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Andrew Lloyd Webber's
The Phantom of the Opera

Editor's Note: Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera was going to have a tough time getting a fair shake from me. First, I really didn't like the stage show, and second, Joel Schumacher owes me big time for Batman and Robin. So in order to give the film version a chance, we instead sent a real fan, one who had seen it onstage several times. The actual number is being withheld for her protection. Without further ado, a true fan's reaction...

The stage show is technically one long flashback, an idea that director Joel Schumacher runs with. Opening in black and white, the film takes its perspective from the elderly Raoul (Patrick Wilson), one third of a tragic love triangle. As he reminisces, vivid colors bleed into the frame, making a fluid transition between story segments without sacrificing any of what made the original show work for fans.

While the scenery was beautiful, at times Schumacher went for a visual overload. A couple of the musical numbers feature the cast running throughout the opera house apparently just for the sake of showing the large set. As for the classic moment of the stage show, the chandelier crash, the director moved it into the end of the film. It worked to enhance the climax, but was just one example of shuffling the story around.

Some characters gain from this shuffle. Mme Giry (Miranda Richardson) has a far more significant role in the film than the stage show. Richardson gives the character a fascinating quality, crucial for the woman who rescued young Erik, the Phantom.

Much of the rest of the cast makes it work, too. As Christine, Emmy Rossum played intriguing, brilliantly expressing her conflicting emotions between the handsome man she loves and her angel of music. That handsome man, Raoul, gets his dash from Wilson, an actor whose beautiful voice and Broadway experience were certainly welcome.

Minnie Driver proves absolutely hilarious as the over the top diva Charlotta. Matched with the theater managers (Ciaran Hinds and Simon Callow), she added much comic relief.

The biggest problem with the film is the miscasting of the Phantom himself. Gerard Butler was most likely selected to enhance the romantic triangle among the Phantom, Christine and Raoul, but he is simply wrong for the part.

Some of the trouble lies in his age. How is it that this young Phantom could have tutored Christine since she was a child? He had to have begun when he was ten years old. Also, the point gets made that Mme. Giry rescued the Phantom when he was a child, but she herself wasn't that much older. Somehow, they didn't age at the same rate. Richardson seems significantly older than Butler.

Most cruelly, Butler lacks the vocal strength for this role. He warbles through the songs adequately (some of Andrew Lloyd Webber's most famous showstoppers), but the role needs much more passion and quality than Butler, a sometime rock singer, can muster.

Who would have made a better Phantom? How about Jason Isaacs? I don't know if he can sing but he's both a wonderful villain and amazingly sexy. If he couldn't sing, they could simply have dubbed his voice like they apparently did for Driver.

Fortunately, the final scene - the confrontation among the triangle - was captivating enough to make me forget the weak spots in Butler's performance. Fans will be happy enough with the film, but more for the sake of supporting movie musicals than because this is the one we've been waiting for.


Leah Shadowens

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