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December 2004
Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera: An Interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber

Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera: An Interview with Andrew Lloyd Webber

By Wilson Morales

Since "Moulin Rouge" came out a few years ago and brought back the musical genre to the film industry, there's been a surplus of producers ready to drum up fan favorite Broadway musicals and bring them to the big screen. Having "Chicago" win Best Picture in 2002 only intensified the need for more musicals. Not all musicals can generate success for there have been some have failed. Nevertheless, after 15 years of trying to come to the big screen, Producer Andrew Lloyd Webber is finally bringing his Broadway hit, The Phantom of the Opera, to the big screen. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Webber goes over the challenges of bringing a big theater production to the big screen and achieving the success the show has had on stage.

What were some of the changes that you made in the film compared to the stage musical?

Andrew Lloyd Webber: The biggest single change that we made is in the theater we dropped the chandelier at the end of the first act. We decided what we do is to move the moment where the chandelier is dropped to the end of the film which of course gives us a big plus for the Phantom to destroy his own world because it's a gas fire (from the chandelier) which causes the opera house to burn down. In the theater nobody would ask why Carlotta (the opera diva) is croaking like a toad but for movie audiences we thought they would ask so we created a spray which she uses for her voice. We see the Phantom substitute that for a different spray which makes her voice crack. We also had more of a back story for the Phantom in the film of how he came to this opera house so we had a scene (where he is the freak) at the fairground.

How would you describe the process of recording the songs for the film?

ALW: The great thing is obviously we have the ability to have an orchestra. I'd love to hear The Phantom in the theater with a full-size opera orchestra. We had the luxury of doing that (for the film) at Abbey Road Studios which has one of the great rooms of all time. It means that the score is heard in the way that I'd love to have it heard in the theater. This is the first movie where the tracks were not pre-recorded. Some of my music team came and helped on the end of Evita which I was not involved with, but they worked out if ever we were going to be doing a musical ourselves it would be great to find a way to be able to record the performances as they happened on the set and go back repair as we needed to. The whole of this movie is done to scratch tapes and therefore a very great deal of what you see on the screen is actually the performance they gave at the time, which was a fantastic advantage for us.

How did it feel to record at the same studio where The Beatles laid down most of their tracks?

ALW: I've recorded there for years and years and (lyrical partner on Jesus Christ Superstar) Tim Rice used to work for EMI (records). I think the very first things we ever did were done at Abbey Road during the time that the Beatles were still recording. I went to a couple of sessions where they were actually working.

How did you decide on Gerard Butler for The Phantom who had no formal training as a singer?

ALW: The one thing that (director) Joel (Schumacher) and I agreed was that the three principles had to sing. Joel knew Gerard (Butler) and was very keen and thought he was incredibly handsome and would be a great turn-on. He was very keen that I heard him. I sort of played the piano for him and I discovered he got all the notes. What I wasn't quite sure about was whether or not he would have the control over his voice. So I handed him over to Simon Lee who is our musical director and he is the one who has to bring the performance through, and he was absolutely convinced he could do it. We put him with Mary Hammond who is one of the best vocal teaches in Britain and she was convinced he could do it so that was fine for me. And whenever he comes into a room every woman in the place seems to swoon. And they all love his accent. Warner Brothers sent me his chat line on the web and it's absolutely extraordinary. They do love his Scottish accent. He's a very good looking hunk, isn't he?

How come Minnie Driver who can really sing lip synchs as the opera diva?

ALW: We looked for a funny opera singer to play Carlotta but we began to think that such a thing did not exist so we went with Minnie. Minnie who has a great little pop voice sings the song Learn to Be Lonely for the end titles.

Did you hear from the original Phantom of The Opera players Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman?

ALW: Sarah I know is on the road but she's seen bits of it because she came over to my house in Majorca (Spain) in the summer and saw it on a video. Michael who of course is in my new show (The Woman in White) in London, I went to see him on the opening night and he knows that of course he couldn't play the Phantom with a sixteen year old girl (Emmy Rossum). It would take on a slightly different story. (chuckles) It's tough for both of them because they created the role and it's tough for me. I am still very, very friendly with Sarah. She's an old mate and I love her voice. She liked it and she thought Emmy was terrific. But then you know Sarah now is such a big success particularly here (in New York) and the Far East. Everywhere I go to do anything on The Phantom like in Japan (I see) a sort of eighty-foot high Sarah Brightman! I kept ringing her saying, Œthank you very much, you're haunting me around the world!'

How will you lure non musical lovers into seeing this film?

ALW: When Warner (Brothers) tested it they got an audience of fifty percent of people who either had seen The Phantom or loved musicals and fifty percent of people who didn't like musicals. They were very surprised by how many people who didn't like musicals were converted. You've got to also remember that apart from Chicago there hasn't been a staged musical film that has really worked for a long time.

Will seeing this film encourage an audience of young people to experience musical theater?

ALW: There really isn't a culture yet of young people going to see musicals like I did when I was a boy. My family was professional musicians and we didn't have a lot of money but I saw My Fair Lady in the theater. I had lunch in Los Angeles with this one singer called Nelly McKai who uses a lot of theater references (in her music) and The Phantom was the only musical that she had seen. She made the point that her family couldn't really afford to get to see a stage show, let alone what went through Philadelphia (where she is from). Everything that I learned about musical theater was from musical films like Carousel, South Pacific and West Side Story which I saw in the cinema first.

Is there another stage musical of yours that you would like to turn into a film?

ALW: A prime one would be Sunset Boulevard. Paramount own the underlying rights to that because of the original film but that would be a wonderful one to get moving. Cats I'd like to see done as well but Universal owns that and they haven't done anything with it. If things move along as well with this movie I'd like to try and open up a dialogue because I have other smaller ones in mind that could work well too.

What's your secret to writing such catchy melodies that haunt you?

ALW: I love melody. I think melody is a vital part of musical theater and it pleases me a great deal. With my new show we just had a number two hit in England. I think that it's very important to produce songs that come out of the shows. I'm very much story driven so I'm a firm believer that you can have an absolutely fantastic melody and without the right show no one would even know it existed. Melody is a very difficult thing to do. Sometimes I write at the piano and sometimes it just comes to me. It's difficult to generalize really.

What kind of music inspires you?

ALW: I don't really listen to as much music as I want to nowadays because I don't often get the time. I often like to keep away from it because my great interest is art and architecture; that's my sort of hobby that I love. My influences in music are absolutely as wide as you could think. As a kid I had albums ranging from The Beatles to (renowned English composer) Benjamin Britten. I never really put music into categories. I do love listening to contemporary pop. I do think musicals should have music that could be in the charts. Eminem writes great lyrics. I think a lot of the best lyric writing is going on actually in rap music.

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