One of the longest-running musicals in Broadway and West End history has finally been turned into a movie almost two decades after its stage debut. Alan Silverman has a look at Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom Of The Opera.

Millions of people around the world who have seen the stage play know very well the tragedy that will befall that chandelier in this Gothic love story set in 1890's Paris and based on the novel by Gaston Leroux, first published in 1911. It's the story of Christine, young member of the opera's ballet troupe, who gets her chance in the limelight when the company's outrageous diva refuses to sing.

Christine has been secretly taking singing lessons from her unseen 'angel of music.' When she takes the stage the effect is breathtaking. Christine's crystal-clear voice belongs to Emmy Rossum who, though only 16 at the time, came to the film with impressive music credentials, having studied and worked at New York's renowned Metropolitan Opera. She says it was important that, unlike Hollywood musicals of an earlier era, she and the other characters on screen actually sing their roles.

"We tried to sing as much of it as live as possible;" she explains "but because I'm wearing a corset, it's not that easy to take a good breath with the rib cage when the rib cage is being crushed 12 hours a day for six months in a row. (I'm not bitter.) At the same time, a lot of it is in close-up because we really wanted it to be different from the theater show. We wanted to have that spectacle, but we wanted to be intimate and be a film. The biggest challenge was to keep it real because you are singing. I think that people have to suspend belief because you are actually singing a lot of your feelings and we had to strike a good balance between reality and the vocals."

The title character is a music aficionado who lives, hermit-like, in the catacombs beneath the theater and who wears a mask to hide scars that disfigure his face ... but can not mask his love for Christine. Scottish-born Gerard Butler plays "The Phantom."

"I think his physical deformity represented emotional deformities - things inside ourselves, which we hide and which don't allow us to be open, fully, to love or to be loved or to love," he says. " Therefore, it was more the effect of that deformity I was focusing on. Mine was a more interior journey and something I immediately identified with was the effect of pain and loneliness and fear and vulnerability that he felt as a result of having this."

Completing the love triangle is Patrick Wilson as Raoul, wealthy patron of the opera company and Christine's childhood sweetheart who wants to rekindle that affection.

"I had a specific style I wanted for him and for the character," he explains. " It wasn't the pop music of The Full Monty, but it wasn't the classical version of Oklahoma. It was the 1980's and Andrew's music always lends itself to a blending of pop sound with a musical theater style. I really wanted a specific sound for him.

The Phantom Of The Opera has been playing to full houses on New York's Broadway since 1988; but composer and producer Andrew Lloyd Webber spent more than 15 years and millions of dollars of his own money to get the movie made. Emmy Rossum admits she had not seen the stage version of Phantom (she says she told Sir Andrew at her audition and he said 'good'); but the rising star says she understands how it continues to touch audiences.

"I think it's the fact that these characters' feelings are so universal. There is not one character that everybody can't relate to," she says. " Everyone has been in love or wanted to be in love or felt 'nobody could ever love me.' Everyone has been scared or wanted to find their lifelong partner and wondered who it is and wanted to be creative and express themselves. I think there is so much that you can really believe in and care for. I think that's the reason."

Joel Schumacher directs The Phantom Of The Opera for the screen. The cast also features Miranda Richardson, Minnie Driver and Jennifer Ellison.