Phantom of the Opera: Broadway vs. Hollywood

From a woman gaining fame and adoration by murdering her lover, to the genius of a man living beneath an opera house, Broadway productions have told stories to countless audiences over the years. For nearly as long it seems, the movie industry has been adapting these well-loved productions and packaging them for everyone to enjoy.

Something happens when Hollywood decides to step in and stylize these productions for the masses, however. Some think that the magic disappears during the transfer, while others prefer movie adaptations because they aren’t as fond of pure stage productions; either way, it’s no secret that the movie industry and the theatre industry have two very different ways of presenting a story.

Andrew Llyod Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera,” which celebrated its 25th anniversary this year and is now Broadway’s longest running production, sports a host of differences between the movie and Broadway forms, for example.

David Edgecombe, a UAA Theatre professor, wasn’t a fan of the 2004 movie adaptation.

“I think the movie is an embarrassment; it’s just not very good.”

Hugh Panaro, the actor currently portraying the iconic Phantom at the Majestic Theatre on Broadway, feels differently.

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“I think they’re such different mediums it’s really almost – I’m taking a cop-out – it’s hard to compare,” Panaro said, “I actually enjoy the movie.”

So, what’s so different between the stage and the movies?

Musical Presentation

The “Phantom of the Opera” stage production and movie adaptation feature not only different actors from one another, but also a slightly different take on how the songs are performed. While the songs are essentially the same, the stage production capitalizes on the opera portion of the story’s setting and theme and uses it as a medium through which to present the story. The melodies are heavily operatic, but reduced slightly to better tell the story. In the movie adaptation of “Phantom,” (directed by Joel Schumacher), musical numbers appear to have operatic qualities tacked on as an afterthought, and are really only noticeable in numbers featured on the opera stage itself, which divides the musical aspect of the experience in two, as opposed to unifying it as a whole.

Costumes and Make-up

Many drooling girls admit that Gerard Butler made a handsome Phantom in the movie adaptation, but according to Panaro, a handsome Phantom is mostly a Hollywood ploy to earn more money.

“The biggest difference I found with the film and this [stage], on Broadway they go much farther with making the Phantom look like he does in the book,” Panaro said, “Emmy Rossum, who played Christine in the movie, actually was coaching with one of our conductors here, and she came back and watched me get into make-up one night, and we asked her ‘Is the make-up going to be the same in the movie?’ And she said, ‘No, because,’ – and I quote – ‘because Hollywood.. they want him to look hot.’ And that spoke volumes to me about Hollywood versus Broadway.”

The Phantom seen on stage, in addition to being a better representation to the hideous creature created for Gaston Leroux’s novel, (originally published in 1910 in France as Le Fantôme de l’Opéra), also featured more drastic mask and costume changes than Butler’s Phantom did in the movie adaptation.

Sequence and Events

It doesn’t seem to matter whether the change is from novel to movie, movie to stage, or stage to movie- there is always at least one change in the sequence of events, if not more. Minor events and scenes are often left out of movie adaptations due to time constraints, which is more understandable. In the case of “Phantom,” the sequential and overall scene changes yield mixed results.

Two changes that seem to benefit the overall story involve a graveyard scene, where Christine Daae goes to a graveyard to visit her father’s grave. In the stage production, her presence there is abrupt, with no lead up, and only those familiar with the story understand where she is and what is happening at first. Later on in the same scene, the Phantom attacks Christine and Raoul, (Christine’s other love interest), by throwing “fireballs” at them using a stage trick that looks like magic. In the movie adaptation, there is a short sequence of events that explain Christine’s presence, as well as Raoul’s and the Phantom’s, in the graveyard, and it is very obvious where they are from the get-go. The battle scene is shown through a duel with swords, which is aesthetically more appealing, doesn’t disrupt the illusion of the story as the “magic” fire does and is more understandable to a wider range of viewers.

Another iconic event in the story that is altered between mediums is the chandelier crash. In the movie adaptation, it represents the story’s climax – the highest point of tension before the movie begins to unwind – and is 10 to 15 minutes before the movie’s end. In the stage production, it represents the end of the first act.

Wait, what?

That is a significant change in plot. The climax of the stage production rests on the musical number “The Point of No Return,” (sung between Christine and the disguised Phantom) and the discovery of the Ópera’s leading tenor, Ubaldo Piangi’s, dead body on stage behind a set piece door.

Both scenarios involve Christine and the Phantom’s duet on stage, and Piangi is found dead in both versions as well; the only difference is the chandelier crash. Is this change to the benefit of viewers? Or is it completely unnecessary? That is a debate on its own.

Some people, including Edgecombe, feel that the transfer from movie to stage is often much smoother than vise versa.

“Sometimes in reverse, they get better, “ Edgecombe said, “If they start as movies and then go to the stage, they keep their integrity – if the movie is initially good.”

Edgecombe does concede one point to movies versus stage productions overall, however.

“The movies can always beat us, on stage, with special effects,” he said.

But Panaro feels the stage has something the movies never will.

“I don’t think anything can rival the experience that you feel with a live production and an audience, because it’s a transfer of energy, and it informs the production, whereas a movie is really kind of controlled by the editor, ultimately,” he said, “The editor gets to decide what the audience sees, whereas here, live, the actors are living, breathing organisms, so you see it all firsthand.”