The Phantom of the Opera

As a theatrical production, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera incorporates the audience into the action, forcing them to become witting accomplices to the romance and mayhem that surrounds them.

When the Phantom emerges from the dark, wet catacombs of the opera house to haunt the current production, the theater audience, by design, also become his victims, and when that grand, glorious chandelier comes crashing down, they take it personally.

Except for the catalog of popular songs, which blast from the speakers in deafening Dolby, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera has very little personality. Experiencing the pomp and pageantry is one thing, sitting back and watching it is another. It doesn’t take long before you wish a chandelier would crash through the screen. You know a movie is in trouble when you’re rooting for the lighting.

Filled with larger-than-life movie moments, what this Phantom lacks is a heart and soul. Those traits are built into the story and songs, but director Joel Schumacher and his cast leave little to be desired. What was once vibrant and stunning has become jarring and garish. As in the case of such great Hollywood musicals as Singing in the Rain and West Side Story, Phantom would have benefitted with the presence of two directors.

That would have allowed this Phantom to have his torte and eat it too. A dramatic director would have been able to bring some level of reason to the romance, helping counterbalance Schumacher’s glitter and sequin production design. Phantom is pretty to look at, but that’s part of the problem. It’s too pretty. There’s no nuance or menace in the lighting, robbing this Phantom of any expectation. When the Phantom is lit better than Barbra Streisand, he becomes picture postcard pretty.

That’s because he’s played by young Gerard Butler, whose jet black hair, chiseled jaw and porcelain doll complexion paint him more as a rock star doing a charity concert than someone who has been scarred and abandoned by society. Up until now, the Phantom has been depicted as something of a monster, a musical genius forced to hide from life and love. One look at Butler’s Phantom and you wonder what all the fuss is about.

It’s hard to lurk around in the shadows when the dark corners of the opera house are better lit than most public restrooms.

Indeed, the production design is grand and glorious, every chamber, every street, every rooftop and catacomb a wonder to behold. Designer Anthony Pratt gives Schumacher his money’s worth, but at what cost? Schumacher shortchanges the actors by forcing them to compete with the scenery, inflating every emotion to match the wallpaper. His cast is serviceable but not spectacular, something this Phantom deserves. Emmy Rossum is pretty and delicate as Christine Daae, plucked from the chorus line by the Phantom to star in his new opera. When the Phantom speaks, people listen, and when they don’t, people die.

So when the man behind the mask falls for Christine, he sets off a romantic tug-of-war with her suitor, Raoul (Patrick Wilson), who vows to keep Christine safe from the music of the night. Webber and Schumacher have refashioned Gaston Leroux’s 1911 novel into an amusement park ride that just keeps spinning its wheels. It doesn’t take long before the ride becomes tiresome.

Theatrical Treason

Phantom of the Opera Off-Key


Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver, Simon Callow. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Rated PG-13. 143 Minutes.


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