The Phantom of the Opera: Royal Albert Hall vs 2004 Film
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Musical theatre is arguably the most popular form of performing art. From Broadway shows to Disney films, musicals hold a lofty place in the world of entertainment. The Phantom of the Opera, in particular, is one of the most iconic musicals to ever be performed. Since its Broadway debut thirty-four years ago, POTO has held a continuous run in the Broadway line-up, only halted recently due to COVID.
I personally discovered The Phantom when I was thirteen in the form of the 2004 film from Warner Bros. Though I had grown up with musicals all my life, it was The Phantom that caused me to appreciate musicals as an art form rather than merely a form of entertainment. This musical paved my way to becoming a musical theatre student, which is a time in my life that I will always cherish.
It wasn't until a few days ago that I finally sat down to watch the 25th-anniversary performance of POTO released in 2011 starring Sierra Boggess (The Little Mermaid on Broadway) and Ramin Karimloo (Les Misérables on Broadway). The differences between the original Broadway script and the 2004 film are slight, yet they make a huge difference in the overall story. Additionally, the styles of performance between the film actors and the stage actors enable both versions of the story to carry their individual feeling.
One of the first things to come up when discussing these two performances is the varied ways Sierra Boggess and Emmy Rossum portray Christine. Sierra has far more experience in professional musical theatre, making her operatic voice much more developed. Nevertheless, Emmy Rossum has a beautiful singing voice, if somewhat softer than Boggess's.
Personally, I prefer Emmy's voice as Christine, as I'm not a big fan of vibrato in soprano voices, which is a technique Boggess often uses. When singing The Phantom of the Opera main theme, though, Boggess is able to reach a much higher pitch than Rossum, which is a major feat for such an iconic song.
In regard to their acting, it's much more difficult to compare these two performers, as directing an actor is far different on a stage than it is on a film set. The character of Christine is also written a bit differently for the film. In the original Broadway script, though Christine struggles between choosing sides with the OG and the rest of the opera crew, she makes her decision quite early on in the show.
In the film, however, it isn't until performing Past the Point of No Return that Christine finally makes up her mind. Rossum's Christine is far more indecisive, which causes the audience to feel quite frustrated with her character at times.
"Angel of music, guide, and guardian..."
The Phantom, our titular character, is probably the most important casting choice for this show. From singing voice to character portrayal, Ramin Karimloo and Gerard Butler (Dear Frankie) contrast vividly.
The biggest difference in their performance was Warner Bros.' choice to cast a non-opera singer as The Phantom. Gerard Butler, though having a beautiful singing voice, cannot reach the same tenor levels that Karimloo can. Ramin is one of the most beloved broadway actors of this generation and is often regarded as the best version of the OG within the fandom, making the competition steep.
Despite this, between these two actors, I prefer Butler's singing voice. Karimloo is quite pitchy when he hits high notes, which I don't really care for. His voice reminds me a lot of Enrique Iglesias, who I enjoy but also am picky about for the same reasons.
Gerard Butler, however, has a softness to his pitch that relaxes me when I listen to it, and his Scottish accent mixed in just adds to the charm and seduction of his voice.
My favorite voice for The Phantom is actually that of John Owen-Jones (Les Miserables: In Concert), who played the OG in the Broadway show from 2000-2004. I highly recommend that my fellow Phantom Phans check out his version of POTO on Spotify; I promise, you will be truly swept away by his 'music of the night'.
As actors, however, I find Karimloo portrays the ominous aspect of The Phantom far better than Butler. You'll hear Karimloo's Phantom laughing in the background when certain characters are killed off, which displays his mindset in a much more transparent way than in the 2004 film.
Interestingly, you also feel far more remorse for The Phantom, as Karimloo's expressions of anger and fear in the final scene cause you to cry within five seconds of his lines when he's begging Christine and Raoul to leave him alone.
Gerard Butler's version of The Phantom seems to have better cognitive thinking and is more genius than he is a madman. I had to watch The Phantom of the Opera (2004) a few times before I was able to fully sympathize with The Phantom and his plight, whereas I instantly felt a deep sadness for his character in the Royal Albert Hall performance.
"Anywhere you go, let me go too..."
Without a doubt, Hadley Fraser (Les Misérables) is hands down my favorite Raoul. I'm a disgrace to this fandom, as I have always been team Raoul (you can riot against me later), but that never stopped me from feeling completely irritated with him throughout the entire show.
Patrick Wilson (Aquaman), though great in his portrayal of the character, is not written as well as the Broadway version of Raoul is. He doesn't come off as either brave or gallant in the way that he's supposed to but rather seems constantly distracted by his feelings for Christine.
As a character, Fraser's Raoul has a much stronger backbone and grasp on reality. His strength of character and resolve to beat The Phantom at his game almost makes up for the stupid decisions he makes throughout the show (I said almost). Overall, the Broadway version of this character is much more likable than the film version.
As singers, both Wilson and Fraser bring a lot to the table. Wilson, like Gerard Butler, is not an opera singer. However, he holds his own against Emmy Rossum, who was classically trained in opera as a child.
Nevertheless, Hadley Fraser's beautiful tenor outshines Wilson by a long shot. His voice is strong and booming and adds to the aggressive manner that Fraser chose to work into Raoul's character.
"The Phantom of the Opera is here, inside my mind..."
As clearly outlined in this comparison, it is nearly impossible to say which version of this musical is the superior performance. The tone and style heavily contrast, certain characters shine more than others, and it's almost hopeless to try and compare the acting styles of stage performers with film stars.
At the end of the day, both the 2011 Royal Albert Hall performance and the 2004 film have much to offer this fandom. I personally enjoy each show equally and like different things about each version.
Whether you prefer one over the other or not, one opinion remains the same between every POTO fan: this show is and always will be iconic. It's my true hope that soon the doors of Broadway will be opened again so that all fans of this beautiful and ominous musical can enjoy it in its originally intended format.
Now to fight off the hoard of "Team Phantom"s outside my door.