Caught “Weird Al” Yankovic’s song, “She Drives Like Crazy” — appropriately enough, while on the freeway. I never used to understand why he did the funny voices in the song, until I remembered the Muppets music video of the original song (“She Drives Me Crazy”), with Miss Piggy and Kermit the Frog…and suddenly the voices clicked into place.

It’s odd that the intro on the title track to “The Phantom of the Opera” (the Andrew Lloyd Webber show) sounds so much like the MIDI file I found in the mid-1990s. I don’t know if that’s a comment on the quality of my old sound card, or a comment on how many synthesizers were used in the original recording. Either way, whoever sequenced that MIDI file got the timing exactly right.

I ordered tickets for an upcoming production of The Phantom of the Opera (the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical) and something occurred to me: In all likelihood it’s going to be an exact replica of the 22-year-old London production (with a few concessions to the realities of touring). When did this start happening?

MasqueradeMost of the time when someone puts on a play that’s been done before, they take the script and do their own thing with the sets, costumes, and performances. This is generally true with older musicals as well; people generally aren’t worried about seeing the original staging of, say, The Sound of Music. But these days, when a big show goes on tour, audiences expect the same experience they’d get on Broadway or in the West End.

LesĀ Miserables opened in London in 1985, went through some tweaks on the way to Broadway, and then every production worldwide for the next 10 years was identical save for cast and translations. They retooled the show for the 10th anniversary, and those changes stuck around until they decided to cut it so that they wouldn’t have to pay the orchestra overtime.

Same with Miss Saigon: opened in London, tweaked as it went to Broadway, then frozen until 2003, when it was retooled to make touring simpler (fewer sets on palettes, using a projection of a helicopter instead of a model on a boom, etc. And let me tell you, watching a show about the Vietnam War during the week leading up to the Iraq War was an odd experience.)

It’s probably been 10 years since I saw Phantom (not counting the movie, about which the less said, the better), but I’ll be surprised if it’s much different (aside from cast) than the last time. I’m sure that’s what the rest of the audience is looking for, after all.

Phantom of the Paradise (album art)Watched Phantom of the Paradise this weekend. It’s a bizarre 1974 mash-up between The Phantom of the Opera and Faust set in a satire of the 1970s music industry.

The movie casts Paul Williams (who wrote all the music for the film) as a reclusive recording mogul, Swan, who steals a struggling songwriter’s pop cantata based on Faust to open his new music palace, the Paradise. The songwriter tries to correct the “misunderstanding,” ends up beaten, jailed, and ultimately scarred when he gets caught in a record press trying to destroy it. He sneaks into the newly-opened club, dons a mask, and alternately pursues revenge on the man who stole his music, and his obsession with launching the career of a young singer he befriended earlier in the film (bringing in the Phantom/Christine dynamic).

Believe me, it’s stranger than it sounds.

Anyway, afterward, I went looking on IMDB (as I often do) to see what else the various actors had been in. Somehow I ended up on a horror movie review site, 1000 Misspent Hours, which gave the movie 3Ā½ stars and basically considered the music to be the main failing (though, since it’s a satire, that’s largely intentional. There’s a reason I only have about 3 of the film’s songs on my iPod).

Phantom of the Opera (1943 movie poster)Something interesting I learned was that the Phantom’s origin is actually derived from the 1943 Phantom of the Opera movie with Claude Raines, which, judging by its review, has about as much to do with the original novel as, well, Phantom of the Paradise does. I’m mainly familiar with the original silent version and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, both of which track the Gaston Leroux novel fairly well. (Edit: Now that I think about it, the 1943 origin also explains the “Acid: Do not throw in face!” gag from Gremlins 2.)

Rocky Horror Picture ShowI do have to take issue with some of his criticisms of Rocky Horror. Not that they aren’t valid, but that several things he finds inexplicable—the thin plot, nonsensical showstoppers, and how the cult following could possibly have started—are easily explained by the fact that it’s based on a stage play, The Rocky Horror Show (also explaining why the movie is The Rocky Horror Picture Show), which sets up a completely different dynamic and expectations. Interesting that the main venue for the film seems to be the midnight showings, which seek to recapture the experience of live theater.

I found the site’s rating system interesting: not only does he have a 1–5 star scale, but he also assigns negative stars for movies that are “so bad, they’re good.” So of course I had to see which films he gave -5 stars, meaning “So bad, it’s genius.” I ended up reading around 10 or so reviews on Sunday night, some of them for movies I will probably never, ever see.