Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Phantom and I

There are women all over who fall for fictional leading men. You have only to say "Heathcliff" or "Mr. Rochester" or "Edward" or even..."Christian Grey" in a group of women to find out who is crazy about who. And then...there are the women whom when you say the names "Erik" or "the Phantom" smile knowingly, (OK, Dracula, too...but that's a different post).
What is it about the tall, thin man who wears a mask to hide his appearance? He is also a musical and architectural genius (and murderer) who is ready to risk all for the love of Christine, the girl he has taught to sing. Plus, as he says in the book, he is never boring! This great love story reaches out to many women particularly when accompanied by a brilliant Andrew Lloyd Weber score. Now, for the story of  the Phantom... and me, or should I say I:
I wrote earlier about Famous Monsters Magazine changing my life and its introducing me to Erik, the Phantom of the Opera, through images of Lon Chaney. I was fascinated by those stills.
A couple of years later, I think I was around 11,
I somehow saw a copy of the book for sale and I had to send away for it. My father gave me a check and before long it was in my hands! The thrill of reading that edition with its paintings based on images from the film was something I still remember!!!!
 I was lost in the world of the Paris Opera and Erik and his grand opera passion for Christine and her love and fear of him and the safer road to take, Raoul.  Then... before I ever got to see the Lon Chaney film, not so easy to see silent classics outside the great New York revival theaters like the Thalia and the New Yorker, I saw the Claude Rains version on late night television. I'd seen photos of his Phantom in Famous Monsters, too, so I couldn't believe my luck that it was actually on something I had access to!
 I was always drawn to Claude Rains and his gentlemanly manner and seductive voice...(and he's buried in NH, by the way), and though the story was a bit different than Gaston Leroux's original I was captivated by it and its great, dramatic score. Plus, he had a nice 1940's style mask. I taped it on my tinny little tape recorder so I could listen to the dialogue and the music over and over.
I was well on my way to my Phantom obsession, as you can see.

Sometime in my early teens I saw the Lon Chaney version which my parents took me to see someplace in the city that showed old films, can't remember where, exactly, and it was amazing to see those flickering ghosts of the past come alive again on screen. I loved every minute!
There have been others who played memorable Phantoms. Herbert Lom in the Hammer Films production  which I saw when it opened and Charles Dance in a mini-series that I only saw for the first time this year.
Herbert Lom (L) and Charles Dance (R)
Who would have thought that one day you could own all these films?
In the 70's there was Phantom of the Paradise one of my all time favorite movies and a modern twist on the classic Phantom with a great soundtrack by Paul Williams who also played the evil record producer/ devil who buys the idealistic young composer's score AND his soul and tries various ways to dispatch him only to turn him into the Phantom of the Paradise theater.

William Finley was funny and sympathetic and he had a fabulous helmet mask and black leather outfit to stalk the theater in. (Oh, no! Looking up William Finley I see he just died recently!!! Sad!)
Flash-forward to 1978 when my ex and I moved from NY to NH to run his family's vineyard ( a looong story) and NY, my favorite city and place in all the world, was then further away than I'd ever been from it and BROADWAY my specific favorite place ( plus Off- and Off-Off Broadway) (boo hoo!) so the last production I saw was Edward Gorey's Dracula with Frank Langella, not a bad memory to take with one, while the cost of ticket prices soared. Flash forward, again and PHANTOM opens in NY!!!

How I longed to see it... but NY was harder to do without a base anymore (or a lot of money!).

I had to content myself with repeated listenings to Andrew Lloyd Weber's CD with Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman's entrancing voices. So, moving forward in time once more to the movie version which I, of course, saw on opening day.
It was beautifully filmed and Gerard Butler (very sexy!) and Emmy Rossum were wonderful,  but I would have preferred a more filmed stage version than all the distracting cuts to the stagehands and behind the scenes and away from the Phantom and Christine. Picky, picky, I know.

This is nice. A deleted song

*, you can see the 25th Anniversary DVD which IS a filmed stage version with Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess:

During all these years I reread the Leroux original many times and one day, in a used book store I came across Susan Kay's "Phantom"!!! I am usually a purist when it comes to  authors using the characters created by another...but this was incredible!!! It gave Erik a completely believable back-story. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED it!!!
 Later, I discovered new authors using Erik, Christine, Raoul and the Persian to great affect! I LOVE Jennifer Linforth's Madrigal series and wrote about them and other great Phantom fiction here: Militant Recommender
The internet has a wealth of fan (or Phan) fiction and facebook groups and anything on the Phantom you can think of including wonderful art.

by zhdaNN
(Interesting that after Leroux... all my favorite Phantom books and art are by women. Hmmmmm.)
And, this spring I saw a terrific and impressive production of Phantom by the Spaulding HS drama group. It was beautifully acted and produced with a great cast and unbelievably fantastic sets (but NOTHING on youtube to link to!). Of course I LOVED it! Wow! I thought, if this is THIS good...imagine what the Broadway production is like!!!!!
Recently Love Never Dies, ALW's sequel to the Phantom was released to DVD and it is GORGEOUS and the songs, while different from the original, are haunting in their own right, though, *SPOILER* What kind of ending was THAT, Mr. Sir ALW???"

I've been making Phantom jewelry, lately, because when you need the kind of jewelry you can really obsess over... sometimes you just have to make it yourself!
And why, you might ask, am I particularly obsessed??? Because I have my ticket to go see Phantom on Broadway!!!! Yes! Hopefully I will get to see the amazing Hugh Panaro in the role (Please, Please, Please!!!!) and I have a fantastic (or should I say Phantastic) seat which cost A LOT! I'll be going with the Enabler, who is usually up for doing things when I bug him to.
So, much more on this when I get back!!!
Hugh singing, below (couldn't find a decent video in costume but this is pretty cute!)


  1. Very well-written story about your Phantom journey, Stephanie! Thanks so much for sharing. I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post.

    1. Thanks so much for reading and your kind words, Kayla! It means a lot to me, when another Phan enjoys it!

  2. I quite enjoyed your post. I too have loved the Phantom since I was a little girl. Starting with the silent film. Oddly I have never read the book. Now you have made me want to. Thank you.

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. The book is wonderful. I hope you enjoy it.