'Phantom of the Opera' Gets the Vox Treatment

Courtesy of Vox Lumiere

Vox Lumiere gives a rock voice to silent classics

Love silent movies but hate all that bothersome silence? Then Vox Lumiere humbly bids you get ready to rock with their production of Lon Chaney’s 1925 classic The Phantom of the Opera. This updated multimedia staging comes replete with sets, lights, a chorus and an all-new score performed live at Los Angeles Theatre Center October 10-11, November 21-22 and December 12-13. Under the baton of film and television composer Kevin Saunders Hayes (A Thousand Cuts), Vox Lumiere is his brainchild born of a search for cheap underwear. While shopping in a dollar store he came upon a bin offering silent movies for a dollar each. Watching them at home, melodies began flowing through his head.

In director Rupert Julian’s film, soprano Christine Daae (Mary Philbin) is mentored by a mysterious figure haunting the opera house. One of the most expressive of Chaney’s "thousand faces," the phantom is an iconic horror image. For Vox productions, Hayes typically replaces the score with his own composition. In the case of Phantom he goes with a steampunk interpretation using three screens, a multi-layered set and live band along with his cast, led by Victoria Levy, James Lynch and Marisa Johnson who perform in front of a projection of the movie.

“The closest analogy is opera cause it’s music from start to finish but it feels like a rock concert, but we’re really telling a story, but there’s no spoken word. It’s sung start to finish,” Hayes explains to THR. “When you get to the masked ball it’s a big disco number. It’s a mash-up of whatever’s appropriate to tell the story. I might take classical strings and put them with guitar or electronic underpinning or maybe it’s just a straight-up classical piece or straight-up pop tune.”

Following the underwear incident and in between gigs composing for low-budget genre movies, Hayes began banging out a score for Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece, Metropolis. When he told friends what he was hoping to do, they told someone who told someone until one day back in 1999 Hayes got a call inviting him to stage his show at the Avignon Film Festival in New York, which was great news except he didn’t actually have a show. He threw together what he could and was shocked to find it a success with more invitations flowing in. To date four classic movies, including The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Peter Pan, have been given the Vox treatment with plans for Nosferatu and a Spanish language Zorro waiting in the wings.

Read More: Rock Version of Silent Film Classic 'Metropolis' to Hit Theatres This Fall

“Maybe it’s not your kind of music, maybe you like silent movies with a piano score. That’s totally cool,” Hayes says of detractors who feel Vox demeans and exploits the classics. “If you want to watch a silent movie in its most pure form it’s available to you. Film is probably at that place where we have a rich enough film history it’s like let’s see what else we can do with it.”

While Vox makes only minor changes to the film (color tinting in some scenes and rewritten intertitles) the movies are otherwise projected in their original form and, Hayes insists, are the focal point of what Vox does. He cites Cirque du Soleil as a primary influence in that they took an entertainment relic like the three-ring circus and reinvented it for a new generation.

“We’ve had four and five year olds sitting on the edge of their seats,” claims Hayes about his audience. “Where we are now is we’ve kind of jumped into H.G. Wells’ time machine, using the music to bridge the gap between these movies that are getting onto 80, 90, 100 years old telling stories sometimes from two or 300 years ago. So we’re using the music to bridge that gap between old and new.”