Webber says.

"We wanted to have a young Christine because that's what the original book (Le Fantôme de l'Opéra by Gaston Leroux) says and I think it makes much more sense if she really is a girl from the corps de ballet," Lloyd Webber says. "Of course, we can't do that in the theater because you can't have a 16-year-old do that role night after night."

And moving the chandelier's wrecking-ball fall to the end?

"It's quite a big change," Lloyd Webber says. "In the stage show it's a gesture against Christine at the end of Act 1. In this, he's destroying his own world because he's so humiliated. I think it's a much more powerful moment."

While Butler was not previously vocally trained, Rossum is a veteran of the Metropolitan Opera's child chorus, where she started at age 7.

Patrick Wilson, who plays Christine's love interest, Raoul, is a two-time Tony nominee for the musicals Oklahoma! and The Full Monty.

Wilson's Raoul is given a lot more screen time and more harrowing moments, being caught underwater in the phantom's lair and dueling the phantom with swords.

Schumacher says he set aside everything obligatory about the musical — the music, the sets, the costumes and the glamour — and thought about the essence of what happens.

"The story really has to be this very young girl for the first time experiencing this romantic awakening with Patrick Wilson's character," Schumacher says. "And for the first time experiencing with the Gerry Butler character a darker, more sexual, obsessional, destructive relationship."

He pauses.

"You know," he says with a wide smile, "the good kind."

 


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