As the node title might suggest, this is not
a general Phantom
node, but one pertaining specifically to the musical
, more specifically to the musical created by the much-loved, much-hated Andrew Lloyd Webber
. For more info on other versions, and for a full online version of the book that started it all, check out The Phantom of the Opera
FYGPD: I make no claims to being unbiased. I love Phantom to death, despite how much Sondheim fans try to hammer it through my skull that it's glammy 80's mega-musical schlock and nothing more, and furthermore I've always approached the musical from the perspective of a Phantom fan, not a theater geek or Broadway aficionado. Take that as you will, but please don't attempt to convince me that from a theatrical standpoint the musical is crap. Despite the occasional bit part in Little Shop of Horrors or Camelot, I'm really not a theater person and I don't care.
You know you've heard at least some of it before. Even if you've never actually seen the show, the five descending chromatic minor chords of the title theme are instantly recognizable, and, if hummed, likely to provoke falsetto outbursts of "In sleep he sang to me..." or, more often, "The Phaaaaaaantom of the Opera is there, inside your mind!" from several people in the general vicinity. Even if you don't recognize any of the music, the story in some variation or basic form has filtered into the collective unconscious of pop culture: hideously deformed musical genius in a mask falls in love with a young soprano while terrorizing an opera house. Of course, despite its many adaptations, it probably wouldn't have filtered in there in the first place without the help of one Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
It started forming in the early 80s. Webber stumbled upon the story, was intrigued enough to want to write a musical about it, and employed the help of lyricist Charles Hart for his new quest. Along the way he wound up writing the part of Christine explicitly for the voice of Sarah Brightman, then his wife, and more subtly adding autobiographical elements to the character of the Phantom. (Apparently Lord Webber had some insecurity issues, which he has since attempted to make up for through excessive wealth, mostly by being a notoriously greedy bastard.) The musical, originally intended as something of a rock opera, gradually transformed into the unabashedly romantic show we have today, although traces of its roots still remain in the cheesy 80s synthdrum in the title song. With direction by Hal Prince and design by the wonderful Maria Bjørnsson, Phantom opened in 1986 in London starring Michael Crawford as the Phantom, Sarah Brightman as Christine, and Steve Barton as Raoul.
(Interesting factoids about the three original leads: Crawford, though today considered to be the One True Phantom, wasn't who Webber originally wanted. Colm Wilkinson was originally slated to play the lead but couldn't (I think because he was tied up as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables?), which is just as well because when he eventually got to play the Phantom his interpretation sucked balls. Brightman, even though the part of Christine was written for her, didn't stay on long after the show moved to Broadway, principally because her "acting" consisted of standing on the stage like a log with wide, glassy eyes. Barton was a wonderful Raoul but committed suicide some years after leaving the show.)
In 1988 Phantom moved to Broadway; it's been a more-or-less permanent fixture both there and in West End ever since, has become the second-longest-running musical on Broadway, and shows no signs of slowing down. It's spawned a plethora of international productions; off the top of my head, I believe it's been in various cities in England, America, Canada, Australia, Austria, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Mexico, Japan, and Korea, with a differently-designed but musically and plot-wise identical production in Hungary and another one slated to open soon in China. Whew. All of these have given rise to innumerable foreign-language cast recordings, of which I am a shameless and fanatical collector. And if you happen to have any of the Japanese or Korean recordings, or the rare European singles, drop me a /msg, by the way.
A (Maybe Not-So-) Brief Plot Synopsis
With spoilers. Oh yes.
An auction in an old, dusty wreck of an opera house. An equally old gentleman in a wheelchair buying most of the items out of nostalgia. "A chandelier in pieces," somehow connected to "the strange affair of the Phantom of the Opera," that ignites with a bang, starts the overture, and flings us back in time to the same opera house in its prime. Rehearsals for a new opera, some thinly veiled exposition, and then the resident diva throws a snit over "accidents" attibuted to a ghost and leaves without an understudy. Christine Daae, an orphaned and unknown chorus girl trained by a mysterious tutor, rises miraculously to give a triumphant performance in the leading role, and upon closer questioning by a friend in the ballet corps, reveals that her "tutor" is actually the Angel of Music, sent from heaven by her dead father. A childhood friend, the Viscount Raoul de Chagny, witnesses her performance and is smitten, but the jealous angel forbids her to see him again. Christine pleads with him to show himself, and he appears through her dressing room mirror to lead her through the opera house's secret passages.
You guessed it. The guy who claimed to be an angel is actually the much-feared ghost himself, the Phantom of the Opera, the masked musical menace. After a voyage across an underground lake to the tune of creepy organ music and ear-shatteringly soprano cadenzas, tries to win her trust with The Music of the Night, a ballad/lullaby that's all about imagination, reclaiming the typically frightening concept of darkness into something sweet and desirable and powerful. She falls asleep in a trancelike state and awakens the next morning a whole lot more lucid and a whole lot more curious. Not very sensible though--she rips off his mask and is actually surprised to find that, yes, he's hiding some pretty serious deformity under it. He screams at her, then threatens, then finally begs for her acceptance, but all she can bring herself to do is give his mask back and allow herself to be led back up to the world outside.
Meanwhile the managers of the opera are in a tizzy: their sopranos are disappearing left and right, they're getting a series of threatening notes demanding money and leading roles for Christine, and on top of it all they have to deal with prima donna Carlotta, who embodies every diva stereotype on the planet. In defiance, they cast Carlotta in the lead for the next big opera... big mistake. Carlotta croaks like a toad halfway through the performance, the Phantom runs around threatening to drop the chandelier, and the body of a dead sceneshifter drops from the rafters. General panic, and Christine, accompanied by Raoul, flees to the roof to escape the wrath of the largely underground-dwelling Phantom.
What follows between Christine and Raoul cannot adequately be expressed by the term "soppy love song;" it's so soppy and lovey-dovey as to almost be a takeoff of soppy love songs, even though the audience is expected to take it seriously and mask their disgust for the Barbie and Ken, knight in shining armor vibe the whole thing reeks of. And, of course, the Phantom overhears them. And gets really, really angry. And, in a jealous rage, follows through on his threats to drop the chandelier. Hilarity, erm, general mayhem ensues.
Tired yet? Oh, that was only Act One! Halfway there, chin up, chin up!
We enter Act Two six months later, in which time the Phantom hasn't been heard from. Normal life (well, as normal as you can get in an opera company) has set in, Christine and Raoul are engaged, and the managers are hosting a masquerade ball. Glittery whole-cast number involving a giant staircase and lots of dancing, etc etc. And who should crash the party but our favorite Opera Ghost, who demands that they perform an opera he has written during his six-month disappearance--Don Juan Triumphant. With his casting directions, of course. And should they not comply, "there are," after all, "worse things than a shattered chandelier." The managers, since they can't very well do much else, follow his orders, but Christine, who is to sing the lead role, refuses. Raoul hatches a Harebrained Scheme to catch the Phantom by luring him into watching Christine perform in his opera while marksmen pick him out in the audience; Christine tells him to shove off and runs off, strangely enough, to the graveyard where her father is buried.
No one understands the graveyard scene on the first viewing. I'm not sure I understand its place in the musical now, and I've been a fan for years. Christine, standing before her father's tomb, sings a very pretty but very out-of-place song pleading to let go of the memory of an ambiguous father figure. It's never explained whether said figure is her actual dead father, or her memory of the Phantom as a guide and tutor; either way, menfolks start following her there and things get hairy. The Phantom shows up and tries to lure her to him by a combination of freaky hypnosis and her confusion between himself and her father; Raoul shows up and starts yelling threats at the Phantom; the Phantom uses his freaky-deaky magic staff to shoot fireballs at Raoul until Christine drags him away. Freud would have a field day with this scene.
Switch to the opening night of Don Juan Triumphant. Christine, rather pissed off about the whole shooting-fireballs-at-her-boyfriend incident, has agreed to sing the lead and help catch the Phantom. Who is two steps ahead, as usual. Unknown to anyone else, he strangles the lead tenor and performs as Don Juan in his place. Including a passionate love duet (Point of No Return) with the female lead, aka Christine, with much groping and racy lyrics. When she finally fully catches on--not the sharpest knife in the drawer--she rips his hood and mask off, exposing his deformity to the crowd. Rather peeved, he kidnaps her and drags her back down to his lair, where he demands she marry him.
And then Raoul shows up. He followed them down, you see, and makes his usual blustery threats to the Phantom, who seriously looks like he wants to rape Christine. Naturally our ghost-man has his head in a noose in about thirty seconds flat, and now the demands change: marry me, or I kill pretty-boy here. The final trio surrounding the decision is, IMO, one of the best moments in the show, with the tunes of songs the audience has already been introduced to in separate form being combined in harmony, concluding with a beautifully chilling (when done right) rendition of Angel of Music over Point of No Return.
In the end, in a moment of supreme forgiveness--or maybe just trying to save her boyfriend's skin, there's still argument over that--Christine chooses to stay with the Phantom. With a kiss, in fact. Things get frantic, there's a lynch mob following him down into the cellars for killing the tenor, and finally he redeems himself by giving up Christine and letting her leave with Raoul. When the mob finds his lair, he has already disappeared, leaving only his white mask behind.
Now that's over with, I feel the pressing need to address the music. When I first saw the show I was not what you might call someone who liked musicals--in fact, I thought they were a load of crap. Picture a surly fourteen-year-old in a ratty hoodie with angry German metal on his headphones and a spiky collar round his neck, being dragged into the theater on a field trip. Now picture the same fourteen-year-old emerging two and a half hours later, stumbling out of the theater with glassy eyes and humming "Music of the Night" under his breath, rather awestruck to say the least. Being a surly fourteen-year-old, I had of course forgotten this effect 24 hours later, but yes, it did have roughly that effect on me. It wasn't till two years later, when I heard the organ- and synth-driven, charismatic title song again, that I got my ass out to Borders and bought the soundtrack. Which did not leave my CD player for about 3 months. I can get perseverative like that.
The overture is a wonderful thing, perfect for blasting at 80 decibels at 3 in the morning and arousing the ire of your dorm-mates. The first part is played entirely on organ, starting with a blast of the chromatic chords and moving into the main theme, as it were, both of which are used again in the title song. The descending chords are used throughout the play whenever the Phantom has wrought some particularly dastardly havoc.
The first act sees two parodies of conventional opera: the first, "Hannibal," is a rather ridiculous spoof of Meyerbeer and his ilk, lavish, opulent, and glorious to the point of being amusing. I have a friend who calls Andrew Lloyd Webber "the Meyerbeer of musicals." The second, "Il Muto," is a slightly irreverent takeoff of The Marriage of Figaro, ironically enough placed after a babbling, confusing sextet in the managers' office that owes plenty to Mozart.
Oh yes, and speaking of paying homage to other composers. Mozart isn't the only one Webber references, although the brief glimpse we see of Don Juan Triumphant appears to retell Don Giovanni with Don Juan as a sort of antihero, rather than a flat-out villain. If you've heard any Puccini, Point of No Return will provoke eerie deja vu, and the whole score is laced with Wagnerian leitmotif.
What, you may ask, is leitmotif? Basically, recurring themes for characters and situations. You've heard it on the Star Wars soundtrack: the Imperial March playing on all of Vader's appearances, themes for Leia, for Rebel victory, for Han and Leia's romance, for battle scenes... same deal here. You have, as mentioned above, the trademark "dunnnn! dun-dun-dun-dun dunnnn!" playing for disasters, All I Ask of You symbolizing Raoul and Christine, Music of the Night for the Phantom, Angel of Music for the more sweet and innocent stuff between Erik and Christine (Erik, by the way, is the Phantom's name, although this is never mentioned in the musical), Point of No Return and the verses from The Phantom of the Opera for the darker aspects of their relationship. Interestingly enough, Christine has no motif of her own, and is instead solely defined through her relationships with her two suitors--although she has two solos, Think of Me and Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, they rarely if ever recur as themes. Prima Donna, the ass-kissing song the managers sing to convince Carlotta to take the lead, is only reprised once: when Raoul is trying to convince Christine to take part in his plan and sing in the Phantom's opera. The triumphant swell of the song, applied to Christine, indicates that she is once and for all the new leading lady, and Carlotta might as well be out of the picture, and foreshadows that just as Carlotta was cajoled into taking the lead in "Il Muto," so Christine will be talked into singing in "Don Juan Triumphant."
Getting just a little further into the musical symbolism, the first act, though the Phantom has the last word, ends in a straight-up reprise of "All I Ask of You"--Raoul and Christine's theme. His ending line, "You will curse the day you did not do/All that the Phantom asked of you," is still completely in the tune of the song, although the last chord becomes the beginning of his chromatic theme instead of the major chord the song originally ended on. Even so, he's still talking in terms of them, musically--their relationship, and his jealousy of it, consumes him. But the ending of the second act, though it starts as an All I Ask of You Reprise, transforms smoothly on the last line into Music of the Night. He has let go, given up Christine, and ends the show both on his terms and with his own, and only, solo motif. "It's over now, the music of the night!"
Yadda yadda, I Am Not A Music Major and am probably talking out of my ass, but I still like to pick these things apart. I may have no life, but there's musical symbolism aplenty in Phantom, and I find it fun to look at it. Oh, and anyone who thinks Webber is incapable of writing complex music should check out the Prima Donna sextet. The whole story is filled with messages, symbolism, and allusions--masks being the most obvious symbol, of course. As for allusion, take your pick: there are lyrical references to Pandora and Delilah, among others, parallels can be found in Persephone and Hades, Psyche and Cupid, Beauty and the Beast, and plenty more where that came from. The subterranean lake (which actually existed beneath the Palais Garnier at some point) is called Lake Averne.
There is some issue, among fans and generally anyone who sees the show, over how to really see the Phantom. There are a few general camps for this: the "He's a murderous, jealous, possessive, controlling psycho who kills people all the time and tries to coerce Christine into loving him," the "He's the king of all badasses and fucking rules," and the "He's just a mistreated and misunderstood musical genius who loves Christine tenderly and would do anything for her--awwww." Unfortunately, the last one is the most popular among the fanbase, which mostly consists of teenage girls who are willing to overlook the arguability of the first interpretation and think of Erik as this really hot guy who lives underground and is a mistreated genius and sacrifices endlessly for true love. The Andrew Lloyd Webber musical--and the movie based on it, which comes out in December--are in no small part responsible for this, as the Phantom in the musical is a generally polished guy in a tux, fedora, cape, and mask ensemble with a lot of repressed sexual tension. Plus the deformity only covers half his head, and the other half is usually a very attractive actor. Whereas the original Erik, without the sexy spin, was a skeletally thin older gentleman with a face like a skull, who reeked of death and had very little sanity left in that ugly head of his.
As you may or may not know (I haven't been keeping up that well with the advertising contingent), Phantom was recently made into a(nother) movie, starring Gerard Butler, Emmy Rossum, Patrick Wilson, and Minnie Driver. Who? Yeah, that's what I said too. Only time will tell as to whether it's crap or classic, but my vote goes to "crap." Webber and director Joel Schumacher (yes, he of Batman and Robin fame/infamy) decided to give the whole thing a "young and sexy" makeover, resulting in a Christine who was too young--Rossum, only 16 during filming, sounds like an untrained twelve-year-old, though her acting carries the movie--and a Phantom who was too sexy. No, I'm not talking about the sensual hand movement thing that Michael Crawford used to do. Gerard Butler was obviously chosen for his rugged and conventionally heartthrob-ish good looks, in favor of actual singing talent; TPTB apparently forgot that his character is supposed to be ugly.
Okay, it's lavish. Though the costumes tend towards the racy and historically inaccurate, it's lots of fun to look at, just try not to notice how badly they screwed up Erik's characterization. The sexy issue, though it destabilized his character quite a bit, could have worked nicely under a skilled director, but Schumacher doesn't even try, and in fact adds in a scene where Madame Giry saves Erik from a freak show, which makes all the eventual howling of "the world showed no compassion to me!" sound like plain old whining. Plus, Schumacher seems terminally unaware of how much camp he's injected into the already-rather-campy story; any more cheese and I would've gone into anaphylactic shock.
This fan's opinion? Go see it, especially if you can't afford tickets to the stage show. But if you're thinking of buying the movie soundtrack, spring for the original London cast recording instead.
Tracklist for the 2-CD Complete Cast Recording*:
3. A rehearsal of "Hannibal" / Think of Me (Carlotta)
4. Think of Me (Christine)
5. Angel of Music
6. Little Lotte / The Mirror
7. The Phantom of the Opera
8. The Music of the Night
9. I Remember / Stranger Than You Dreamt It
10. Magical Lasso
12. Prima Donna
13. Il Muto / Poor Fool, He Makes Me Laugh / Il Muto Ballet
14. Why Have You Brought Us Here / Raoul, I've Been There
15. All I Ask of You
16. I Gave You My Music (All I Ask of You Reprise)
2. Masquerade / Why So Silent?
3. Notes II
4. Twisted Every Way
5. A Rehearsal for "Don Juan Triumphant"
6. Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again
7. Wandering Child / Bravo, Monsieur
8. The Premiere of "Don Juan Triumphant"
9. The Point of No Return
10. Down Once More
11. The Final Lair
* This is not the exact tracklisting on the original London cast recording, which is the most common; the track divisions are mostly cannibalized from the Viennese recording, and a couple of the song titles were more used in the Canadian production. But it makes more sense that way; the track divisions on the London recording are bizarre.