Love Never Dies

Recently, The Squeee and I ventured down to London for a mini-break. We wanted a little holiday and thought it’d be nice to go down and see a musical. Last time we were in London, which was over a year ago, we managed to squeeze in both Spamalot and Avenue Q, both great fun. This time, we had our sights set on the latest Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. The sequel that isn’t a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, i.e. Love Never Dies, which has premiered not that long ago at the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand, near Covent Garden.

Renamed Paint Never Dries by the West End Whingers blog (who have written an accurate and very funny review), I didn’t come across that review until after we’d booked the tickets, and then it was too late. “It’s not supposed to be any good,” I lamented to the Squeeze who responded that I was the one who insisted we go see it. Bah, humbug! It was his idea, I’ll have you know! By that, I wish to say that we didn’t exactly have our hopes up.

The Squeeze’s closest encounter with Phantom prior to this was when I forced him to go see the filmed version of the musical at the cinema in 2004 or whenever it came out. My Phantom history goes a bit further. One of my sisters was a Lloyd Webber fangirl when she was around 16, and she particularly enjoyed Phantom, ending up seeing it in Swedish three or four times in Stockholm when mum had been in town on business (we’re from the opposite side of the country, so journeys to Stockholm were very rare). I too ended up going with mum on one of those business trips, and seeing Phantom at Oscarsteatern. I was perhaps eleven or twelve at the time, I think. Since then, I’ve seen a few film adaptations, listened to the CD of the  Swedish cast a number of times and in my teens, I read the book by Gaston Leroux as well – a book I’m wanting to read again now, because I don’t quite remember how much ALW buggered up the story. I remember the Phantom being more of a murderous psychopath than just a misunderstood genius and all that. The book was fairly creepy, I seem to recall. Anyway, then came the Hollywood film, and now we were off to see the Phantom sequel … *pause* … Phantom sequel. (I don’t care what Lord Andrew says, it’s not exactly a prequel, is it?)

Ten years have passed since Phantom (yeah, this is soooo not a sequel). This one starts out on the Coney Island seafront and starts out in a “remember what happened” way, the seafront is removed and we’re introduced to the fantastic place that is Coney Island, full of amusements and freaks (we never see any), where the Phantom (Ramin Karimloo) has escaped to along with Madame Giry (Liz Robertson) and Meg Giry (Summer Strallen), and he’s in charge of an amusement park called Phantasma. There, he misses Christine Daaé and her singing, and invites her anonymously to perform for one night only in return for a wad of cash which will do nicely to pay off at least part of Raoul’s debts, basically.

Some months later, Christine (Sierra Boggess), husband Raoul (Joseph Millson) and 10-year-old son Gustave (one of seven boys who take turns in the role), arrive. If your first thought there is to question who Gustave’s father is… well, take a wild stab at a guess. It’s so blatantly obvious right from the get-go who the father is that it should come as no surprise to anyone. The Phantom reveals himself to Christine in a scene where there’s also no surprise whatsoever what’s going to happen that it’s not going to be a spoiler to tell you. Christine is in their Coney Island apartment, she has placed a music box (given to Gustave as a welcome gift from Phantasma’s owner) on a piano, which is next to a pair of doors leading out to the balcony. She makes the box play, the melody goes from whatever it was playing over to the familiar tune of Angel of Music, Christine has an uh-oh moment, doors open, ta-da, Phantom! Surprise! Not. (Of course the Phantom was going to emerge through those doors, it was just a question of when.) It was very well done, though, gave me goosebumps all over.

So, confronted with a man who was so possessive he tried to kill her ten years ago, instead, they are not so much terrorised victim and psycho as “oh hello you again. I seem to remember us having a bit of a fondle the night before I went off and married the Vicomte, so btw, you’re a dad now” (if you’re at all surprised at this fact… I’m surprised – no, I’m shocked, frankly, considering it’s so blatantly obvious).

Phantom gives Raoul an ultimatum. Christine sings – she stays with Phantom and lives happily (?) ever after. Christine doesn’t sing – Phantom pays off all Raoul’s debts and lets them go straight back to France. Raoul, however, fails to point this out to his wife, so she never knows the stakes of singing vs not singing, and his “please don’t sing tonight” feels a bit “meh, why should she listen to you?”

Meanwhile, Meg is jealous of Christine getting all the attention again, because the little ballerina girl has been desperately trying to proove herself worthy to the Phantom, and oh the humiliations she’s had to go through, and so on. Mme Giry turns out to be Mrs. Danvers in disguise (or so I keep hearing, but I’ve never read or seen Rebecca yet, so I can’t really comment – hmm, maybe I should like her to Rochester‘s Blanche Ingram, eh? ;)), being a scheming bitch. She’s upset because her boss seems to have forgotten everything except for Christine now that she’s back, and the Girys were rather a huge part in smuggling him out of France and helping him set up his Coney Island imperium. Credit where credit’s due, ya know.

The end scene is really drawn out, no two ways about it. The songs are alright, but not quite as memorable as the score from Phantom. The only ones I can remember anything from are Devil Take The Hindmost (only that phrase) and the theme, Love Never Dies. The reason I remember the theme best is probably because I was struggling not to start bawling when it was sung the first time (for no real reason other than it got to me – I can hardly listen to Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again without automatically welling up either). The second time, during the ridiculously long-winded end scene, I did start crying, but sort of got it together again. When the cast were taking their bows, they started playing it again as the Phantom and Christine came out, and then I just lost it and couldn’t stop crying until it was time to leave. The Squeeze musing “so that got to you a bit, then”. Yes, yes it did, and I don’t like crying in public.

The story… is not much of a story. It’s plain, predictable, not particularly interesting or even funny. The prologue and ouverture doesn’t grab your attention like Phantom does, and doesn’t have as strong a theme. (Those organs and the chandelier lighting up in the original is pure magic; stroke of genius.)

The Phantom seems, like a commentator on the West End Whingers’ review pointed out, to be aging backwards for some reason – the age gap between him and Christine seems to have shrunk considerably. What I’m wondering now, listening to the Swedish Phantom score again, and from vague recollections of the book, how they got the Phantom and Christine to be these star-crossed lovers. That’s not exactly how Monsieur Leroux wrote them all those years ago, is it? I’m pretty sure the only real romance there was that between Raoul and Christine, and while there were feelings between her and the man in the mask, they were of the dysfunctional sort. That’s why I want to get a hold of the book and re-read it, because I don’t remember them being all that lovey-dovey, more like she was fearing him, and in the Phantom’s lair to the end of the book, he really was trying to kill both her and Raoul, so going from that kind of horror to jumping into bed with the guy the night before she’s marrying someone else just seems a bit far-fetched.

There was a really big plus of the show, though. The screen onto which they projected animations. It was merging cinema with theatre and looked awesome. Good use of technical equipment! We saw the show from the front of the upper circle, so we could see all the holes and hatches in the stage and such, which took away a bit of the magic, but still, it was a good show. Not a great show, especially not compared with the original and best, that of the Phantom of the Opera itself. Still, it was good fun, and it did renew my interest in the subject – both the original musical and the book. My next project is to re-watch the musical film and re-watch the 1991 (?) adaptation with Charles Dance and to re-read the book. At some point.

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