Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera

I was hoping to make some crack about ‘raise your hands to the level of your eyes’ about this movie but it was pretty good for a ham-fisted musical parade.

The Phantom of the Opera always seemed more like an American musical than a British one. So heavy-handed, over-produced and melodramatic. Sort of like a Joel Schumacher movie.

Oh, wait.

As a true musical theatre dork, I finally saw John Carpenter’s Jole Schumacher’s Clive Barker’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. The design of the production was pretty fantastic. I thought they should have dropped the drum machines out of the score since it dates it so much – sort of like when you hear Duran Duran and all you can think of is a Casio keyboard. Gerard Butler didn’t sing the role very well – he has a fine voice but they should have found a tenor of Michael Crawford’s quality to deliver the score (he jumped octaves up and down a few times to make pitch and even sang a few dreaded ‘choos’ – that’choo, what’choo… ugh – yes I’m that much of a dork). Minne Driver rocks as Carlotta but who can’t be great in a prima donna role like that? Miranda Richardson is always good in everything. The actress playing Christine was okay.

I forget that Christine Daee is a complete dumbass. Plot-wise, she stumbles through the plot, having her fate decided by a rotating triangle of father/lover figures. Sort of like Ophelia. Most of her time is spent giving the wide-eyed, doe-in-headlights stare that Elijah Wood perfected for 14 hours in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’m just an ingenue letting events happen to me.

And I remembered the darkest rule of musical theatre: traveling songs suck. Any song that boils down to ‘This is me, this is us, here we are.’ is bound to be boring on stage and even more boring on film. Take for instance Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (the one musical I’ve directed). There’s a song called ‘The Prince is Giving a Ball’ which consists mainly of the cast stumbling around the stage screaming said message for three minutes. Stasis. Complete stasis. This is what’s happening – here’s who we are. Such is the challenge of songs like ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – the song is a traveling song that onstage is highlighted by great scenery machinations that on film are as exciting as Big Fish. The worst kind of stasis song is a love song. I hated blocking the love songs in Cinderella because I always find love songs so damned trite and mocking – but what I finally figured out is that nobody gets to actually be in love until the end of the song. That the verses are about trying out this Love Thing and then finally they get to kiss. Sort of like the song ‘All I Ask of You’, road-worn by years as a wedding duet. Again, pretty much absence of conflict (for further reference see most songs in The Secret Garden: ghosts singing to those that can’t hear or see them). ‘Masquerade’ is also a stasis song – with choreography that looked like a cross between Madonna’s ‘Vogue’ and semaphore.

But then there’s ‘Point of No Return’, a great intense song that starts with a string quartet and unfolds into full-orchestral suspense. Here is where Lloyd Webber’s tuneful talent is put to best use in servicing the story. It was always one of my favorite songs – along with ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’ (including the arpeggiated strings in the transition into this song).

The Phantom unmasked wasn’t really all that nasty. He totally had much better skin then say Mickey Rourke or Gary Busey. I thought he’d look a lot more damaged. Sort of like how the film Damage wasn’t at all damaging enough – except for Jeremy Irons’ dangling fireman.






One response to “Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera”

  1. Will Avatar

    Spot on analysis, Andy! I was just saying the other day that this musical is silly, but on stage, it somehow sorta works, willing suspension of disbelief and all; on film, it just seems hokey. “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” is my favorite song from the show, one I love to play on the piano.

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