The 4 Redeeming Features of The Phantom of the Opera Movie

The Phantom of the Opera continues to be a phenomenon on-stage but the film version is generally considered an embarrassment for failing to even touch upon any kind of achievement. There are a number of obvious reasons for this; watching a chandelier fall on-screen and is far less impressive than seeing it fall to the stage from above your head, Joel Schumacher (the man responsible for bat nipples) was directing. Also they shoe-horned fake breasts into 18th century costumes.

Meg

To be fair, the show was a bit lacking in breasts

I put up with the film for a long time because it was the only way I could get my Phantom kicks. During these many viewings I managed to get past the initial terribleness of it all and appreciate the things they managed to get right or even insightful ways they tried to add to the stage production. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t touched my DVD since the 25th anniversary concert screened and I could still produce a long winded rant about the film at the drop of a hat, but credit is where credit’s due and the movie deserves respect for the following…

4. A good looking Phantom

This is not me being shallow. This is all audiences being shallow and Hollywood being monetarily motivated to thus put pretty people in films. Casting Gerard Butler opens the forum to a whole heap of abuse but the man is atheistically pleasing.

Gerad

At least he was then.

Look at Michael Crawford as The Phantom and compare the two.

Gerad MaskMichael Mask

See how tiny Gerard’s mask is? And the visible parts of his face show no signs that the covered area will be any different from the rest of his face. Then boom! It’s all the more shocking on the reveal and all the more tragic that he was so close to being loved and appreciated as a handsome man. And of course the stage version can’t do this because it needs a big obvious disfigurement that can be seen from the back row.

3. Madame Giry

In the show Madame Giry has knowledge of the opera house and an authority over its occupants that is only matched by The Phantom himself. There appears to be some understanding between the two characters as she delivers his messages, warns people not to speak of him and knows his secret hideaway but it’s not entirely clear why she does this. No one could ever convince me that the flashback to young Madame Giry visiting the circus and setting free the young Phantom was a good idea but they used this backstory to develop her character in some interesting ways.

Madame Giry

That is one of many shots of her gazing wistfully at The Phantom with Christine. Using close ups like this and the brilliant subtlety of actress Miranda Richardson, you can see that she is actually in love with the Phantom. This explains why she does his bidding and doesn’t immediately tell people the whereabouts of his lair after the first murder. It also adds to the complexity of The Phantom’s hamartia. The Phantom is so convinced that his face is responsible for his unrequited love and pretty much everything else bad that’s happened to him. Yet here is a woman who has seen his face, knows him as he truly is and loves him. He doesn’t even notice her affections because he couldn’t conceive of a woman loving him after seeing his face.

2. The Ending

The constant flash backs to the black white future are pretty high on the list of complaints I have against this film (just under Raoul’s wig), but I will admit that the added ending is particularly good. The show has the same opening as the film, older Raoul buying an organ monkey, but apart from the reappearance of the organ monkey, this opening is never referenced again. At the end of the show the audience is usually far too blown away by the finale and The Phantom’s exit to really give much thought to the opening. Few people stop and wonder “why did Raoul buy the monkey organ decades later? For all the great memories?”  Well for the people who wondered that, the film has answered. After the Phantom’s less than impressive disappearance on-screen, the magic of editing allows Old Raoul in the future to gently place the Monkey on Christine’s grave. And there on the grave is also a rose from The Phantom. A little scene that adds tragedy and mystery to the story of the Phantom.

1. It wasn’t camp

Now I’ve discussed a couple of things they did right but here’s something they managed to not do wrong. Why should I reward a film points for this? Look at any other adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera and notice how tacky it looks.

Or the original music video.

This is what we call camp and it can be a good thing but when you’re trying to present a more serious musical, accidental camp can be death. The man responsible for bat nipples somehow managed to make the Phantom look kinda badass instead of hilariously gay. I think that deserves a mention.

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The Great Gatsby

The Roaring Twenties are in full swing in this latest adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) throws extravagant parties in the hope that his lost love Daisy (Carey Mulligan) will come back and help him repeat the past.

The movie is narrated by Gatsby’s neighbor and friend Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) as he recalls the story to his doctor; apparently story-telling is very therapeutic. This framing device may have worked for Moulin Rouge! but Carraway is a boring character played by an actor with no personality and these additional scenes only add to the bloated 142 minutes running time. When we do get round to meeting Gatsby, he makes such an entrance and continues to steal each scene so that you could very well forget the first 30 minutes.

DiCaprio gives an impressive performance conveying the depths of Gatsby from the outwardly nouveau riche playboy to the tragically devoted romantic within. In his first meeting with Daisy, audience’s hearts collectively melt at the sight of him nervous and rain soaked. Though the novel is famous as a critique of America, here the love story takes centre stage creating a romance as good as any great costume drama. Mulligan’s youth gives Daisy a girlish charm and partly excuses the character’s capriciousness. Seriously, Daisy is more fickle than The Australian Labour Party when it comes to choosing between her philandering husband and a rich Leonardo DiCaprio.

The movie is surprisingly faithful to the book; even striking images such as the white curtains blowing when we first meet Daisy are taken from Fitzgerald. The visually stylised film is at its element during the decadent party scenes but even the speakeasy and Times Square are extravagant and highly detailed. While bold visuals may work in some scenes, others could use more subtlety. Cars don’t just speed: they drag race, swerving through traffic and cutting off other motorist, as if the world needed a vintage version of The Fast and the Furious. Every driving scene is a whirl of scenery, a roar of engines and angry horns and a churn of audience stomachs. These characters are not so much careless drivers as suicidal maniacs. Even Gatsby isn’t spared from Baz’s unsubtle direction, saying his unique term of endearment “Old Sport” a whopping 51 times till it is nothing more than an annoying catch phrase.

The hip hop soundtrack was a necessary evil for the sake of commercial audiences and album sales. Though it manages not to clash with the Twenties setting, it doesn’t add anything to it either. The ladies costumes aren’t the iconic fashion inspiring outfits that pre-release buzz promised but would you ever take style tips from a movie that dresses its leading man in a pink suit? Even though the soundtrack and costumes didn’t live up to the promotional hype, the movie definitely succeeded in its promise of a box office smash. This doesn’t speak so much to the quality of the film than to the amount of people who love the novel. Or want to see a film version as an alternate to actually reading the 120 pages or so novel. Baz hasn’t silenced the critics with a masterpiece, but it’s no Australia either.

Songs You Didn’t Realise Are Actually Musical Numbers

Given you’re reading this, you probably have a decent knowledge of musicals and know these songs in their original showtune form, but you’re the exception. The average non-musical fan will not hesitate to complain about jukebox musicals creating terrible covers of their much loved pop/rock/ABBA songs and even Glee can anger tweens by not living up to the high standards of the Justin Bieber/Rebecca Black/Nicki Minaj song they’re covering. But we can complain too! And I’m not just talking about those crappy pop remixes (yes Gwen Stefani turning ‘If I Were a Rich Man’ into that). Songs specifically created for use in a musical have become popular after being covered by another popular artist. People recognise and even like the song without knowing they are in fact listening to a show tune.

One Night in Bangkok

From the musical: Chess

The act 2 opener for a musical about Chess world champions became a dance anthem when covered by Murray Head in 1984 which you might hear play at your local discothèque. More widely known today is the version covered by Mike Tyson in The Hangover 2 which was set in Bangkok.

Hey Big Spender

From the musical: Sweet Charity

Well known as a classic Shirley Bassey song but also covered by Peggy Lee and parodied by Homer Simpson encouraging people at a yard sale to “Spend some dough on table three.”

I Say a Little Prayer

From the musical: Promises, Promises

Dionne Warwick and Arethra Fraklin have both popularised this song but it’s probably known more by the young folk for its use in the movie My Best Friend’s Wedding. None of these versions touch on the latter scenes from the musical where the character is dumped and attempts suicide. Can’t imagine why.

Send In the Clowns

From the musical: A Little Night Music

Recorded by Frank Sinatra and Judy Collins, it is rarely recognised as the creation of musical theatre legend Stephen Sondheim. In fact Judy Collins won a Grammy for her cover of the song a year after the show had closed on Broadway. It has again been parodied by The Simpsons as Krusty sings alternate lyrics during his comeback special. The joke being that the song isn’t actually about clowns.

I’ll Never Fall in Love Again

From the musical: Promises, Promises

Very recognisable and covered many times but most notably by Bobbie Gentry, Dionne Warwick and Ella Fitzgerald. This song and all others from the musical were written by Burt Bacharach so fans of his (if they exist) will also know them.

The Impossible Dream (The Quest)

From the musical: Man of la Mancha

A moving song that is repeatedly used to inspire. Note its recent use at the end of Behind the Candelabra to add that uplifting ending, though it really was one of Liberace’s performance pieces. Also to sell Honda Cars.

In fact musical numbers have appeared in many advertisements…

Originally written for the musical Sweet Charity.

Originally written for the hippie musical Hair.

Originally written for the musical Annie Get Your Gun.

I Will Always Love You

From the Musical: The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas

People know this song as sung by Whitney Huston in The Bodyguard. The more knowledgeable may know it was originally Dolly Parton’s song. What they may not know is that Dolly Parton wrote it for her character to sing in the film musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. The song isn’t in the original stage musical but it’s still sung by a brothel owner and former prostitute with Dolly Parton sized breasts.

No Matter What

From the Musical: Whistle Down the Wind

The world knows this song as a Boyzone classic but it is in fact the act 1 finale of an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The song acts as a promise to love someone “no matter what” and the lyrics seem to be describing some sort of Romeo and Juliet love affair. You’d be way off if you thought that. The musical is about an escaped killer who hides in a barn in a small town. When small children find him and ask who he is, he replies with the expletive Jesus Christ. So the children think he is Jesus and sing this song promising to love the escaped killer “no matter what.”

Idina Menzel in Concert

 Concert Hall, QPAC in Brisbane

“I’m through with playing by the rules of someone else’s game”

Broadway and TV Veteran Idina Menzel sings some of her favourite songs for delighted fans.

I have said I’m not the biggest Idina fan. Nothing personal, she seems nice enough and she has talent but I just never felt there was anything special about her. I’ve seen enough Elphaba’s to know that the way she sings Wicked in The original Broadway Cast Recording can be bettered. Though she kept appearing in shows I loved, she never seemed to play characters I particularly liked. Yet, despite the above comments, I clearly felt that seeing Idina was worth $100 and a Saturday night that could have been spent sitting at home writing reviews of other musicals.

I have to admit it was time and money well spent (except for the $6 transaction fee. That’s always money wasted, swindling bastards).

Idina made the brilliant decision of being accompanied by the Queensland Symphony Orchestra who made every song sound beautiful. Even Lady Gaga’s Poker Face. For the sake of Glee fans, Indiana probably had to sing something she sung on the show (and you can imagine how tough it was to choose which awful song) but Poker Face? Probably because it gave her the opportunity to comment on how inappropriately it was used in the show as a duet between mother and daughter. Well Glee, that’s what you get for casting her as mother of a 27 year old actress and giving her crappy songs to sing. At last Idnia had the good graces to apologise to the orchestra for making them play such a song.

Idina’s other song choices were just what fans would have wanted. She sang a few contemporary songs, an original song, a couple of extra show tunes and songs from her most notable shows. Except Wild Party, she skipped over ‘Life of the Party’ for unknown reasons. Stand out performances including a mash-up of The Polices’ ‘Roxanne’ and Cole Porter’s ‘Love for Sale’, a stunningly original rendition of ‘Don’t Rain on my Parade’ and an exciting preview of something from her next show, If/Then (from the team behind Next to Normal!). Idina also paid a touching tribute to her late mentor Marvin Hamlisch by singing two beautiful songs from his brilliant A Chorus Line. These songs really proved to me that Idina could put emotional force in her voice, which I had begun to doubt as the first couple of songs (though sung perfectly) were lacking in emotion. Unfortunately ‘The Wizard and I’ was her first full song. Even though she riffed and belted so that it sounded better than the recorded version, there was no acting on her face. Luckily she’d warmed up enough by the time she sang ‘Defying Gravity.’ Had she messed that one up: there would have been no mercy.

While I remained critical, the rest of the audience seemed to worship Idina’s every move. She would tell a little joke, make a cute comment or even say a swear and the audience would spend a whole minute applauding that small thing. I later found out that this audience would applaud just about anything. Of course Idina picked audience members to sing a duet with her and of course only one of them was a decent singer. Why do people volunteer for that? Yes I would love to sing with Idina Menzel but in an “I’m so talented I’ve sang with Idina Menzel!” way and not in an “I was randomly chosen” way. I would also not want to stand up and sing in front of hundreds of people who just heard someone as talented as Idina. Why don’t people have any shame? Those people will now never have shame because the audience was dumb enough to applaud them after each performance. Not just a polite applause, an actual applause.

That’s not even the worst part. There was a girl who put up her hand to sing, came down to the stage and then said that she didn’t know the words to that particular song — it was ‘Take Me of Leave Me’! What kind of Idina fan doesn’t know that song?. The girl then said she wanted to sing ‘I Dreamed a Dream.’ This girl told Idnia, in the middle of her concert, that Idina should sing another song specifically for the purpose of dueting with her. Idina was nice enough to only appear mildly stunned at this girl’s impudence, explaining that that song wasn’t part of the concert (the orchestra didn’t have the sheet music for it) and that they were in the middle of a different song right now. Idina then had to go back to the girl later to offer to duet an acapella version and you know what that girl did? She sat up on the stage and snatched the microphone right out of Idina’s hand. I still haven’t quite got over the sheer audacity of that girl. People had paid money to see Idina and you’re so desperate for attention that you would literally stop her concert to sing your choice of song? And to top it all off, she was (of course) not a good singer.

I’m going to blame Idina for her this, not only because she turned part of her concert into amateur karaoke night but because she doesn’t make herself intimidating enough. She wanders around the stage barefoot, chews a lolly as she tells a story, adjusts her ill-fitting dress, swears, chats with people in the front row and generally acts unprofessional. This whole “just being myself” attitude is exactly why the audience found you so damn approachable!

Cabaret

Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Performance Company at The Cremorne Theatre, QPAC Brisbane

“It couldn’t please me more”

In early 1930s Berlin, writer Clifford begins an affair with Kit Kat Klub cabaret singer Sally. Their room is let by an old woman who has recently developed a romance with an old Jewish man. Germany in the thirties: you know things are going to get tense.

Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre is not a musical theatre company. While highly respected (rumour has it they are scarily strict), I was not sure what to expect from a company with such little musical background. Their decision to perform Cabaret speaks to the depth of the material; though I’m a little insulted they feel the need to defend their choice to perform a musical at all. Cabaret is a strange mix of musical theatre, Breactian political commentary and drama. I felt the latter would take precedence with this company but there was an equal balance. The show is full of energy, tension and emotion in all the right places.

The actors were impeccable, each creating a unique performance in both the songs and drama. The Emcee was neither Joel Grey’s showman nor Alan Cumming’s S&M creation, instead channelling a gaudy Marlene Dietrich. I had read that the Sally Bowles character of the show was not the same as the Liza Minnelli Oscar-winning creation I was used to, which was for the best as no actress could hope to recreate it on-stage. All of Sally’s songs had an approach that differed from Minnelli’s, particularly ‘Mein Heir’ in which she held each deep “bye” and paused to completely change the pace. I was honestly astonished to discover that the actress had never actually performed in musical theatre before. All the actors moved seamlessly from fully developed characters to Kit Kat Klub entertainers like seasoned veterans.

The show itself deals with people facing persecution, a subject that will sadly always be relevant. The touching romance between Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz made the knowledge that things would only become worse for Jews like Schultz all the more heart-breaking. Yet Schneider’s defence for breaking up the relationship in ‘What Would You Do?’ makes us all wonder the same thing. It’s far more effective than the film’s secondary love story in which two Jews marry with untold consequences. There are many thought provoking moments that are all staged for maximum emotional effect. At the end of act 1, a likeable character reveals a swastika armband under his coat and begins the Nazi Party anthem ‘Tomorrow Belongs to Me.’ Supported by other members of the party, the song becomes louder and as the last lines are repeated, they slowly raise their arms in salute to Hitler. The first act ends on that harrowing moment which is only an indication of the ending of the show itself.

With an amazing book and fantastic actors, there is no need for any flashy sets or costumes. The small theatre is closer to the setting of The Kit Kat Klub and allows greater intimacy than a large scale production. There is nothing a big budget or famous name could add to this — it is the best independent musical theatre production I’ve ever seen. After wowing audiences and winning The Matilda Award for Best Musical, hopefully Zen Zen Zo will change their minds and perform more of the great works musical theatre has to offer.

The Last Five Years

Ignatians Musical Society at The Cremorne Theatre, QPAC in Brisbane

“And in a perfect world a miracle would happen and that day would finally here.”

A love story told separately. The boy tells it from the beginning and the girl tells it from the ending. As she says goodbye from their first date, he says goodbye forever.

As previously stated I am a big Jason Robert Brown fan, my favourite being this show. This could possibly have something to do with the fact I was introduced to it right on the verge of a big break-up but I’ve continued to find the songs have great resonance. So when my favourite little theatre company announces a production, I turn up on opening night with a tissue in hand ready to become completely absorbed into the emotions on-stage. I am usually impressed by the quality of performers in Ignatians productions and there are only two actors in the whole performance so it would be difficult to make a bad casting choice. Difficult but apparently not impossible. I sat in the audience waiting for the music and lyrics of Cathy’s heartbreak to set me blubbering, as the recorded version has prone to making me do. Far from being absorbed, I was too concerned with the whiney voice that couldn’t quite reach half the notes. It’s all very well to be on the verge of tears during a sad number but if you overact and have a lump in your throat, you cannot sing. So the casting of Cathy was wrong but surely I could still enjoy all of Jamie’s songs? In walks Jamie smiling singing missing all the comedy and joy in the song. Smiling was literally the only thing the actor did to indicate the character was happy. Cathy’s next song incorporated over-enthusiastic hand gestures. There was no improvement and I was just preparing myself for a complete disappointment when it suddenly improved. ‘I’m a part of that’ actually used subtly, something that had been missing from the performance until that point. Not having to hold back tears, she also managed to hit some notes. Then Jamie hit back with some brilliant story telling in ‘The Shmaule Song’ where his soft voice didn’t matter. So I was no longer dissatisfied with the production but I was yet to be impressed. The previously puny voice of Cathy belted enough to fill the theatre in ‘Climbing Uphill’, after everyone had stopped laughing at Jamie’s ‘A Miracle Would Happen.’ Even more impressive was the acting skills that came out of nowhere in ‘If I Didn’t Believe in You.’ The character we had only see smile and occasionally act charming was suddenly forceful and you could feel the tension even though he was technically arguing with no one.

While I’ve taken the time to moan about the cast, I haven’t been able to talk about the cute set which was mainly stacks of books, considering Jamie’s success as a writer was a factor in their break-up it’s quite fitting. This is an amazing piece of work but very difficult to make original, or sing in the case of most performers. If you haven’t heard the cast recording of professionals then you’d probably have far less faults. In fact you’d probably just be so taken in with the work itself the actors wouldn’t bother you.

The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber

The Lyric Theatre, QPAC in Brisbane

“And The Money Kept Rolling in”

A musical revue of Lord Lloyd’s most famous numbers and his other contributions to musical theatre.

The phenomenon of Andy Webber is not one that you can easily escape when you love musical theatre. Say what you will, the man can write a show tune and has earned unimaginable sums of money doing so. Here we were presented with another opportunity to give him more of our well-earned cash. But it seems our ticket went towards more than just talented Australian actors and a chair as the set was made entirely of giant LCD screens and light bulbs. The poster for each show appeared as they sung to handily let us know what we were listening to. The man of the hour himself even appeared on screen to talk about his work but unfortunately only twice. And as one who hates technology taking over, I took delight in noting that one of the screens froze and shut down before the end of the show.

Picking and choosing songs from Andy’s shows is not an easy task. On the one hand he has classics like ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ and ‘Memory’ that people outside the world of musical theatre may be drawn in to see. They were in luck with simple bog-standard issues of these old hits. Yet the hard-core fans are always after that something extra, luckily we were supplied with tastes of his latest work and new interpretations of some classics. The promise on the poster of some Love Never Dies songs was certainly a draw card for me. The song ‘Till I Hear You sing’ cannot be performed enough. As many times as I had listened to Ramin Kimarloo sing from my CD player, a real performance was such a treat to Australian audiences who had a while to go before they could see the show in Melbourne. The song is destined to become another classic. The same cannot be said for the actual song ‘Love Never Dies’ which simply seemed wooden. The song is great in the musical but without the knowledge of the situation, it’s a pretty bland song. We were also treated to a more hammed up version of ‘On This Night of A Thousand Stars’ and blown away by a rendition of ‘Whistle Down the Wind’ which was shockingly that actresses only solo. They did well to skim over his less successful work, with only a song or two from Tell Me on a Sunday, The Woman in White and Starlight Express. But including Skimbleshanks the Railway Cat from Cats may have been an oversight. Everyone has their favourites so there will be some disappointment over what was or wasn’t sung. For me the sins of omission include ‘As If We Never Said Goodbye‘ from Sunset Boulevard and every other song in The Phantom of the Opera.

The LCD screens were put to their best use during ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ They stole the beautiful images from the movie for setting (which shows the film version has at least one use). Better still was the performance itself. In the actual show the song is played while the actors float above on the raff or prepare to make their iconic entrance into the lair. As much as I love The Phantom of the Opera, I regret not being able to see the actors for half of this brilliant song. Here was my one opportunity and luckily I was graced with a seasoned Phantom. Boasting a powerful voice and the right emotional pull, the song was — as it should be — the highlight of the night.