In October of 1986, "The Phantom of the Opera" opened at Her Majesty's Theatre. Many speculated how Michael Crawford would fare in such a serious and demanding role and whether the production in general would succeed. To the delight of audiences, not only the haunting score and fashionably bizarre sets and costumes, but the story and performances engrained this teasure forever into our thoughts.
But then there is February 2010, a time that for many a phan (yes, "phan"), not only insulted the memory of the original production, but severly harmed it.
The Beginning of the Mystery
Where "The Phantom of the Opera" Started
In 1910, "Le Fantôme de l'Opéra" was published, written by the French novelist Gaston Leroux, who only lived to just see the first silent film be released.
The novel crafted such an intense world, filled with characters so distinct. Many of the people met in the original story did make the transfer over to the stage adaption, though changed, of course. Under Gaston's writings, Meg and Christine were not friends.
However, this is not quite the focus I wish to take at the moment in this review. This will factor in later though. Trust me.
The main draw to the musical has always been that passionate, doomed love that is so similarly seen in "Romeo and Juliet". No matter how hard you root for Christine to choose the Phantom, you know deep in your heart that they could never be together as where they come from are two completely different places and generally speaking, our Erik is just not good for Christine.
Erik's desperate cry of sadness in the end of the first production is just so heart-wrenching that there should really be no other end. Gaston Leroux penned Erik's death after he allowed Christine to leave with Raoul. His love for her and sadness for knowing he could never truly make her happy consumed him and killed him.
I am sure that many phans, and not just myself, felt Lloyd Webber's Phantom met a very similar fate. Who wants to live on when the one you love can never be yours? It's heart-breaking.
But then "Love Never Dies" came along.
"Love Never Dies"
...Except for when it should be dead.
I would first like to mention the high points of "Love Never Dies" production, as there are not that many: the music. There is simply no denying that Andrew Lloyd Webber is a wizard at his work. With the exception of one song ("What a Dreadful Town") and the stolen bits from the previous "Phantom", the score to "Love Never Dies" is quite beautiful and catchy.
That's not to say anything for the lyrics. The lyrics are very second-rate, a few clever bits here and there, but the majority being just... very awkward and out of place.
As I have not seen the original London LND production, any and all critiques made regarding physical aspect of the show will be based on the Austrialian production (which I saw for my birthday in 2012 and currently own a copy of).
For anyone not familiar with the 1986 production, its basic premise is the obsessive love a deformed composer has for a young dancer who was promised by her father to be visited by the Angel of Music when he died and went to heaven. The Phantom uses her guilibility to his own ends, pretending to be the angel. But suddenly, a childhood sweetheart of Christine's shows up and old flames are ignited. In the end, Mme. Giry helps Raoul to get Christine back from the Phantom, and then Meg, Mme. Giry's daughter and Christine's B.F.F., is just kind of there.
And then we have the premise for "Love Never Dies", in which we find all our beloved and cherished characters completely changed and not for the better, replacing the grand opera for an amusement park and sideshow attraction (the location not an entirely bad idea).
But we shall do this is a slightly orderly fashion, treating this like a video movie review, going through from beginning to end with some discussion along the way.
Look with Your Heart
Because looking with your eyes will actually allow you to see the problems.
Our first problem with LND is the time period. This would not be such an issue if the gap of time between the two stories didn't matter so much. "Love Never Dies" (according to the libretto of the Original London Cast) is set around 1907 with only ten years having passed since the events of "Phantom" and the text at the start of the broadcast version (the Australian production) places the final lair scene in 1895. According to the "Phantom" libretto (from the 1986 Original Cast) the time period of the main events is not stated, but it is written that the auction scene at the start of the show is in 1911, or a mere 4 or 6 years after LND and Raoul is written in to be at age 70 or so.
Dang, Raoul. You sure did age fast.
The two openings are vastly different in arrangement, while pretty much keeping the same materials.
In the London opening, we start in a fashion similiar to that of the original opening, in the present which is actually after the main part of the story. Mme. Giry is reminiscing about "the good old days", standing on the boardwalk of Coney Island in New York, when confronted by one of the Phantom's assistants, Miss Fleck. Their little memory song beautifully connects to the opening overture. It's simple and it's sweet. This is one of the few good moments in the show.
The newer opening, starts with the "Music of the Night" rip-off song "Till I Hear You Sing" (still a wonderful song when taken out of context of the musical, like most of the songs in it). This song originally came later in the show, right before Christine arrived to Coney. After the Phantom sings on about his misery, we get to the overture but the execution of it is not as good as it could have been. It feels like the design team tried way to hard to balance "weird" with "attractive". The whole overture is like watching a man in a white van attempt to draw in children to the back. This is Phantom! I want to feel sucked in and entranced, not feel cheapened.
In my humble opinion, I find the London opening much more inimate and personal.
To skip a lot of unnecessary non-sense, I shall briefly summarize: the Phantom owns a park called Phantasma (although, now he goes by "Mr. Y", not "Mr. Why" like I first thought upon hearing the soundtrack), and he has hired on Mme. Giry and Meg, who both helped to smuggle the Phantom out of France and to America. Giry retains the same basic rank she held at the opera, while Meg has moved onto be the sort-of star performer, the "Oh-La-La Girl", and the one who deals with any "financial" snags that comes along, which is to say she sleeps with business men to help keep Phantasma afloat and out of debt.
When mother and daughter hear that Christine will be traveling to New York to sing for the opening of Hammerstein's new opera house, they both start to recall the events of ten years ago, and it seems that suddenly Mme. Giry has a dislike for Christine because the young girl picked Raoul over the Phantom, despite the fact that Giry as the one who led Raoul to the Phantom to save Christine who ultimately did choose to stay, but our loveable old Phantom decided to let Christine go.... But I suppose this was all too much for the writers to remember.
So, long story short: the Phantom is still pining away for Christine and comes up with a plan to lure her to him.
This brings us to the biggest and most disgusting character change of all and that is the change of Raoul de Chagny.
Raoul was never perfect in the original production. His character was flawed from the start and, since "The Phantom of the Opera" was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber for Sarah Brightman, a man who obviously more identified with the Phantom character, it really is no surprise. Seeing Raoul as a drunken and near-abusive gambler is just too horrible though. This what has happened to him. He spends most of his time talking or singing about being drunk, getting drunk, being a jerk to Christine and Gustave, their child, or whining about how much he is jerk.
The evening that the de Chagny family arrives, Raoul leaves Christine alone once little 10 year old Gustave (yes, his age is important) is sent to bed. While alone, the Phantom strikes, startling the woman he loves into a song remembering the night before her wedding were the two made love ("Beneath a Moonless Sky").Christine tells the Phantom how mad she was for him leaving her after the deed because she was going to change her mind about Raoul and go with him.
The Phantom then, after meeting Gustave, who was awoken by a nightmare of being drowned, threatens Christine into singing his song for him instead of singing for Hammerstein. She, of course, agress to his demands.
The next day, Christine and Raoul run into Meg and her mother, revealing to all of them what the Phantom is up to. In the meantime, Gustave has run off to see Mr. Y, who promised to give him a tour of the park.
Be warned: a stupid plot-point lies ahead.
Just 10 Years Old
The paternity test better than one you'd find on Maury.
As soon as I heard Christine's child would make an appearance in the story, I instantly knew somehow that the father would not be Raoul, but instead, the Phantom. The writers did not disappoint my expectations.
Upon entering the new lair, Gustave sees a piano and begins to play. This piques the Phantom's interest. Suddenly, he realizes: "He's just ten years old!" The fact that Gustave is musically inclined, likes the weird and the bizarre, and is only 10 years of age seems to mean that this child is indeed that Phantom's son.
Despite that Gustave has been surrounded by music his whole life what with his mother being an opera singer and is naturally drawn to weird stuff even if just from the mere point of him being a young and curious boy, what proof does the Phantom have that Gustave is his? The fact that he had a one night stand with Christine?
But there's a problem with this too. Christine went to see the Phantom, supposedly, the night before her wedding and the two of them ended up having sex. The next day she gets married. Typically, the wedding night is when the new husband and wife spending some very close time together.
The only way anyone could know if Gustave is really the Phantom's child is if Christine and Raoul did not spend the night together any time after their marriage, or if she somehow knew Raoul was infertile without even him knowing that himself. In which case, Raoul would have to be really out of it to not notice that his wife is pregnant without any help from him.
This revelation in the plot leads us into Act 2 of this show of ridiculousness. It does not get much better from here. In truth, it gets much worse.
The Second Act is the Longest....
And, indeed, the most painful.
At the end of the first act, we have an emotional scene of young Gustave being frightened to death by the Phantom removing his mask, followed by Christine revealing to him that he has somehow miraculously fathered the child. In a moment of absurb kindness (and this is indeed surprising since most of the show the Phantom acts like a real jerk), our overwhelmed protagonist declares Christine free of the threats he earlier made.
However, Christine tells him that she will indeed sing for him one last time. This feeds into the Phantom's meaness later on.
Then Mme. Giry, having overheard the Phantom sing loudly that he plans to give his entire worth to Gustave, vows anger against the child. I will admit her cry of hurt is quite impacting, even if the the scene itself is completely idiotic, because Giry is not a gold-digging wretch.
And Raoul has taken to the drink again! Apparently, he had been drinking all night and taken over the Phantom's duty of brooding. Here, we come across Meg who has just gone swimming in the water. She and Raoul have a deep conversation of her persuading him to leave, telling the Viscount that if Christine sings, she will wholly become the Phantom's and it is in this scene her insane infatuation with the Phantom is made not tht much clearer that it already was before. It was pretty obvious from her very early scenes.
Suddenly, the Phantom appears and the two make a bet. This is where Christine's promise comes into play. The two men make a deal: if Christine leaves with Raoul before the song, the Phantom will wipe away all their debts and never bother them for the rest of their lives; however, should she sing, Raoul is to leave Coney Island alone. Oh, and the Phantom "subtley" drops the hint that Gustave might not truly be the Vicomte's son.
It's now only a short amount of time before Christine goes on stage and everyone is scrambling to get her to stay or flee. We go through a pretty boring section of music ("Before the Performance"), complete with nods back to the original score.
Meg has performed her number in which she strips (view is restricted in the Australian production), hoping to have garned the masked man's attention. Sadly, he was too busy oogling Christine and her mother tells her all about how the two still have a thing. This upsets Meg and she runs off.
Now only seconds to go, and the cast assemble on stage for a less-climatic "One Day More" type of number ("Devil Take the Hindmost" reprise). Briefly on the song itself, it is not a terrible song, if the context could be reworked. It's catchy, clever, and rather interesting in the execution, but it's still from "Love Never Dies".
Too make a really long review slightly short, it's to no surprise that Christine sings, and lo-and-behold it happens to be the title song. This song in particular is one of my least favorites. It's hard for me to really pin down why, but I think it just has to do with the feel of the lyrics and how the vocals work into it.
So Raoul leaves, and Christine and Phantom are now an item.
But they can't end it without a slap to the face of the original. "Those two people are gone," she says in reference to her childhood with the vicomte. Yeah, well, they weren't even there to begin with! At least, not here.
Thus, we hasten to our ending!
How to Horribly Offend Mad Women
Now that's a How-To Phantom could write!
It seems little Gustave has vanished from behind the stage and after exhausting all blamable party members (Raoul and Mme. Giry), our lovable Miss Fleck appears to say that Meg's room is oddly quiet and her mirror is smashed. That must mean she has Gustave!
Off our heroes race to stop the girl from doing anything foolish and luckily the Phantom knows just enough about Meg to think of trying the pier where she would go swimming, which is exactly where they happen to find her with baby Phantom.
She does hand him back pretty easily after going off on the Phantom a bit, then pulls out a gun (who knows where she even got it from, which that would have made from some interesting story) and holds it to her head.
At this point in the show, there is not too much in the way of redemption. The only real incredible point to this whole ending is Meg's descent into madness, which has been sadly wasted due to us not really being able to experience it until the literal last moments. Had this been a bigger focus in the story, they could have really attached themselves to a neat role-reversal, as opposed to just bantering back and forth over "I won't sing"/"I will sing".
Anyhow, take out your pens and paper, lads. Take notes from our Phantom here, the absolute expert on women. He will show you tips on how to keep women who have a thing for you from killing themselves (and yes, this is meant in a sarcastic way).
How many men out there would tell said aforementioned woman, that while she is pretty and all that, she just isn't up to the standards of the girl you love? Well.... You might not, but the Phantom does! Smooth going there.
He nearly gets Meg to give up the gun when he utters just about the worst line in the entire show: "We can't all be like Christine."
Understandably, this sets off Meg, who ends up accidentally firing the gun and hitting Christine.
There is screaming and (spoiler alert) Christine starts to die. Both the Phantom and her son cling to her, and, breaking her promise, she tells Gustave who his real father is. Also upset, Gustave runs off.
While the scene of Phantom cradling the dying Christine is supposed to be sad and heartbreaking, I can't really find it in my heart to feel bad because the Phantom pretty much brought it on himself. If he had just been smarter, the whole situation would have been avoided.
A little bit of the "Love Never Dies" song is sung, the two lovers kiss, and Christine dies, just before Raoul and Gustave show up, then the show ends with the Phantom siging the song once more to the young boy.
The True Love of the Phantom
Is seeing him with his flaws and loving him anyway.
While I may have overglorified the original with this review, I want to make something clear: even the original 1986 production for "The Phantom of the Opera" was not perfect. As stated before, Raoul was still kind of a jerk character. It took me years to see it, but even the Phantom has some similar flaws.
In Leroux's novel, Erik is completely deformed from head to toe. He is described as a walking skeleton with no nose. Yet, despite this, he still goes out in society. He even goes as far as promising Christine a flat and church on Sundays once they're married. Erik is obviously not too detered by his deformity as he outright says he has a mask that will make him look like any other person.
But then we have Webber's musical, where the Phantom is just only half deformed on the face and yet whines and moans about how he has to hide away from the world because of his face.
Clearly, one Phantom is superior to the other.
That's not entirely the point though. While, yes, there were many flaws to the original, it was successful because many people fell in love with it. Honestly, I became a huge phan, not just because of the music and the relationship between Erik and Christine, but because I felt like I could identify with him. In some ways, like Webber, I felt that the Phantom was me and that Christine was that connection to the world I so desperately wanted but couldn't obtain.
All in all, "Love Never Dies" is not a success because the characters we first became attached to are no longer there. The Phantom is no longer being very Phantom-like and Raoul has just become the corruption of what chilvary should be.
The story and pacing and over-all way the show was put together is just not as mesmerizing and even the score is subpar to the original masterpiece.
Love Could Never Die
If it was done correctly, that is.
Leaving on a good note (props to you if you got the joke), "Love Never Dies" could be salvageable. It has a great start with its location: Coney Island. The time period and setting allows for some interesting creativity. A sideshow carnival is the type of place the Phantom is from.
Had this story featured all new characters, new love interest and keeping a sort of mad assistant in love with him, the story then accumulates some powerful potential!
It really is as simple as changing out "old" character for new ones, changing lyrics and songs, and investing more in story developement.
However, until that team of people responsible comes to their sense, I shall not applaud "Love Never Dies".
This Phantom phan has spoken.