It’s not a musical. The Andrew Lloyd Webber version is a musical. This Phantom of the Opera adaptation plays as a black comedy, transplanting the classic tale from the world of opera to glam rock with Faustian touches. And it’s terrific.
Paul Williams plays Swan, an enigmatic music producer. William Finley plays Winslow, a gifted composer and singer. Swan steals Winslow’s life’s work, a cantata based on Faust, with plans to use it to open his new music venue, the Paradise.
Winslow attempts revenge, but an accident leaves him wounded and disfigured with a raspy voice incapable of carrying a tune. Donning a costume Winslow haunts the Paradise.
Here, I thought the picture would follow a predictable arc. Winslow’s Phantom sabotages Swan’s attempts to stage his music, culminating in a showdown between the two. Indeed, we get a thrilling scene in writer-director Brian DePalma’s now-signature split-screen where Winslow blows up a rehearsal. But then something unexpected occurs. Winslow confronts Swan and Swan convinces Winslow to work for him and rewrite his cantata for a talented singer played by Jessica Harper.
I won’t spoil more, but I loved seeing DePalma marry his thriller and comedy roots. The resulting deft blend harkens back to his first release, Murder à la Mod. The songs (all by Williams) prove entertaining and the resulting amalgam of transgressive thrills, dark comedy, and rock wrapped in genre trappings paved the way for The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
And like Rocky Horror, I suspect Phantom of the Paradise plays better with a crowd. I’m looking forward to it.