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star struck

A NIGHT AT THE OPERA
JOEL SCHUMACHER FINALLY BRINGS ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER’S STAGE MUSICAL PHANTOM OF THE OPERA TO THE SCREEN
BY CHRIS BETROS

JOEL SCHUMACHER BELIEVES the best choices are always the riskiest ones. “The comfort zone is a bad place,” says the 65-year-old director, who makes his first musical with Phantom of the Opera. Although Gaston Leroux’s 1911 novel has been filmed many times before, Schumacher’s work is not another remake but a film version of the stage musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The composer first approached Schumacher in 1987, but put the project on the backburner after his divorce from Phantom stage star Sarah Brightman, whom he had wanted to star in the film. Meanwhile, Schumacher’s career moved along with The Client, two Batman films, A Time to Kill, Tigerland and Veronica Guerin. As he was finishing Phone Booth in late 2002, Webber asked him again and put up $85 million of his own money to finance the film. The story remains basically the same. A disfigured musical genius who lives beneath the Paris Opera House in the late 1800s falls in love with Christine, a young member of the opera company.

As a disembodied voice, the Phantom teaches Christine to sing. She thinks he is an angel sent by her deceased father. Phantom features a largely unknown cast, including Emmy Rossum (Day After Tomorrow) as Christine, Gerard Butler as the Phantom and Patrick Wilson as Christine’s patron and prospective suitor Raoul. “I wanted to have three young and sexy stars,” says Schumacher. “The music, sets and costumes are romantic and opulent, but at heart, this is really a tragic love story.”

Schumacher thinks the enduring appeal of the story is that audiences can relate to the person who is the outsider, namely the Phantom. “Many people have feelings of being disconnected. The Phantom stands for that. I think his physical handicap is a manifestation of what any of us feel is unlovable, like the Hunchback of Notre Dame or the Beast in Beauty and the Beast.”

Born in New York, Schumacher always hung out at the cinema when he was growing up. “My father died when I was four; my mother was working six days a week and three nights a week. Sitting in a dark movie theater was an escape for me,” he recalls. After graduating from college, he worked as a department store window dresser, before starting in films as a costume designer for Woody Allen’s movies. He made his directorial debut in 1980 with The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Throughout his career, he has constantly been drawn to dark themes. “Some of our most interesting stories are dark. We seem to be living in a time where if something doesn’t have a happy ending, it’s considered a dark film.”

Japan has been a goldmine for Schumacher. “I first came here for Flatliners (1990), when I was still relatively unknown,” he recalls. “I was overwhelmed to see all these fans of St. Elmo’s Fire standing outside in the snow to meet me. That was really thrilling.” CB M

PHOTOS BY CHRIS BETROS

 

 

the scene

HOLLYWOOD COMES TO TOWN
A BUSY WEEK FOR SHOWBIZ FANS AS CELEBRITIES DESCEND ON TOKYO
PHOTOS BY CHRIS BETROS

Clockwise from left: Brad Pitt and George Clooney at the Ocean’s Twelve press conference; Matt Damon was a busy guy, promoting both The Bourne Supremacy and Ocean’s Twelve; Director Garry Marshall and Julie Andrews had plenty to say about The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement; Oliver Stone and Colin Farrell go Greek in Alexander; Renowned British ballet dancer and choreographer Adam Cooper, here for Les Liaisons Dangereuses, poses with actress and former ballerina Ryoko Yonekura.

 

q&a
TRACY MERCER

HOTEL MANAGER WITH A SUPREME SENSE OF SERVICE

ASK TRACY MERCER WHERE’S HE from and he’ll joke he was born 1,500 miles outside of Chicago. He’s really a Kansas boy, where he grew up and went to university. Kansas seems a long way from where he is now: general manager of the upscale 57-room Four Seasons Hotel Marunouchi.

HOW DID YOU END UP IN THE HOTEL BUSINESS?
I was an English literature major and never going to be in the hotel business. It started as a part-time job while I was at university. When I graduated, I pursued it because I needed a break from the academic community and I enjoyed the lifestyle.

WHAT FIRST BROUGHT YOU TO JAPAN?
I first came to Japan in 1993 with Four Seasons at Chinzanso and spent two years there. Then I went to Singapore for about 5 years before coming back to this hotel.

WHAT SHOULD A GOOD HOTELIER BE?

All a customer ever says is “I want” and if you can respond to that from your heart in a flexible way, then you have what it takes.

WHAT’S THE BEST THING ABOUT YOUR HOTEL?
We are the only hotel that offers Tokyo station platform-to-hotel service and vice versa. For customers, I think it is the single most impressive memory on arrival and departure. It knocks people out. We have a greeting service at the airport, too.

DO YOU CHECK OUT THE OPPOSITION?
All the time. Sometimes their guests stop and ask me for directions because they think I work there.

WHAT’S YOUR MANAGEMENT STYLE?
I am a control freak. Every day I am in the kitchen, checking menus. I have a lot of informal meetings with staff. I made it a priority at the beginning that all staff speak English.

WHAT’S A TYPICAL DAY FOR YOU?
I live in Meguro and show up here at 8am. My day is totally unstructured. I try and leave between seven and eight.

WHAT ABOUT TIME OFF?
I try to take one day off.

TO DO WHAT?
I hop around from interest to interest. I get very intense and then move onto something else. CB M

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