Our resident blogger has been after me to contribute a guest post here for some time. During our recent jaunt over to Merry Old England, we took in a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera sequel. I mentioned at the time that I would like the chance to share my POV and Hubby suggested a guest post. So here I am!
CAUTION: This review contains spoilers. And is long. You have been WARNED!
I am a musical fan. Have been ever since I was a little girl, thanks to my parents shared appreciation for musicals, both on-screen and on-stage.
When the original Phantom of the Opera came out, we all saw it on stage and loved it. Years later, when I saw the Phantom of the Opera movie, I was swept away again by the music, the spectacle and of course, how hot Gerard Butler looked as the guy in the mask. Why in the world would Christine ever choose to run off with that clearly-not-as-hot Raoul? (Other than of course, the Phantom's tendency to go murderous on assorted opera personnel. It's not your deformed face, dude, it's your extreme anti-social tendencies!)
So, I was pretty excited when I heard that they were making a sequel to the musical. The advance reviews I heard were mixed: the source content for Love Never Dies is based on the novel "The Phantom of Coney Island". That itself, is a sequel pastiche based NOT on the Gaston Leroux novel, but on the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
The plot reads like bad fan fiction and hubby can testify that I am a HUGE fan fiction fan (when it is well written). Christine is summoned (along with petulant, possibly impotent husband and adorable, musically inclined ten year old son) to New York to perform for the strange owner of the hottest ticket in town, who uses unusual mechanical contraptions and freak show escapees in his show.
Of course, the owner is the Phantom, seeking to reclaim his lost love, ten years after he last saw her. Did I mention the ten year old son? The one Raoul is not terribly close to? Christine is suitably freaked when the Phantom and her son meet, though its clear she feels the old passion. Yes, that's right - some time after the end of the original musical, in fact just before she married Raoul, the Phantom tapped that.
It is important, I should note, to consider that this Phantom is definitely of the movie-portrayal type (younger, more passionate) and less the typical stage Phantom (far older and less a sexual partner for Christine as an inspiration). I gather, this is part of the reason that Webber cast Gerard Butler in the movie version - he wanted it to be clear that while Raoul represented "romantic love" that the Phantom should represent "passionate, sexual attraction" for Christine.
So how did they do with the musical sequel?
I give it a B, while the original scores a definite A+.
The London cast was gorgeous - the Phantom passionate, imperious yet vulnerable. Christine was stunning, in everything from costume to voice to make-up. The woman playing Meg Giry (who has developed an unhealthy obsession of her own) was strong and brought to life a woman who has sacrificed and worked for something she is realizing she can never have. She plays the opposite of Christine and does it beautifully.
The young actor playing the son, Gustave, was fine, dealing well with his corny role and not annoying me too badly.
I thought the casting of Raoul was a bit off. The actor worked hard and his voice was strong, but his appearance was a bit seedier than I thought it should be. I know Raoul is meant to have fallen on hard times, but I never bought that this particular man was ever a dashing young viscount.
The sets and special effects were the highlight of the show. Truly amazing - a fantastic evolution of what made the original Phantom such an eye-opener. In fact, it is worth seeing the show for those alone.
So, if the cast was strong and the effects were good, where does the show fall down?
In one place you'd expect, given it is based on "fan fiction" and one you wouldn't.
The plot, as mentioned above, is kind of hokey. But, this is a musical and if it wasn't for odd coincidences and overly dramatized events, no musical would ever take place. Thus, the plot and the tear-jerker ending (which had the effect of making me giggle, NOT I'm sure the intent) can perhaps be forgiven.
Sadly, where the show really failed to hit a home run was the music, of all things. Where the original Phantom still has the power to awe with its score and lyrics, Love Never Dies never really gets off the ground. It isn't that the music is BAD...it just isn't particularly memorable. When I heard the Phantom score for the first time, I needed to hear it again, immediately. I still listen to it, years later.
I see no particular reason to own the Love Never Dies soundtrack. There are a few stirring moments, most often when Webber ties in themes and elements of the original production. There is a lovely moment when Christine is making a pivotal decision and the strains of "Sing Prima Donna once more" are heard. That made my heart race, but sadly, those moments were few and far between.
The lyrics too, are less than they perhaps could or should have been for a sequel that has been anticipated this long. Far too much exposition for exposition's sake - not done smoothly and taking away from the song itself.
Final verdict: See Love Never Dies if you get the chance, but keep expectations moderate and don't count on it being a classic.
Final comment: I managed to mortify hubby (and crack up the girl sitting behind me) at the end of the show. There is a pivotal moment when the Phantom is trying to talk down a gun-toting Meg, who has HAD it with his obsession over Christine (and the fact that he keeps overlooking her). He's almost got her soothed when he tells her "we can't all be like Christine". This is such a bone-headed move, that I let a DUDE NO! slip out before I could stop myself. Oh well, as I said, it made the girl behind me laugh. :-)