Phantom of the Opera Xmas (2006?)
I said I was going to do a very special holiday review for you ladies and gentlemen, and here it is.
The holiday season is a time for joy, love, and goodwill toward our fellow men, so if you're looking for any of that you may want to leave out the side door now and avoid the rest of this review. If my burning bile doesn't get you, the play itself will. Before we get started, everybody feel free to get up, stretch your legs, and go get a nice mug of warm eggnog with rum, or hot chocolate with Irish cream. I'm double-fisting both at the moment and have been since I started. It's the only way to retain any holiday cheer.
I put above that this was published in 2006, but in reality I have no idea. No one - not the author, not the publisher, not any website in existence - apparently felt the need to declare its year of origin; I'm placing it around 2006 since I can tell definitively that it's post-2004 (as most, if not all, of it is based on the Schumacher/Butler film of that year) and it seems like it probably wouldn't be too much later than that. Am I right? Who knows? This is but one mystery in a universe of enigmas.
Lauren (no last name) was, I assume, a teenager at the time she wrote this, or else a very intelligent amphibian of some sort. It's the only explanation that both makes sense and doesn't leave me wanting to start roaming the planet looking for and threatening possible adults who might create things like this. Her name is extremely tiny on the cover, as though even then she felt the orphaned, subconscious sting of shame. I feel you, Lauren. We all made terrible, terrible mistakes when we wrote fanfiction as teenagers, and some irresponsible person let you officially publish yours.
This is actually the script for a play, though it is patently a play that was written to be read, not performed (and as such you'd hope it was written better, but no such luck). We open in the year 1919, which is how you immediately know that it's based on Lloyd Webber's movie version of the story, and we are instantly treated to an overload of writing problems. From the abuse of commas and apostrophes to the inability to differentiate dashes from hyphens to strange word choice (the building is "dishevelled"?) to refusal to use punctuation when it is desperately needed, such as between adjectives ("the old abandoned dishevelled theatre"), Lauren hits every pothole on the Road to Writing Regret. About the only thing she didn't do was over-ellipse, though she gains steam in that area later in the script as well. Oh, and capitalizing given names is apparently optional, or else "giry" is some heretofore unknown new noun. The first line of dialogue features four exclamation points. The third line features three. The reign of terror has only just begun.
But grammatical issues pale in comparison to the content issues (I felt a chill run down my spine just from typing those words). The very first event of the script is the sudden and totally unexplained "appearance" of Sarah Brightman, who will be appearing as a fourth-wall-breaking random character during the entire run of the Phantom story. Is anyone else having flashbacks to the horror of that Choir Room (C-11) story? Why is my mug empty? John! Help!
Okay, mug refilled. Yes, it's Sarah Brightman, and she is spending all her time announcing the Phantom of the Opera Christmas Extravaganza and covering everything and everyone in the story in Christmas-related frou frou. She is a character who exists for no reason other than to Christmas-ify this story. She is never going away and Ms. Brightman apparently hasn't noticed the existence of this script and hasn't sued its spine off, so get used to her.
God, I love it when authors are afraid to swear, but they also really want to swear, so instead of swearing they just write dialogue like, "Oh *beep* me with a frying pan". I'm not lying, I love it, especially in a play format where presumably the author is instructing potential actors to make a high-pitched beeping line in the middle of their lines. Take that, actors, you suckers! It's awful, but in an endearingly hilarious, obviously-written-by-a-kid kind of way.
So, at any rate, the action continues amidst so much random, tooth-grating Christmasiness that you want to apologize to every animated Christmas special you ever denigrated because it could not possibly be that bad by comparison. A short selection of highlights includes the chandelier being replaced by a giant Christmas tree, the opera house being uniformly covered with tinsel, all ropes and cords (including the Phantom's Punjab lasso) being replaced by tinsel or streamers, every character wearing a Santa hat at all times, all roses being replaced by candy canes, mistletoe and holly festooning every surface, all songs being replaced by Christmas carols, and all of the ballerinas and Christine herself frequently turning up in Santa's Sexy Helper costumes. And if you think I exaggerating any of that, do NOT, under any circumstances, crack the cover of this monstrosity, because the whiplash of your youthful innocence being destroyed will put you into a coma from which you will never recover.
All of this Christimasizing, by the way, is perpetrated by the ever-vigilant Sarah Brightman, who spends all her time running around replacing things with other things. I have no idea why she's portrayed as a deranged coke-fiend Christmas elf with nothing better to do; perhaps the authors just assume that she really, really, really likes Christmas. Maybe she does. I have no idea. All I know is hurt, anymore.
But things are about to get even more... well, more. Following the time-honored tradition of the baseless assumption that any two people of the same sex who hang out together a lot are probably gay, Lauren not only portrays the managers as lovers (which, in a more serious story, I would actually be TOTALLY down for guys), but also introduces Raoul as being a gigantic conglomeration of every horrible and offensive gay man stereotype and trope out there. So clever, subtly using the idea that Raoul's long, silken hair and the sparkly reindeer antlers he's currently wearing must make him gay. Lines such as, "Anypoodle, Gotta go-places to see and people to do so ciao! Luv yas!" [oh my god SIC] are clearly masterpieces of scriptwriting and can only be interpreted as a sensitive, layered and nuanced handling of the gay community. It's unrelenting and goes on for the entire (mercifully short) length of the piece.
Which is sad, because any of the characters in the original story being LGBTQIA+ would be super interesting, I'd think, and neat to explore. But here, as in so many other places, the idea's just played for laughs, especially in Raoul's case, where his avalanche of anti-gay stereotypes are used as shorthand to tell the reader that he is worthy of constant scorn and mockery.
(I don't even understand. This is based on Patrick Wilson's Raoul! The dude in the army uniform who charges around on horses bareback and fights the Phantom to a standstill in the snow with a sword while manfully wounded! What, exactly, has given this author the impression that he's this weird effeminate character? And why do we need to caricature him as a lisping drag queen in order to suggest that he's gay? I know, I know, this is probably a kid who has grown up with some toxic garbage in the media, but yikes.)
Wait! How could we make this more offensive? Shit, let's make fun of an immigrant's command of their second language, that's good. Witness Carlotta's rant on page 3:
"Youa alla sucka! I hatea everyonea herea! Mya poodlesa woulda bea bettera managersa thana youa twoa! Theya woulda checka outa mea! Nota thosea ballerinaa whitea trasha! Anda Ia hatea mya hata!"
Yeeeeeah. I know Driver's accent is laying it on like a bricklayer in Schumacher/Butler film, but this isn't coming off as a mockery of the film as much as it's coming off as an obnoxious attempt to be funny by spraying some Eau de People Who Don't Speak a Language Perfectly Are Stupid all over the place. (In case the comedy wasn't witty enough for you yet, by the way, the hat she's referring to at the end of that line is her Santa hat, which she, like everyone else, is still wearing for the entire show.)
(Yeah, I know, I'm here picking on her grammar while yelling at her for making fun of Carlotta's accent. Pot and kettle. But I think there's a meaningful difference between criticizing a published work that is poorly written and difficult to understand, and being a dick to people because of the way they talk.)
Erik, whom the author names despite presumably basing this character on the nameless Lloyd Webber Phantom (I blame the internet for this; authors see the Lloyd Webber version, spelunk in the Caverns of Interwebbery just long enough to figure out his name but not much else about the original story, and run with it), is, of course, Santa (at least, according to Sarah Brightman, chipperly decorating away). He disagrees because he is a meanie mean meaniehead and he hates Christmas because he's an atheist. I often argue that I think it's pretty clear in Leroux's novel that Erik is not an atheist, but repeating that here would be about as meaningful as stopping to talk about the Fall of Rome or the colonization of Australia, so I won't bother. His determination to destroy everyone's holiday festiveness because he hates Christmas stands on its own merits as one of the worst plot devices ever, I think. Sometimes he crushes people with sacks of letters to Santa, or delivers his notes inside Santa hats, despite his crippling dislike of the holiday. He has, in essence, been demoted from terrorizing Phantom to the Grinch, except without either the joyous connotations of childhood or the ability to pull his head out of his ass.
In fact, they pound this "I hate Christmas because I'm an atheist!" thing into the ground really, really hard, despite the fact that so far all of the Christmas business going on has been completely secular except for an unfinished rendition of "Silent Night" near the beginning of the act. I wonder this play would just vaporize in confusion and shame if exposed to the fact that not all non-Christians are violently opposed to the holiday and that some even celebrate it for various other reasons.
By the time we've gotten to the point where Erik is hiding things under his hat while he screams HO HO HO menacingly, I'm out of drinks AGAIN and we're only just now ending the first act.
As is the fashion with the kids these days on the intertubes, Raoul is frequently and demeaningly referred to as a "fop" in this script. I can't figure out why, unless there is some kind of secret additional definition of that word that no one on the internet can make available to me. Because I'm a helpful soul and I'm thoroughly warmed by liquid cheer, I'll offer a helping hand with the definition I know: according to good old Merriam-Webster, a fop is a man who cares too much about how he looks or dresses, or who is overly vain about his appearance (with a secondary obsolete meaning of a foolish or vain person).
I don't get the fop thing in regards to Raoul, even though I know it was all in vogue on the internet for a while. What part of Raoul's character has to do with excessive vanity and fashion (he does go to the opera, I'll give you that one, but nobody ever seems to see that as a purely fashionable thing in these stories, somehow)? I seriously cannot come up with a single instance. Dude is hot, but that's not his fault any more than it's Erik's fault he's not. But, of course, then again this budding young playwright would have us know that Raoul wears lip gloss and spends copious amounts of time brushing his hair and lovingly tracing his reflection, Narcissus-like, because of all the gay gay gay gay gay, did she mention he was totally gay? Like, for reals.
I might be imagining it or it could be coincidence, but it almost looks like Lauren has read some of Leroux's novel when Raoul, after falling into the weirdly rotating mirror-chamber of the 2004 film, attempts to hang himself (he fails, because all rope in this play, again, is made of tinsel), which is reminiscent of the iron tree and noose in Erik's torture chamber. But then again, it could just be an accidental stumble onto the original source. Stopped clocks and all that. Where's my cocoa?
For no defined reason, Raoul and Madame Giry make out a lot in the next scene, in between her filling him in on the backstory. This is enhanced by such scintillating stage directions as "The lights go out and we hear make-out sounds-ewww! The fop with the old lady! Ewww!" Dude, say what you want, but Patrick Wilson is adorable and Miranda Richardson is dangerously hot in that movie. I'd watch them make out. BUT THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS STORY.
Off we skedaddle to the graveyard scene, where we learn that Lauren has chosen to make Christine's past relationship with her dead father an incestuous one, apparently because she wanted to rewrite the lyrics to "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" to have lots of hilarious references to father-daughter sexytimes. For once, I am not quoting them, and that's because they're so bad that even I don't want to make you read them. We've reached the point where something is SO TERRIBLE that I REFUSE TO INFLICT IT ON OTHERS. I'm pretty sure that's one of Revelation's signs of the fucking apocalypse: "Yea, and I saw Babylon astride the great beast, drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and her poisonous tongue was stilled because seriously, she has some dignity left."
But in complete seriousness: father-daughter incest is a horrifying example of sexual abuse and it is not funny. Authors, please do not ever ever ever ever use it as a joke. (You could possibly write a story where that was a thing that happened, considering the relationship dynamics of the original, but you would have to be very sensitive and research thoroughly, and also you'd have to have a damn good reason that isn't even close to "well I thought it'd be funny".)
I've long ago surpassed my tolerance threshold for the ridiculous treatment of pretty much everybody by the time that Raoul and the Phantom are dueling with blowdryers and candy canes and Raoul enters a berserker fury after his hair is disordered and then rides away with Christine on the back of "Sparkles the unicorn". All I can do now is hold on; hold on, and wait, and pray for deliverance.
I don't get it because first we have to suffer through the production of Don Juan's First Christmas, during which Christine and the Phantom make out wildly, Raoul wants to jump in for a threesome (because he's gay, which, in context of this play, apparently also means wildly promiscuous with anyone and everyone, even though that doesn't make any sense, and also she does the same thing with Firmin earlier, too; pretty much, just any terrible stereotype that she thought meant Not A Leading Man In This Story has been hurled at him) but isn't allowed because everyone tells him he's a nasty fop, and there's some crying, mostly, I imagine, from the other readers and myself.
Nothing much happens down in the Phantom's lair except that he kills Sarah Brightman (and most of my gamely remaining brain cells) for having filled his living room with reindeer and then jumps up and down on her corpse some, which is not, I hope, a euphemism for anything. Christine is dismayed to discover that kissing the Phantom does not make him do a transformation montage from Beauty & the Beast and become hot, so she escapes with Raoul.
Back in 1919, we get the final, bittersweet chance to watch Raoul cry as he visits Christine's grave before finding a candy cane (is it STILL Christmas, 49 years later? Is France some kind of reverse Narnia? And if Sarah Brightman's dead, don't you guys finally have no one forcing festivities on you?) and a note that basically says, "Nyah nyah nyah, I totes slept with Christine the whole time she was married to you". Thank god we didn't miss out on that.
In the end, the author includes a note that informs us that this was originally written on an IMDB.com chatboard - which is not even a little surprising - and thanks someone named Richard for putting it into book form, which honestly I don't know that anyone should be thanking him for, really. (But then again, what a hilarious story Lauren has to tell people later in life. Look at this godawful thing I made as a kid! People bought this.)
Somebody pass me the wassail, I'm almost capable of thinking thoughts again.