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Butler a Pleasant Surprise

Category: Phantom of the Opera Reviews
Article Date: January 24, 2005 | Publication: Enter Stage Right | Author: Lady Liberty

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The Phantom of the Opera

*** 1/2 out of ****

I'll tell you up front that I'm not a real musical fan. Oh, I've made a few exceptions (Moulin Rouge being one of them), but in the main, I'd rather stay home and watch reruns than sit through the typical musical production. Despite that, I do like music in general, though I loathe opera. These two facts mean that I bought tickets for The Phantom of the Opera for only two reasons: Critical acclaim, and Gerard Butler (a Scottish actor who has been, in my opinion, vastly underrated in his past efforts which include Dracula 2000, Reign of Fire and Timeline).

Most of you are doubtless familiar with the story told by The Phantom of the Opera. The story takes place in late 18th century in France at a time when Parisian citizens love a good show. They often flock to the city's opera house to see one, usually headlined by the opera company's tempermental soprano La Carlotta (Minnie Driver). In the movie, just as La Carlotta pitches another tantrum, the cast of the latest opera house offering is introduced to the new owners of the establishment as well as their wealthy patron, the Vicompte Raoul de Chagny (Patrick Wilson). In the background, unnoticed by both La Carlotta and the Vicompte, is a pretty young dancer and chorus girl, Christine Daae (Emmy Rossum). Christine tells a friend she recalls that she and the Vicompte knew each other as young children, but she's certain he's long forgotten her.

When La Carlotta haughtily refuses to perform on opening night, the new owners are told by the company's ballet mistress Madame Giry (Miranda Richardson) that Christine is a talented singer who has been taking lessons from a gifted teacher. In an impromptu audition then and there, Christine proves she's more than capable of taking on the lead. That night, she performs to raves from the audience. Seeing her onstage, Raoul does remember her, and he rushes backstage to congratulate her and talk with her. But someone else is also impressed with Christine that night: her teacher, a mysterious voice she hears from behind the walls of the opera house and whom she calls her "Angel of Music." Christine is, in fact, half convinced the voice is that of a real angel sent to her by her dead father.

The angel, of course, is really the storied Phantom of the Opera (Gerard Butler) who, it is claimed, has haunted the opera house for years. And after Christine's stellar performance that night, he finally allows her to see him when he beckons her to visit his underground chambers. But Raoul is waiting for Christine to come out of her dressing room, and when she doesn't he's worried. Madame Giry, who knows more about the Phantom than she lets on, manages to keep the situation relatively calm until Christine's return. But the stage is now set to wager the passion of the Phantom against the love of the Vicompte, and with the beautiful Christine as the ultimate prize.

The Phantom of the Opera is one of the most successful musicals ever brought to the stage. Many acclaimed stage shows, however, fail as films. But as Chicago so amply proved, stage productions can be brought successfully to the big screen if those doing the bringing have real talent and a true love for the original live presentation. Though I wouldn't have picked director Joel Schumacher as being one of those in possession of the latter, it turns out that he must have loved the show very much because the movie version keeps the best of the stage feel to it even as it consumes the big screen. The costumes are lavish and the sets sumptuous; the cinematography is spectacular. There are some edits and camera angles that are breathtaking, and the use of color in connection with special effects is jaw-dropping.

Gerard Butler makes a magnificent Phantom despite being an extraordinarily handsome man even wearing a mask. After all, the Phantom (as we all know) has his ugly side! But it's his very beauty combined with his brilliance (which are only enhanced by spectacular costuming, choreography, and Butler's ability to convey deep emotion even with half of his face covered) that serve to accentuate his deep pain. The surprise where Butler is concerned is not that he's a very capable actor, but that he's also more than creditable as a singer—and the Phantom is not an easy part to sing! His voice is by turns filled with hope and despair, joy and sorrow; without a spoken word, you never doubt what he's feeling at any given time, nor will you fail to feel it with him.

Patrick Wilson is young, good looking, and as light as Butler is dark making him perfectly suited to act as the Phantom's foil. He also sings well, though I believe with significantly less passion than Butler. Minnie Driver actually is a professional singer, but her operatic arias were dubbed (as she pointed out in an interview, opera is a discipline requiring lifelong study). Still, I can see why she was cast as her facial and body expressions brought La Carlotta to prickly and comedic life.

The real standout singer in this production of The Phantom of the Opera is Emmy Rossum. Just 17 when filming began, she's an ethereally beautiful actress making her the perfect physical embodiment of Christine. Though her acting is a bit wide-eyed and seems at times to be compartmentalized (okay, now look sad; oops! smile now!), her voice is so spectacular that I thought she, too, had almost certainly been dubbed. As it turns out, the voice was all hers and an amazing voice it is.

The truth is that The Phantom of the Opera is everything you've heard many critics say: lush, moving, beautifully crafted. But there's something else about it that can't really be defined in the words of any critic, including me. The closest that I can come is to tell you that, even many hours after having left the theatre, I can still see the Phantom in my mind and hear his voice rising to join Christine's. And when I do, I'm deeply touched yet again by the wrenching emotions of love, frustration, passion, and pain that are The Phantom of the Opera.

FAMILY SUITABILITY: The Phantom of the Opera is rated PG 13 for "brief violent images." On the whole, there's nothing too unsuitable for children of most ages. But the fact the dialog consists virtually entirely of song means that most younger kids won't care for it, nor will they comprehend some of the deeper emotions played out in the plot. But those old enough to like a good tragedy or romance, who appreciate a lavish theatrical production, or who love music will find much to enjoy in The Phantom of the Opera.


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