News

Two Phantom of the Opera Television Projects may be in the Works
How will they portray Erik - as tongue-tied or as erudite?
As monster or tortured individual or misunderstood hero?
How will the new portrayals compare to older ones?
 

  
Late last year, the entertainment press was abuzz with the news that two television series, based on the Leroux version of The Phantom of the Opera, are in the works.
 
ABC television's series, an hourlong weekly drama, will be set in modern times, in the music business. Marc Cherry, who originated Desperate Housewives, will serve as executive producer, along with Sabrina Wind, his partner in Cherry/Wind Productions.  Alan Zachary and Michael Weiner, both of whom have Broadway writing experience, will write the scripts and serve on the executive production team.
 
Details about the series are not yet available, except that the show will not be a musical.  However, it will include musical performances as they fit into the stories.  Yet to be announced is whether the story lines will be separate from week to week, or will be part of a continuing arc with loose ends ultimately resolved.  Also to be announced is how the Phantom figures into the plot – troublemaker or troubleshooter.
 
Shortly after the Marc Cherry production was reported, Endemol North America announced a Phantom of the Opera dramatic series to be directed by Amelie's Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Even though the production company and director are French, the Phantom will be an English pilot disfigured in World War I. The show is set in 1919, during the Paris Peace conference. A series of murders with the Phantom at the center threaten the conference. Instead of the Paris Opera, the theatrical venue in which the action occurs is a nightclub.
 
Of course, I plan to watch the shows, at least in the beginning.  What POTO phan would not?  However, I have grave doubts whether an ongoing series is possible without watering down the Phantom's character's flaws (especially as presented by Leroux), or at least without having him come to terms with the managers. Otherwise, week after week, the plot's focus would have to be on how the Phantom sabotaged someone's career to ensure that the Christine character became a superstar.  In an ongoing series, I believe the Phantom must be a "good guy" – perhaps the studio's or nightclub's protector – who sometimes uses improper means to reach the right result.
 
Also, I expect that both series will have to change Leroux's characterization of the Phantom as inarticulate. Leroux's Erik, although clearly a genius, musically and otherwise, has neither mastered handwriting nor spoken language.  One of the new managers describes Erik's handwriting as containing
 
[A] paragraph in red ink and in a queer, labored handwriting, as though it had been produced by dipping the heads of matches into the ink, the writing of a child that has never got beyond the down-strokes and has not learned to join its letters.
 
The childish handwriting is consistent with Erik's verbal phrasing.  He calls the Persian daroga (police chief) a "booby" and sometimes refers to himself in the third person. He tells the daroga:
 
Very old and worn, my dear daroga! Very old and worn, the chandelier! … It fell of itself! … It came down with a smash! … And now, daroga, take my advice and go and dry yourself, or you'll catch a cold in the head! … And never get into my boat again … And, whatever you do, don't try to enter my house: I'm not always there … daroga! And I should be sorry to have to dedicate my Requiem Mass to you!
 
***
 
I won't answer for anything! … If Erik's secrets cease to be Erik's secrets, IT WILL BE A BAD LOOKOUT FOR A GOODLY NUMBER OF THE HUMAN RACE! That's all I have to tell you, and unless you are a great booby, it ought to be enough for you … except that you don't know how to take a hint....
 
Erik's childlike verbal phraseology contrasts with the sophisticated, sarcastic tone in the letter he writes to the new managers:
 
I am sorry to have to trouble you at a time when you must be so very busy, renewing important engagements, signing fresh ones and generally displaying your excellent taste. I know what you have done for Carlotta, Sorelli and little Jammes and for a few others whose admirable qualities of talent or genius you have suspected.
 
Of course, when I use these words, I do not mean to apply them to La Carlotta, who sings like a squirt and who ought never to have been allowed to leave the Ambassadeurs and the Cafe Jacquin; nor to La Sorelli, who owes her success mainly to the coach-builders; nor to little Jammes, who dances like a calf in a field.
 
The Endemol production, with a fighter pilot as protagonist, is likely to portray Erik as able to express himself in an adult manner and I expect that the Cherry production will do so as well. I can't imagine that an ongoing series can maintain from week to week the division between Erik's verbal and coordination deficits on the one hand and the sophistication of his written language and his physical prowess in other areas. Autism or Asperger's syndrome might explain Erik's extreme contrasts, including his mood swings, but it would not explain his success as an architect to the Shah of Persia and the Ottoman Sultan; an individual who can navigate his way through intrigue-filled environments does not appear to be a likely candidate for a diagnosis of autism or Asperger's, and such an individual would probably speak with much greater sophistication than does Leroux's Erik.
 
Many of the more recent versions of the story tone down Erik's difficulties with verbal expression and portray him as highly sophisticated in most ways, but emotionally immature and alienated from society.  Susan Kay's Phantom, a novel published in 1990 and recently re-released, reimagines the story without Leroux's hyperbole and without expecting the reader to acquiesce in the Persian daroga's blithe explanation that Erik is a "monster."  Arthur Kopit, in his and Maury Yeston's musical Phantom and in his adaptation of the then unreleased script into the Charles Dance miniseries, portrays the erudite Erik as almost an innocent, who believes that he is entitled to defend his underground cocoon by killing. ALW's portrayal is closer to Susan Kay's, upon which she based her novel in part.  Their depictions of Erik are of a tortured individual who knows that he is violating moral law by killing, but rejects society's morality.
 
Back to the two television projects. I have been unable to find recent news regarding their status, but stay tuned....
 
§§§