So not long ago, I got a chance to watch online the Australian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to "The Phantom of the Opera": "Love Never Dies", which will be released on DVD this month. I've been going over my thoughts on the production again and again in my head, so I thought I might as well share them with all of you and ease my torment. ;)
Before I go any farther, I must warn you that there will be HUGE SPOILERS in this post, so if you don't want to know most of the plot points or storyline for this play, DO NOT READ THIS POST!!!! I can't really express my thoughts without spoiling things for you, especially since I won't be recommending that you watch it! Also, I'm guessing this is going to be a rather long post, so if you're not a fan of posts that drag on and on without pictures or anything interesting, you might want to stop now and wait for my next doll review post. ;)
One more quick thing...just for any new readers. For those of you know don't know, I'm a Christian, so my opinions will be affected by my Christian worldview, and I make no apologies for that. I realize that not all of my readers share my beliefs, so I wanted to prepare you ahead of time. :)
As most of you know, I was quite the Phantom fan when I was in high school and college. I've mentioned this in previous posts, most notably my "Team Raoul" post, which you can read HERE. I try to do Phantom in small doses, because I get too obsessed with the story, and tend to make excuses for Erik's...um...psychopathic tendencies because of the beauty of the music. :} I did have the opportunity to watch the 25th anniversary concert performance at the Royal Albert Hall via PBS, which I enjoyed immensely. I especially loved seeing the characters' facial expressions. I will always love Michael Crawford's Phantom (since I practically memorized the original cast recording CD, aside from "Past the Point of No Return"), but I must confess that Ramin Karimloo was an AMAZING Phantom! He even made me cry!
That being said, there are definitely issues with the show that I cannot excuse, most of which are mentioned in the post I already linked you to in the paragraph above. But I digress.
When I first heard about the Phantom sequel a year or so ago, I was excited, but a bit worried at the same time. I mean, honestly, does Phantom really need a sequel? It's a great stand-alone story. And sure, like many of the others who enjoyed the first play, I was curious to see what happened next. But if a sequel was going to be made, it needed to be the most spectacularly awesome sequel known to mankind, or it would spoil the original. Just sayin'. ;)
As I read reviews and a synopsis of the play, I was horrified to discover that "Love Never Dies" was loosely based on a horrendous novel called "The Phantom of Manhattan" by Fredrick Forsyth. I managed to get through it once in college after a fellow student recommended it to me and have since tried to block its existence from my memory! Andrew Lloyd Webber made a few changes...some characters had been replaced with more familiar ones. Unfortunately, that almost made it worse. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER (Meg a deranged killer by the end of the story? Really?) END OF SPOILER
So the basic synopsis of the original version of "Love Never Dies", for those of you who are unfamiliar with it, is this. It has been 10 years since "The Phantom of the Opera"...supposedly. Apparently Andrew Lloyd Webber forgot that his original play was set in 1881, because "Love Never Dies" is set in 1905 (which, ironically, is when the prologue to Phantom is also set-you know, the "Lot 665, Ladies and Gentlemen" part? If I remember correctly, Raoul was in a wheelchair and looking pretty old and worn out then...). According to my calculator, that makes it 24 years since the original story. But I digress...again.
So, it's been (ahem) 10 years since the story we know. The Phantom is now living in New York, and owns a mysterious theme park called "Phantasma" at Coney Island (not like that title gives his identity away or anything!). He is now known as "Mr. Y" to everyone except Madame Giry and Meg, who were the ones to smuggle him out of France and help him get established. Meg is now one of the main performers in the tacky, vaudevillian shows that are performed at Phantasma, and is also head over heels for the Phantom. The Phantom, however, is still pining for his Christine, so he sends an anonymous letter to the Vicomtesse, offering her a large sum of money to come and sing for him. Because Raoul is now an irritable, gambling drunkard who has squandered away most of their fortune and is deeply in debt (I was sooo mad when I found out what Lloyd Webber did to his character!! Nothing like conveniently making the love interest from the first play undesirable so that everyone will have more empathy for the other guy!), and the sum "Mr. Y" offers is very high, Christine agrees to sing. She, Raoul, and their 10 year old son Gustave arrive in New York and are whisked away to Phantasma by the Phantom's 3 henchmen (well, 2 henchmen and 1 henchwoman, to be precise), some sideshow freaks that serve his every whim.
So it doesn't take to long for Christine to find out that her mysterious employer is actually *gasp!* the Phantom! He's missed her terribly in their 10 years apart and wants to hear her sing again. Then we find out that after Christine left with Raoul, she returned to the Phantom (when it was really dark with no moon) and they shared a night of passion (one of the other things that REALLY bothered me about this play, but more on that later). Christine decided she loved the Phantom after all, but when she woke the next morning, he was gone (too ashamed to face her in the morning light). As other reviewers have pointed out, this basically means that if the Phantom would have just kept his mask on all the time, everything would have been hunky-dory.
Meanwhile, Meg and Madame Giry find out that Christine is back. In a completely uncharacteristic manner, Meg is horribly jealous and catty towards Christine, furious that her "friend" gets to sing an aria when she's stuck with the fluffy songs the Phantom has been composing lately. And that jealousy begins to fester and boil in her heart.
Gustave ends up in the Phantom's new lair (now miles above everyone, called the aerie), and after observing the child's musical ability and other similarities, SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER the Phantom comes to the conclusion that Gustave is actually his son instead of Raoul's. He decides to show his face to Gustave, hoping that the boy will accept him. Of course, Gustave runs away screaming. Christine apologizes to the Phantom and confirms his suspicions: Gustave is his. END OF SPOILER
And it just all goes downhill from there. The Phantom makes a bet with Raoul, saying that if Christine sings the aria, Raoul must leave...alone. If Christine doesn't sing, all of their debts will be paid and they will never hear from the Phantom again. Raoul takes the bet, sure he will win.
After both men selfishly plead their case to her, Christine agonizes for a while, but finally decides to sing, Raoul leaves in despair, and the Phantom revels in Christine's performance. But before they can even begin to sort out the mess they've just made, Christine realizes that Gustave is missing. Who took him? Meg, of course! The sweet little ballerina is no more. No, she's now a tortured, suicidal, broken woman who tries to drown Gustave and then commit suicide by shooting herself to get everyone's attention.
To make a long story short, the Phantom tries to persuade Meg to give him the gun, and then sings the most idiotic line of his life, telling Meg that some beauty is unseen, and "we can't all be like Christine." Brilliant, dude. Meg gets (understandably) upset and in her rage, the gun goes off and SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER accidentally shoots Christine. Christine lives long enough to sing some ridiculously high notes for someone who is at death's door, and to tell Gustave that the Phantom is his real father. He runs off screaming again, of course. She kisses the Phantom one last time and then dies. Yeah...that's not going to give the Phantom any more psychological issues to work through or anything! At the very end, Gustave comes back, unmasks the Phantom, and looks at him without screaming...which supposedly means that the two of them will now live happily ever after with no problems whatsoever. END OF SPOILER
Shockingly, this story did not sit well with many of the die-hard Phantom fans. Some of the complaints were:
1. The characters were completely different from their original characters (for example, Raoul the drunk, Meg the psycho killer, and the Phantom the wimp...Madame Giry was talking to him in this play in a way that would have earned her the Punjab lasso in the first play!)
2. While much of the music was lovely, the lyrics left something to be desired (the original version of "Beautiful", for example, was pretty much just Gustave singing the word "Beautiful" over and over again...and that's just one example!)
3. The math errors in the timeline
4. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER Wait...Christine dies?!?! END OF SPOILER
5. Well, there were a lot of other complaints, too, but I can't think of anymore right now. You get the idea, though.
So, for some stupid reason, I decided to watch the Australian release of this play. Okay, I did have some valid reasons for watching. First, I felt that I should actually watch this so I could give it a fair review (which I'm sort of attempting to do, despite the sarcasm), and second, I'd heard that they'd made some major changes to the script and lyrics, and it was supposedly better. I honestly think I was hoping for a completely new storyline...or something. :}
Unfortunately, this was not the case. I will give credit where credit is due, however. It was slightly better.
For one thing, while the characters were still different, they made the differences a bit more believable. For example, they made the Phantom a little more sinister in some of the parts instead of nothing but a misunderstood nice guy who just happened to have murdered a few people in his past. Meg was no longer obsessed with the Phantom, and she was genuinely excited to see Christine again. Even the ending was a bit more believable SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER (she still shoots Christine, but it is very obviously an accident and she is horrified at what she's done). END OF SPOILER They also made Raoul a bit less of a jerk in this version, changing some of his lines so that he's more of a sympathetic character. You could see that he did still love Christine, but was trapped in his addictions. Honestly, while I hated to see Andrew Lloyd Webber do this to Raoul's character, at least this way it was more of a believable progression. In this Raoul, you could see a glimpse of the young, romantic protector he'd once been. He was a man who had made some awful choices and regretted them, but didn't know how to change. Still sad, but at least not as "What on earth?!?" and random as the original LND Raoul.
The lyrics definitely improved from version to version as well. Some of the changes were very small, but every little bit helped. Also, due to the changed storyline, many of the songs were cut, or moved to different places, or sung to different people. Overall, I think the changes definitely improved the story.
Another change that really helped the believability of the story was that it was Oscar Hammerstein (not to be confused with his famous lyricist grandson) who asked Christine to come to America to sing. It was only after Raoul, Christine, and Gustave arrived in the US that the Phantom tricked them into coming to Phantasma. Because honestly, if you were Christine and got a mysterious anonymous request to sing from a guy who worked at a place called Phantasma, wouldn't you be just a wee bit suspicious?
They also let Raoul come back at the end of the story and SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER hold his dead wife for a while before the curtain falls. END OF SPOILER Depressing? Yes, but at least he's not just out of the picture like in the original version. SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER (Along this same line, one of the things I didn't like about this new version was the way that Christine acted when she was "dying". It didn't seem very natural...especially when she got up and started running after Gustave for a moment. Did she forget about her major wound or something?) END OF SPOILER
Oh, and they explained the math issue in this one, too. At the beginning of the play, there were words across the screen that read: "Paris, 1895, A mysterious fire consumed the Opera Populaire. A mob rampaged through the theatre's catacombs baying [yes, it really did say "baying"] for the masked man they held responsible. Only his mask was ever found." I guess that sorta works, although it seems kind of repetitive with the whole "only finding the mask" thing again. I mean, didn't they just do that at the end of the first play (which would have been years earlier)? It made a lot more sense when it was supposed to be 10 years after the original story. Especially since there are still several songs that mention the 10 year time period, including one sung by Meg, when she's talking about how long it's been since she's seen Christine. Plus, that means that Christine waited 14 years before her rendezvous with the Phantom, because Gustave is only 10. That just makes no sense at all. I mean, I'm sure they can explain it away, but from the lyrics of the songs, it sounds more like it was a pretty immediate thing. (Arrgghh! Why am I even discussing this? I'm disgusted that it's in the play at all! I guess I'm just trying to show that while this was supposed to fix the timeline issue, instead it just created other problems.) I think Lloyd Webber's reasoning for the time change was because he liked the idea of having it set in Coney Island, and 1905 worked with the Coney Island timeline. It still just doesn't quite work the way it's supposed to.
So, what were my overall thoughts?
First, the pros...few though they may be. I loved many of Lloyd Webber's compositions used in this play. "Till I Hear You Sing" (especially as sung by Ramin Karimloo) was absolutely gorgeous and heart-wrenching. "Love Never Dies", the title song, was lovely as well, although the words are a little silly if you're looking for a real definition of love. I also loved the tunes to "Beautiful" and "Once Upon Another Time", but not necessarily the lyrics. I have more to say on this subject, but I'll save that for the "cons".
The casting was enjoyable on the new recording. Ben Lewis and Anna O'Byre (the Phantom and Christine) both have lovely voices. However, they both are somehow lacking that extra spark that Ramin and Sierra bring to the characters. It would have been interesting to see those two in this revised version, especially since they played the title roles in the 25th Anniversary performance of the original play (and also originated the roles of the Phantom and Christine in LND). Ben and Anna were still great, and there were some lovely moments with them, but I definitely prefer Ramin and Sierra.
And that's really about all I can say that's positive, unfortunately.
Now for the cons.
The most obvious thing was the content in this play. A love triangle involving a married couple...a child born out of wedlock...several examples of cold, calculating selfishness instead of true, giving love...the list goes on. The Phantom was so desperate to hear Christine sing, he threatened to take Gustave unless she agreed to perform. Raoul, while longing to make a change, continued to succumb to drinking and gambling, even though his family suffered as a result. Both men pleaded with Christine to sing or not sing in the name of love, but it was mostly just selfishness. Christine was kind and sweet to her son and still loved her husband in spite of his flaws, but "could not resist" the allure of the Phantom, try though she might.
I think it's easy to watch stuff like this and not really think about what's happening. When you really evaluate this story, though, what is it saying? That true love is more important than marital commitment? That it's okay to sleep with someone before marriage if you really love each other enough? [Maybe it would help to meet sometime other than a night that was "too dark to see a thing"...that's just asking for temptation to come calling!] Or how about this lesson from both plays combined: that the guy you like may be loving and protective now, but eventually he'll end up an abusive, drunken gambler, so you'll be free to love the dangerously obsessive murderer who was interested in you before. I know this is a bit extreme, but when you really think about it, these messages aren't too far off!
Another con is the music. I know, I also put the music in the "pro" section. Confused? Let me explain myself.
While the music is often beautiful in this play, the messages are not. I'm specifically thinking of "The Beauty Underneath" and "Beneath a Moonless Sky". The first song is sung by the Phantom and is sung to Gustave. The Phantom asks Gustave about all of his secret dreams and longings, things he "couldn't dare confess". While some of the lyrics were a bit vague, there were very dark things hinted at that I was not comfortable with. Plus, the song was full of electric guitars and heavy drums, which I do not enjoy at all, especially since it followed the sweet, lovely music of "Beautiful". [I realize that my musical tastes may differ from yours, and that's fine. I'm just more of a violin and piano type than a rock and roll type.] ;)
Then we come to "Beneath a Moonless Sky", the song that discusses Christine and the Phantom's night together. As a married woman, I was embarrassed by this song. While it's not necessarily explicit, it's very sensual, intense and dramatic, and you know exactly what they're talking about. Take my word for it, ladies: if you're one of my precious unmarried sisters in Christ, please do not listen to this song. You do not need that sort of emotion awakened within you right now. Save that for your husband, the way God designed it.
I have to confess, there's something about Andrew Lloyd Webber's music that gives me a "thrill" (as Anne would say). Some of his compositions nearly move me to tears with their sheer beauty. And in some ways, that's not a good thing, because as I just discussed, there are times when the messages of his songs are not that great. They can be anywhere from overly sensual to downright blasphemous (as in "Jesus Christ Superstar"). I really have to guard my heart when I'm listening to his music. If the melody is beautiful enough, it's easy for me to try and excuse the message of the song. That's not right, and could be detrimental to my Christian walk and my relationships with others.
Some of you may feel that I'm a bit over-dramatic about this, but I firmly believe in the importance of carefully evaluating what you fill your mind with. You remember that old saying "garbage in, garbage out"? It's true. If you fill your mind with enough objectionable content or values, it will affect how you think and act, whether you realize it or not. Guard your hearts, dear ones. Don't let an enticing melody lure you into something you shouldn't be listening to. I think that those of us who are musical and respond to music are especially susceptible to this temptation. Be on the alert, and evaluate everything you hear with the truth of God's Word.
So, would I recommend this play? Um, no. (As you've probably guessed by now.) While there are some lovely songs and some really beautiful moments with memorable performances, I can't get past the overall message and the twisted, warped view of "love".
Not only that, but there are so many questions that come to my mind after watching this. What sort of life could the Phantom provide for Gustave? Materially, he would be provided for...but what about morally? And would Gustave ever be able to lead a normal life? Sorry, but I just don't see the Phantom as great father material, especially after the things he was singing about in "The Beauty Underneath".
SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER And why is it that so many stories about looking beyond appearances and loving someone in spite of their looks end with one of the main characters dying? It's almost as if as a society we're trying to promote this idea of "true love" that sees beyond appearances, but we can't figure out how on earth it would possibly work. Better to kill off one character and have the other character live with the memory of their lost love. How depressing is that? [I realize there were more issues at stake in this particular story than mere appearances. At the moment I suppose I'm thinking of all of these types of stories in general.] END OF SPOILER
I know there's no easy answer for this one...just thinking out loud, I suppose. What we really need is a Beauty and the Beast story where there's no transformation, where the Beauty character confesses her love and gets the guy in his "beastly" form. Maybe he could be a guy with hypertrichosis, or someone with burn scars, someone that had a beautiful soul and was truly lovable in spite of his unattractive face. I think our shallow, beauty-obsessed society could use a story like that (and I'm including myself in this...I could use it too).
It's a shame, really. I sigh for the sequel that could have been, or perhaps I just wish Andrew Lloyd Webber would have left his most beloved characters alone. Because I hate to admit it, but I will always think of "Love Never Dies" now whenever I watch "Phantom" again. Just like "The Return of Jafar" spoiled Aladdin for me, or that horrible third Anne of Green Gables movie that ruined the original two!! (Personally, I refuse to acknowledge the existence of "Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story". In my world, it was never created. Maybe I'll have to try that with TROJ and LND, too!) ;)
So, what's the moral of this post? Only make sequels if you are the Pixar Company!!!! Just kidding. :} Honestly, though, I wish that people would think carefully before coming up with a sequel for a story that really doesn't need one.
Well, that's about it. If you actually made it through this entire rambly, ranty post, congratulations!! I feel so much better getting all of that off of my chest!
There will be some lighter posts coming up soon, I promise! ;)
P.S. I realize that this post was pretty sarcastic in parts. Sorry, I just had to get that out of my system. Maybe I've been hanging around Maggie too long! ;)
P.P.S. I also realize that not everyone who reads this will agree with my conclusions, and that's fine. Feel free to comment with agreements, disagreements, or whatever. Please remember to present your comment in a respectful manner, though, or I won't be able to publish it.