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Once upon a time, there was a Very Bad Man. The Very Bad Man nurtured a budding chanteuse and brought her music to the world, but when their relationship soured, he went to destructive lengths to control her through the music. Am I describing The Phantom of the Opera or Scooter Braun’s machinations against Taylor Swift? You be the judge.
Today in news we didn’t see coming, Braun and The Phantom of the Opera have converged in a surprising way. Braun’s SB Projects has teamed up with Bohemian Rhapsody screenwriter Anthony McCarten for Phantom, a contemporary adaptation of Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, Le Fantome de l’Opera, which memorably inspired Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical, The Phantom of the Opera, now looming large as Broadway’s longest-running show.
“The basic idea that lured me in was the chance to brush the cobwebs off a 110 year old tale, and return it to its roots in suspense and horror,” McCarten said. “It will be a contemporary version of the story, incorporate contemporary themes, and a new musical soundtrack drawing on some of the biggest recording talent.”
If you’re expecting Webber’s soaring melodies and ominous organ riffs, don’t get your hopes up. Surely this is where Braun comes into play, bringing his roster of A-list musical talent to the project, including artists like Justin Bieber, Demi Lovato, Ariana Grande, Kanye West, and Usher. Are we going to get a Justin Bieber love theme? An Usher slow jam played over the modern equivalent of ingénue Christine Daae and the phantom canoodling in the catacombs? McCarten was tight-lipped, but teased an all-star soundtrack.
“You’re aware of everyone on the list,” McCarten said. “They are multi Grammy-winning artists. We’re aiming to do something quite groundbreaking with music and the score, and something that may also be new for the artists themselves. We’ll reinvent this story for a new generation free from Gothic romantic period trappings. Our phantom is not offering anyone singing lessons, and there is no gondolier with a mask.”
What have McCarten and Braun got against Gothic romantic period trappings? Gothic romance was pioneered by some of the world’s finest writers, including Charlotte Bronte, Mary Shelley, Charles Dickens, Edgar Allen Poe, and Bram Stoker, among many others. To argue that the Gothic romantic period trappings are a nuisance to be done away with is to fundamentally misunderstand Leroux’s novel. Without the foreboding air of suspense and supernatural mystery Gothic fiction brings, combined with a dark, tempestuous romance, all that’s left are a murderous chandelier and a shit-ton of candles. McCarten went on to tease a film that sounds more like The Woman in the Window than The Phantom of the Opera.
“It’s a bit like taking an old piece of furniture and stripping off the layers of paint, back to the original grain,” McCarten said. “It’s back to the much scarier, horror suspense roots that were in the book. With this version of the tale, we aim to bring a more psychological lens to the questions of what may, and may not, be real; and to who and what we can be.”
McCarten promises a timeless love story, albeit something darker than “phans” of Webber’s musical have come to know and love. Darker? How could it get any darker? Though it will continue to pack tourist butts into red velvet seats until the end of time, The Phantom of the Opera has aged poorly. Onetime brooding tweens who grew up on the original cast recording see it now for what it always was: the story of a woman groomed and tormented by a homicidal stalker. A twenty-first century adaptation exposing the phantom for the creepy incel he really is could succeed, but Braun’s track record with women makes it painfully clear that he’s not up for the challenge.
Maybe there’s some consolation, phans. Phantom can’t be any worse than Love Never Dies, Webber’s queasy sequel to his hit musical, in which the phantom, now the owner of a Coney Island-esque theme park named Phantasma, weary of spending his days mooning over a Christine automaton, anonymously lures Christine across the Atlantic Ocean for a headlining gig (no, we’re not making this up). It’s entirely possible that this new Phantom has landed in exactly the right hands. After all, if anyone knows how to turn a woman’s life into a horror movie, it’s Scooter Braun.
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