I have been fortunate enough to see both the stage musical and the movie, in that order. Last April, I watched Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera with my fiance in Her Majesty’s Theatre in London and aside from an unfortunate (and very painful) fall, the experience was absolutely perfect. Then, out of curiosity, I decided to watch the 2004 movie version to see if they botched everything up like Hollywood is prone to do to perfectly good plays or books. This post is a review of both the play and the movie and my personal comparison of the two.
It was a Saturday matinee and David Shannon was singing as the Phantom with Gina Beck (Christine) and Simon Bailey (Raoul). The production and props are more dated than newer and flashier musicals like Wicked, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t impressive. The colors and lights were so vibrant but they were all mere accessories to Lloyd Webber’s music. From the eerie scenes in the Phantom’s lair to the bright grand staircase dance during the Masquerade in Act II, the actors and dancers made it all flow smoothly. The play ran for more than two hours but it was so easy to get lost in the story that it seemed much shorter and I was left wanting more of the Phantom at the end.
Shannon played Phantom flawlessly, singing All I Ask of You (reprise) with such heartbreak and sadness that audience finds themselves subconsciously siding with him in spite of his twisted soul and bursts of cruelty. In the play, the Phantom is scary but fascinating and seductive. One could understand why Christine finds it difficult to break away from him even at the end. While I couldn’t find fault with Beck’s performance (her Christine is excellent), it didn’t leave an impression on me. I have mixed feelings about Bailey as Raoul. I couldn’t quiet decide if Raoul was a sympathetic character who deserved Christine or if he was the annoying third party. Bailey’s version of Raoul made him seem like the latter and if that was what he was trying to portray, then he did it very well.
All in all, the play is very VERY good. The Phantom is portrayed to be ugly, cruel and violent but not without heart. And his genius is emphasized, just as Erik is in the original novel by Gaston Leroux from where the musical is adapted. If you’ve never seen it and you’re passing through London, I recommend visiting Her Majesty’s Theatre for this. It’s definitely worth it.
Joel Schumacher’s 2004 film didn’t deviate much from the play. It is the play, but with more visuals and details added like the Phantom’s and Madame Giry’s first meeting when they were young. The story of the Phantom is told in flashbacks, with the movie opening 50 years later with an elderly Raoul visiting an auction in the dilapidated Paris Opera House.
There is a marked difference in the character portrayals in the movie compared to the play. Gerard Butler’s Phantom is not as smooth and all-powerful. They allowed him to make mistakes and fail (swordfight scene with Raoul) and his physical appearance is much less repulsive than the play’s Phantom. He was practically handsome, except for the scarred right side of his face and spots of baldness. There is a shade of cruelty but it is his sadness and feelings of isolation that is more obvious to the viewer. His singing is also more rough, but not displeasing. His take on the Phantom is unique in a good way. Emmy Rossum’s Christine is softer, more beautiful, more helpless, and infinitely more irritating. She seems like an instant-hate target for feminists as she gives off this I-can’t-survive-without-a-man’s-help aura. I’m not saying that her acting is terrible because she did it well, I suppose she just can’t help her character. To give Christine credit, she showed flashes of bravery like when she pulled the Phatom’s mask off his face while singing The Point of No Return. Rossum’s singing voice cannot be compared to the theatre actresses as hers, while clear, is not as powerful. It’s Raoul that was completely different, as if he’s a completely new character. In contrast to the Raoul in the play, Patrick Wilson’s Raoul gave the character a different image altogether. Wilson’s matinee idol looks is emphasized and used in the movie. He is given more exposure and depth, which allowed the audience to see more of and know more about him. Instead of being irritating, he becomes the dashing devoted suitor that a young woman like Christine could believably fall for in spite of the Phantom’s constant presence. In the play, I felt like Christine just wanted Raoul’s money and use him to escape from the Phantom at the same time. But while his character gets a makeover for the better, Wilson’s singing is unremarkable.
Of the supporting actors, Minnie Driver stands out as La Carlotta. She portrays the epitome of a spoiled prima donna who’s so narcissistic, she lets flattery get the better of her.
So, is the movie better than the play? While I appreciated the additional story details, the 50-years-later scenes and the depth given to some characters, I think the play still wins. The singing is much better in the theatre version and this trumps everything. Personally, I wish I saw the movie before watching the play. It might have appreciated it more.
Play: 5/5 stars
Movie: 3.5/5 stars