I just got back from seeing a filmed production of Love Never Dies, the stage-musical sequel to The Phantom of the Opera (via Fathom Events).
I … may have … kind of … liked it.
I was against a sequel to Phantom of the Opera from the beginning, and thought the story they chose for it (based on the novel The Phantom of Manhattan) was atrocious. I wasn’t the only person to think so, and it kind of bombed in London. I listened to a lot of the music, and liked some of it, but didn’t think that made the whole show worthwhile. Of course I criticized from afar—how else was I going to do it, since I certainly couldn’t fly to London to see it, nor to Melbourne, where they re-opened?
But since I would prefer to find such things out for myself, I took this opportunity to see it.
The first thing they showed at the 7:30 showtime was a behind-the-scenes featurette that lasted 10 to 15 minutes (way too long). This turned out to be a perfect analogy to Love Never Dies: it wasn’t necessary, it kind of spoiled the effect of the original, and yet it was useful in its way. There was some good information that I’m glad I knew once the show itself started: I hadn’t kept track of LND recently, so I hadn’t realized that the Australian show underwent significant changes after it closed in London. Most of these changes were improvements, I have to say.
Unfortunately, the basic story is still stupid and unnecessary and no better than fanfiction. (And I speak as someone who, yes, once wrote PotO-based fanfiction.) The Phantom and Christine are reunited at Coney Island, of all places, TEN LONG YEEEEEAAARRRRS after their last parting at the end of the first musical. She is with Raoul, now a drunken, debt-ridden gambler, and their son Gustave, who is kind of annoying, mostly because I tend not to like children in shows and movies. Gustave is actually the Phantom’s child, not Raoul’s, because Christine went back and slept with the Phantom right before she married Raoul. But the Phantom fled after that night, and she ended up marrying Raoul still.
Then there’s some mess with Meg and Madame Giry being jealous because the Phantom wants Christine to SIIIIIIIIINNNNG OOOOOONCE MOOOOOOOOOOOORRRE at his new “Phantasma” show on Coney Island, and Christine has to decide whether or not to sing. If she does, apparently that means she’s pledging herself to the Phantom again. If she doesn’t, presumably she goes back with Raoul and Gustave to their mortgaged estate.
I never liked this story, and I still don’t. But the show was entertaining, and I couldn’t help having fun and enjoying myself. Although it was a live show, they filmed it like a movie (a technique I hope they start doing with other shows, because that would be a great boost to theater in this modern age). It was shot beautifully, except the sets were so extravagant that I wish they had pulled back the camera more, just to get a few more shots of the whole stage.
The music is gorgeous. Webber himself said it’s one of his favorite scores, and possibly his best, and I wouldn’t argue. A lot of the lyrics are iffy, and some downright unintentionally hilarious, but the score itself is painfully beautiful. One thing that bothered me about the music was that we didn’t hear enough of it. I don’t know if the show actually didn’t have an overture or entr’acte, or if they just didn’t film it. It would have been nice to hear more of the score without singing. It felt a bit cramped otherwise.
They did take out a few very annoying and unnecessary songs (including a prologue), and although Meg is still a showgirl of sorts, they tone it down and she’s not quite as out-of-character as she seemed in the earlier version. Madame Giry is not nearly as great as she is in the original Phantom, but I think she’s less sinister and Mrs.-Danvers-like after the changes to LND.
One of the things I hated most from PotO to LND was the change to Raoul. I’m not gonna lie: I love Raoul in the original Phantom, and (at this point in my life) I don’t mind that he got the girl. (I especially like Patrick Wilson as Raoul in the film version, despite that movie’s many other flaws.) I don’t like seeing Raoul as a drunk and a debtor who yells at his son. Fortunately, it looks like they toned it down a bit and made him more sympathetic and a little less of a bastard.
The voices and singing were great, and for the most part the acting was excellent. Sadly, the acting I found most unappealing was the Phantom. He sounded great and he had the right amount of menace and tenderness, I think, but about halfway through I suddenly realized that the actor stood and moved as though he had a pool cue shoved up his … erm … pipe organ. I also thought that he does a good “crazy eyes” look, but then I realized that he never stops. I guess the character is crazy and twisted all the time, but once I noticed the permanently crazy eyes, it just made me chuckle.
Sadly, I think the bits that I enjoyed the most are the hardest to describe. A few of the songs I genuinely liked already, and even some of the ones I didn’t care for were so well performed that I still enjoyed them. It was also, literally, a spectacular show—as in, full of spectacle—and that was entertaining and a bit awe-inspiring. I guess it’s one thing to read critical reviews, be attached to the original story, and hear ridiculous lyrics without visuals, but quite another thing to watch the show, see the passion of the performers, surrounded by creative sets and props, and get caught up in the action.
I need to process this a bit more, but … yeah. I liked it. I don’t know if I’d recommend it, and I don’t take it to heart as the true “rest of the story” for PotO, but as a show all its own, it’s not horrible. I think it deserved the criticism it got, but I think that it offers enough good to balance it out, to be enjoyed for itself.
I … think I’d see it again.