Buckle up, kids, this one's a doozey.
(What's up with the creepy mask with the lipstick? Is the Phantom a tranny now?)
I'm gonna walk through the whole story, spoilers abound!
First off, I would like to question the purpose of this sequel. It didn't need to happen. Who walks away from the first show thinking, "Oh I wonder what happens next?"
The Phantom disappears into thin air, leaving his fate for the audience to decide. Did he escape? Did the mob get him? We don't know. And we're happy not knowing. The mystery is a part of the story.
But apparently Andrew Lloyd Webber didn't agree. According to him and the show's producer Cameron Macintosh, numerous fans were complaining that the Phantom and Christine should have wound up together in the end.
I dunno who these so-called fans are, but they need to get their heads checked. Yes, it would be nice to see the Phantom have a win, but their relationship is less-than-unhealthy to begin with. Could you imagine what their married life would be like?
"Phantom, dear, the sink needs fixing."
".....You don't know my name, do you?"
"Well of course, it's 'Phantom'!"
"No it isn't! Who names their child 'Phantom'?"
"A mother who feared and loathed you?"
Or maybe like this:
('Fop' is a common nickname for Raoul)
Andrew Lloyd Webber also argues that Love Never Dies isn't supposed to be a sequel, rather, it's supposed to stand apart from the first show. Riiiiight, Andrew. It just happens to feature all the same characters and takes place directly after the first show. That doesn't sound like a sequel at all.
Before I really tear into this, lemme just say that I've never actually seen the show. But I've heard the soundtrack, I know the story, and I've actually seen quite a lot of clips on YouTube. So I think the following is justified.
For a basic summary of the show, allow me to refer you to this picture:
If that isn't obvious enough, I'll expound upon why this story sucks so royally.
The whole concept of the Phantom messing with Raoul and Christine is remarkably out of character. Remember at the end of the first show when the Phantom decided to let Christine go because he realized her happiness was more important than his? Apparently Webber has chosen to send this fact sailing out the nearest window.
Alright, on with the story.
The year is 1907, ten years after the conclusion of the first musical, supposedly. I say 'supposedly' because the first show took place in 1881. I dunno who did the math but....it must've been someone important because everyone was too afraid to correct him. *coughWebbercough*
Christine, Raoul and their 10-year-old son Gustave arrive in New York at Coney Island. Christine has been hired to perform an aria at the show Phantasma by someone known simply as Mr. Y (guess who?). Apparently she and Raoul are desperate for money because Raoul has squandered it all on alcohol and gambling. Yes, you read that right. Raoul has become an abusive drunk. And in addition to being a horrible husband, he seems to have no interest in his child. (I wouldn't either though, Gustave is dang annoying. Just look at that hat.)
The show Phantasma is a popular freak show/beach resort. It's owned by the Phantom, but Christine and Raoul (somehow) don't realize this.
Okay, hold on.
Why the crap would the Phantom want anything to do with freak shows, let alone own one? It, like so many other things in this show, makes no sense.
The Phantom comes to Christine after Raoul goes off drinking and Gustave is in bed. He makes an overly dramatic entrance through...get ready for it...the front door! Aided by dry ice and booming music, he sweeps into the room.
They stare panting at each other for a moment before Christine snaps out of it.
She basically says, "I should have known it was you. What the crap are you doing in my life again? Out!"
To which the Phantom replies, "Alright I'll go, but not before we talk about how we had sex that one time."
They then proceed to sing for 6 horrific minutes about a long passionate night they spent together on the eve of Christine and Raoul's wedding. Okay. Christine and the Phantom were uber-virgins at that point. There's no way they could've done anything that would've lasted longer than 10 minutes. And forget about passionate, how about awkward?
Gustave wakes from a nightmare, likely induced from hearing them sing for 6 minutes about sex, and he meets the Phantom.
Their meeting goes something like this:
Phantom: Hello, small child.
Gustave: Hey. You own this place?
Gustave: It's awesome.
Phantom: I know.
Christine shoos him off to bed and the Phantom informs her she must sing in his show or else he'll kidnap Gustave. I have a hard time imagining the Phantom threatening a child. Yes, he's a nutjob, but he's by no means evil. Plus, something tells me he'd rather avoid children altogether.
Before I move on I should probably explain how the Phantom came to be at Coney Island. He escaped Paris with the aid of Madame Giry and Meg and traveled to New York. They stayed with him, and ultimately helped him purchase a freak show on Coney Island that he turned into Phantasma. In the process, Meg somehow degraded into a whore that her mother pimped out to bosses that pulled strings for Phantasma's success.
In addition, Meg also falls head-over-heels in love with the Phantom. So when Christine comes along, Meg becomes insanely jealous.
It's almost as if Webber sat down and asked himself, "What could I do to completely destroy the integrity all of these characters had in the first show?"
The majority of the characters become horrible people in this sequel. Christine is probably the only character who is constant from the first show, except a little less herpy-derpy. A little.
And I wouldn't say the Phantom has become a horrible person, rather, he's become much more passive and docile. Lame, right? One of the integral facets of his character is his madness. There are a few moments in the show when he gets pretty angry, but none where he drops a chandelier or strangles a stagehand. In fact, there aren't even moments where he mutters to himself or laughs hysterically. The Phantom is supposed to be a hellbeast. Not a pansy.
This is most apparent in the scenes where the Phantom is unmasked. And get this, folks...the Phantom takes it off himself. He literally walks around talking to people unmasked.
How is this not true to his character, you ask? Every time his mask came off in the first show he flipped a lid and tried to kill someone. It's like he had a 'crazy' button and removing the mask was pushing it.
Okay, back to the story.
The next day Gustave wanders off on his own and winds up in the Phantom's quasi-lair. While he's there, Gustave starts to play a piano. The Phantom flips, "My god, you can play a simple tune! You're 10 years old! You must be MINE!"
And despite the Phantom singing this rather loud fatherhood epiphany three feet away, Gustave remains oblivious to the fact that the Phantom is his father.
Yep. Gustave is the Phantom's son.
The Phantom of the Opera reproduced.
Lemme just give you a minute to let that sink in...
They proceed to sing a ridiculous yet catchy song about how awesome it is to love weird nightmarish things. The Phantom unmasks himself, thinking his son will accept him. No such luck. The kid freaks out.
Christine shows up and sends the traumatized Gustave away. The Phantom whirls on her, "WOMAN! Why didn't you tell me we procreated?!"
Instead of replying something like, "Um, you disappeared after we did it, idiot." Christine says her marriage made her secret forbidden so she just rolled with it.
Instead of getting angrier (which would've been true to his character), the Phantom melts into a hopeless puddle of goo, "A son. My son!" And tells Christine to take Gustave and leave. She doesn't have to sing, after all.
Christine refuses, arguing that the song he wrote for her is too beautiful to not be heard (though she probably was just desperate for $$$). After Christine leaves, the Phantom sings about how he finally has something to live for, someone to carry on his legacy.
He leaves, and Madame Giry enters, having heard everything. She's furious because she believes she and Meg should be privy to the Phantom's affections and legacy, not some little brat that came out of the blue.
Remember the awe-inspiring pants-wetting conclusion to Act 1 of the first show wherein the chandelier plummets over your head? No such luck. Instead, we get Madame Giry tossing Gustave's jacket on the floor. Feel the drama.
On to Act 2!
Remember that awesome Act 2 opening from the first show? With the fireworks and 'Masquerade'? No! Such! Luck!
We open on Raoul in a local bar, totally wasted. He's been drinking all night. In the meantime, he had found out the Phantom was behind everything. Why he didn't pack up Christine and Gustave and leave immediately is beyond me. Oh wait, it's because everyone is immensely out of character, Raoul especially so.
Anywho. Meg shows up and tries to get Raoul to take his family back to Paris. (She wants the Phantom to herself, after all.) Raoul blows her off and declares that he's not afraid of the Phantom.
Just then, the bartender turns around. It's the Phantom. Desperate for comic relief, the audience usually laughs rather loudly at this point.
The Phantom and Raoul then sing an awesome duet called 'Devil Take the Hindmost'. In it, the Phantom plays off of Raoul's weakness for gambling and strikes a deal with him. If Christine doesn't sing, Raoul can take his family back to Paris, his debts wiped clean by the Phantom. If Christine sings, Raoul must leave alone. Because apparently if Christine sings the song it means she loves the Phantom more than Raoul.
Raoul, alcoholic douche that he is, accepts the deal and the Phantom officially becomes a home-wrecker.
And because Raoul has apparently lost all common sense, he fails to tell Christine about the bet.
To cut a long story short, Christine winds up singing (without knowing the consequences), Raoul takes off, and the Phantom goes, "C'mere, babe, you're mine!" To which Christine replies, "Hey, where's Gustave?"
He's been kidnapped by Meg, who is beyond desperate for the Phantom's attention.
The Phantom, who is suddenly a caring parent, gets even more hysterical than Christine, "My son! I'LL TEAR ANYONE WHO TOUCHES HIM LIMB FROM LIIIIMB! RAAAAAAA!" Making this the only moment wherein the Phantom gets almost as mad/crazy as he does in the first show.
They take off after Meg and find her at the docks with Gustave. She's planning on drowning him. The Phantom, Christine, and Madame Giry show up and manage to get Gustave away from Meg. Meg turns a gun on herself and makes everyone listen to her sob story. Somehow, the Phantom hadn't realized she was whoring herself to help his finances.
He sings her down, trying to get the gun away from her. He tells her he does care about her, and she's just about to hand over the gun when he screws it up with, and I quote, "Beauty sometimes goes unseen. We can't all be like Christine."
To which Meg replies by shooting Christine.
It takes Christine a grand total of 5 minutes to die, breaking Eponine's 3 minute 30 second record of longest death in musical theater history.
As Christine lays dying, she tells Gustave who his real father is (since Raoul is gone). The Phantom holds Christine in his arms and they sing about how they love each other and how the Phantom needs to take care of Gustave and blah blah blah.
Christine finally kicks the bucket, and the Phantom and Gustave look at each other. Gustave removes the Phantom's mask and touches his face, then embraces him. Aaaaand curtain!
So, as you can see, the story is crap. You wanna know the kicker? Webber started working on it in 1990. Twenty two years ago. Twenty two freaking years and this is all he could come up with.
Lloyd Webber based his heinous story off of Frederick Forsyth's equally-heinous The Phantom of Manhattan. The title alone should have prevented this monstrosity from ever getting published. But, alas, if Twilight could, I suppose Forsyth's work could get published too.
The cast is perhaps the only redeeming factor of this show. Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess play the Phantom and Christine.
I won't waste my time gushing over them because I already have in previous posts. But lemme just say that despite the shoddiness of the material they did the best they could. Their performances, both vocal and acting-wise, were excellent.
The music itself was fairly decent. I have most of the soundtrack, and I'll usually skip the majority of the songs except for "Till I Hear You Sing" and "Devil Take the Hindmost". Lloyd Webber boasted that this was his greatest work yet, and while I admit it's not complete crap, it's certainly not his best.
In fact, the title song "Love Never Dies" is a recycled version of Webber's "Our Kind of Love". No joke. YouTube them both and see for yourself. In addition, "Till I Hear You Sing" is also partially ripped from Webber's "If Not For Me For Her". In fact, as I'm researching this I'm finding multiple melodies from Webber's previous works have been recycled in this show.
I'll admit, though, the Phantom's mask is the best I've seen so far in any production of the first show. In addition, his makeup is a huge improvement from the first show. Look how well the mask fits Ramin Karimloo and how natural his makeup looks here:
Versus here when he performed in the first show:
This is very typical Phantom makeup for the first show. It looks fine from the audience but I've always thought it looked a little clownish up close. The makeup and mask in Love Never Dies is a huge improvement, in my (distinguished) opinion.
So despite a crap story and semi-decent music, the show somehow got a fantastic budget. I think they should have spent their resources on a prequel, or a sequel wherein the Phantom is the only character from the first show who carries over.
I'm not going to draw up how I think a sequel should have gone because, as I stated before, I don't believe one should exist.
A prequel though? Yes please. Contrary to popular belief, the Phantom did not grow up inside the Opera House. In fact, he didn't get there until he was middle-aged. The rest of his life was spent abroad, a period of which was spent serving the Shah of Persia.
There have been quite a few fan-novels written and published wherein the authors give their take on Erik's life, the best of which is Susan Kay's Phantom.
It has some weak points, but overall is a very entertaining and informative read. Kay takes the reader through Erik's entire life, from birth to death. The events that occur at the Paris Opera House only take up the last portion of the book. The rest are the events that make Erik who he is, and what eventually drives him away from mankind into the underbelly of the Opera House. I think it would have made an excellent show. (Or an Oscar-worthy film. Hint hint, Hollywood.)
If I ever come across cheap tickets to see Love Never Dies, I'll probably go just out of morbid curiosity. Though I can easily imagine myself getting booted out of the audience for laughing. It's bad fanfiction on a big budget, I won't be able to restrain myself.
The show's Australian production (of which several of the above pictures are from) has been released on DVD and Blu-ray if any of you are brave enough to sit through the entire monstrosity. But if it helps, I've been told the characters are more true to their original incarnations and the story has been tweaked a little to be less horrendous.
Regardless, I think we can all agree that love never dies, but in this case, should.