Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Media Mom After Dark: The Phantom of the Opera

Since my good buddy Kelly Martin mentioned not having seen POTO the other day, I thought it only apropos that I do a review to try and get her hooked. Because what are friends for if not to suck you into their obsessions, amiright?

I should probably begin by saying I have a rather long and tumultuous history with this particular musical. Having spent 7 years of my life in drama class, I suppose it was inevitable that I would encounter it. Actually, my first impression of it was rather negative. I hadn't seen the play. Truth be told, I still technically haven't. Not on stage in person, anyway. But more on that later. I was sleeping over at a friend's house and she was playing the soundtrack. I suppose if you have no context on who these characters are or why they're singing, it's easy to write it off as uninteresting. I certainly did at the time.

Or a musical by its soundtrack
Then, my drama class had the opportunity to see the stage play, and I began to get more interested. I researched what the play was about and even found a fan-made libretto so that I could more clearly understand the lyrics as well as the plot surrounding the music. I borrowed a copy of the soundtrack from the library, and after giving it a thorough listening, I was hooked. Very much so. It wasn't long before I could sing the entire thing from beginning to end. Now I was more than eager to attend the play with my class. Unfortunately, that opportunity fell through at the last minute. We did eventually go see a stage play, Les Miserables. But that's another review for another time.

One I'm not looking forward to writing.
Finally, after years of waiting to see the actual story unfold before my eyes, the movie version came out. My hubby (boyfriend at the time) took me to see it for my birthday. I've been told by a good many people that the film version isn't nearly as good as the stage play, but, having never seen the stage play, I have nothing to compare it to. So, I'm going to review the movie on its own merits.
The movie starts in 1919 at an auction in the long-abandoned Opera Populaire. Among the items being auctioned off are old props, performance posters, and a very particular music box. The box is won by the aged Vicomte de Chagny, Raoul. The next lot up for bid? A chandelier in pieces. It seems there is a myth surrounding the shattered chandelier involving the mysterious Phantom of the Opera. The chandelier has been repaired and fitted with electrical wiring. As it's unveiled, the chandelier rises, turning back the clock and restoring the opera house to the height of its former glory in 1870.

During those days, the opera was flourishing. Star diva Carlotta dominated the stage. The current owner of the opera house has sold it to two enterprising but naive men, Mssrs. Firmin and Andre and is retiring to Australia- far, far away from demanding divas and a mysterious man who lurks in the shadows and controls all of the goings-on within the theater's walls. The men aren't too worried about their future, though, having acquired the Vicomte de Chagny as their new patron.

After disaster disrupts rehearsal, Madame Giry, the dance instructor and choreographer gives the new owners a rundown of the rules. The Phantom is in charge, he gets exclusive use of Seating Box 5, and is paid a salary of 20,000 francs every month. Firmin and Andre declare that they have no intention of taking orders. In the midst of all this, Carlotta storms out in a rage, livid that the Phantom hasn't been dealt with yet and the show is left with no star. Madame Giry announces that Christine Daae, one of the chorus girls, has been taking voice lessons from a great teacher. Christine wows everyone with her spectacular singing, and the show opens as planned.

Wearing a costume that probably weighs more than me. While singing a high E flat. #MadSkillz
During the opening performance, Raoul recognizes Christine as an old childhood sweetheart- one he still carries a torch for. They reconnect afterward in her dressing room, but when he goes to fetch his carriage, Christine's music teacher, the Phantom himself, shows up to whisk her away to his secret lair under the opera house. It seems he's fallen for her himself, and no pesky old flame is going to stand between him and the woman he loves. Even if it means abducting her. For her part, Christine believes the Phantom is actually an angel, sent to her by her deceased father to look after her and guide her to her destiny.

There's another hitch in the Phantom and Christine living happily ever after, though. The Phantom has a horribly disfigured face that he covers with a mask. Ultimately, his appearance becomes an obsession and causes him to be extremely bitter. It's the reason he's a recluse. When Christine works up the courage to remove his mask, the Phantom lashes out in a rage and returns her to the opera dormitories above. He isn't finished with Christine, though. Not by a long shot.

With Christine rocketing her way to stardom, a jealous Carlotta is beginning to accuse the owners of playing favorites and Raoul of sleeping with Christine. Raoul is just trying to figure out where Christine keeps vanishing to and who this mysterious teacher is. Amidst the chaos, the Phantom is making casting demands on an upcoming performance, once again giving Christine a starring role and assigning Carlotta a role with no lines whatsoever. A casting which he calls "ideal".

That's right, Carlotta. Shut it.
The managers refuse his demands, both out of pride and to appease a furious Carlotta. It turns out to be a serious error in their judgment, though, as the Phantom ruins Carlotta's voice mid-performance, and then strangles a stagehand, dropping his body onto the stage in front of a packed audience. In the ensuing panic, Christine and Raoul head for the rooftop where they confess their mutual love. They're not alone, though. The Phantom has overheard everything. Heartbroken that his beloved Christine would choose a snobby rich brat over his musical genius, the Phantom declares war on them both.

Will Raoul and Christine ever find happiness together? Or will the Phantom win over the heart of his ingenue with the power of music?

From here on in, there be spoilers!

I love this film. I know it gets a lot of flack for not being as good as the stage play. And I was disappointed that they cut out a few songs and reprises, as well as rearranged some scenes. But, for what it actually is, it's a great film that carries well and stands on its own.

I love Emmy Rossum's Christine. She gets put down a lot for not being Sarah Brightman. But having heard the original soundtrack, I actually like Emmy's performance better. Sarah's Christine always sounded way too pitchy and mature to me. Christine is supposed to be young. Emmy was only 17 when she made this film. She's young, pretty, and has a voice clear as a crystal bell.

The rest of the casting is ok. Minnie Driver's Carlotta probably would have been better if they'd actually let Minnie sing. She's a very talented singer and actually performs the song that plays over the closing credits. But maybe that was the point. We're not supposed to like Carlotta. Perhaps Minnie's singing was too good.

The only casting I really had a problem with was the Phantom himself. Don't get me wrong. I love Gerard Butler. He's a great actor. He's hunky. But...he's not meant to sing. His performance gave the Phantom's voice a gravelly rock star quality to it that just didn't belong. I give the guy credit. He tried. He really, really did. It was just bad casting. But it's not gonna stop me from liking the film.

It's ok, G. You're still smokin' hot.
I was a wee bit disappointed that they moved the chandelier sequence to the end of the film instead of the middle at the end of Act 1. But I guess they wanted to save all the spectacle for the finale. I can't really blame them. It is the most iconic moment in the play.

My other main gripe was the added scene. The one in which Madame Giry gives the Phantom a tragic back story. I appreciate the effort, but part of what makes Phantom so alluring is the fact that we know nothing about him. Is he a man? A demon? An angel? Or something else entirely? The play never says. And maybe that's for the best. I was also disappointed to find out that they added this scene into the play version for the Royal Albert Hall production (the closest I've ever come to watching the stage play). Eh, well. Time marches on, I suppose.

If there's one thing I love about musicals besides the actual music, it's the design. And this film does not disappoint! The costumes are amazing. The set design is amazing. The choreography was... a bit wooden, but still pretty amazing. I'm not gonna lie, I would have liked to have seen them move about a bit more. The actors are lip syncing to the soundtrack, after all. It's not like they're gonna get winded if they dance about a bit more.

I also really enjoyed the way they tied the film together with the bookend scenes set in 1919. The play version starts out in the future, goes back to the past, but never returns to where it began. The film brings the whole thing full circle, with a nice little touch at the end of the rose left at Christine's grave. I think it was a moment of redemption for the Phantom that he wouldn't have had otherwise.

If I were grading it, I'd probably give it a B. Not spectacular, at least, not by Broadway's standards, but certainly enjoyable and worth watching more than once. If you've never seen the play, it's a good place to start. If you have seen the play, may not live up to your expectations. But that doesn't mean you can't sing along.


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