Love Never Dies is Dead to Me, Part 2

The Phantom asks Christine to sing one more time for him on Phantasma. She refuses just as little Gustave runs into the room after a nightmare and Christine introduces the Phantom as Mr. Y, a “friend”. You know, the man you just said you owed nothing to. The man who stalked you at the Paris Opera house, had a two-way mirror in your dressing room, built a life sized replica of you in his lair, abducted you twice, shot fireballs at you from your father’s grave, killed two people and threatened to strangle your fiancé. Your friend.

see with your heart

“This is Mr Y, he tried to kill your father. I’m sure you two will be great friends!”

Gustave isn’t at all intimidated by this masked stranger who promises to show him all of Phantasma. This revelation of Christine having a child prompts the Phantom to switches tactics, threatening that if Christine doesn’t sing, Gustave may just disappear. Terrific. This is so uplifting. But then again, this is more the Phantom we knew. Are you still sure he’s more three-dimensional this time around, Webber?

Raoul returns and he’s angry (of course) that Hammerstein never showed up to the meeting. Wait, wait, wait! Just hold up here for a second! So was this all the Phantom’s plan or not? The Phantom just said to Christine, “I know what Hammerstein’s paying you. I will double the amount,”

I thought the Phantom sent an anonymous invite, but now…are they trying to hint that maybe he didn’t? But if that’s the case, this makes it even stranger, because if Christine really was invited to sing at Manhattan’s new theatre, what are they doing on Coney Island? Why did the three MC’s come to meet them? Obviously the implication is that the Phantom sent Raoul a fake note so he could get Christine alone, but if this wasn’t his doing, did he plan for them to be there? Why would they be meeting Hammerstein on Coney Island if this new theatre is in Manhattan? What’s the deal? Look, I know I’m totally going off on a tangent here, but I thought they’d be pretty clear that this was all a big plot to lure Christine back to the Phantom, and now they act like it was just one big coincidence that he simply used to his advantage….it confuses me and makes me overanalyse.

But if I pull apart all the plot holes I’ll be here all day. On we go.

The next day Christine and Raoul run into Meg and Madame Giry. Meg is slightly dismayed that Christine will be singing at the performance which was meant to be Meg’s ‘lucky break’.
Listen Meg, just quietly, I think you’ve had a pretty lucky break already considering you’re the freaking leading lady of Phantasma! Really, it’s like Satine from Moulin Rouge; a girl isn’t satisfied with being on stage surrounded by adoring fans every night. Heaven knows how unfulfilling it must be to have your act introduced as the headliner at one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world!

Madame Giry gives Raoul a hint (read: flipping spells it out!) that “Mr. Y”, the owner of Phantasma, is in fact the Phantom.
* bang *
I thought Raoul was supposed to be the smarter one! This is the guy who brought Christine back to reality in the graveyard, who reminded Christine that the Phantom was nothing but a man. True, he thought it would only take a woman in the 19th century two minutes to change clothes but….this I just cannot believe. Raoul, you received a note, the person you was supposed to be meeting never turned up, you get taken to Coney Island by circus freaks and you’re in a place called PHANTASMA, run by a person calling himself “Mr. Y” where Madame Giry just happens to be? I know you thought the Phantom was dead but might I remind you that the Phantom is a master of illusion and disappearing acts which you personally witnessed therefore making it reasonable to assume that he could quite easily fake his own death!

Raoul….what have they done to you?

youmonster

I suppose I should talk about the different actors here so I can give them the credit they undeniably deserve. Even people who saw the show and didn’t like it admitted that the actors are wonderful. So as the Phantom, in the London production we have Ramin Karimloo and in Australia he’s played by Ben Lewis. They’re both excellent singers and are doing their best with the tissue-thin material given to them. I love Ramin’s gestures and mannerisms and his characterisation is close to flawless. This is one of my favourite Phantoms, coming in after the legendary original, Michael Crawford.
Ben Lewis is also good. He has a great voice and he can certainly act, even if he is over-the-top.
They both have the required stage presence while physically and vocally embodying the Phantom as he should be….which unfortunately highlights how out of place this character is. He simply doesn’t belong in this world. As the excellent group/website Love Should Die pointed out, the Phantom already escaped from a travelling freak show so why would he want to be in charge of one?
It’s really strange and extremely distracting to see such an iconic character in this setting. And I must stress, this is not the actor’s fault. It’s the horrible writing. They have taken the Phantom, this wonderful complex character and simplified him to an almost insulting degree. Clearly the Phantom has not only taken some anger management classes (as one reviewer put it) but he’s also learning how to socialise as he’s constantly in the company of other people. I thought the Phantom was a reclusive genius, obsessed with composing music. But now he’s perfectly fine with running Coney Island and despairing over his lack of inspiration instead of sending threatening notes and causing chandeliers to crash during the curtain call.
So this isn’t the Phantom we left at the Paris Opera. Even his deformity is different! It’s not exactly subtle either; The Phantom doesn’t have the deformed lips and such like he did in the first one and as far as I know, plastic surgery didn’t exist in 1907.
I mean, I can understand the disfigurement being scaled back for the movie. We all know the film adaptation makeup looked entirely wrong and we rightly add it to our list of reasons to hate Joel Schumacher, but come on, this is a direct sequel and you actually redesigned the makeup? We very briefly see the new disfigurement in the London show, but in Australia, the unmaskings aren’t half as dramatic as the Phantom and you don’t see the gruesome deformity. Why hide it when we all saw it in Phantom? Stupid thing to do.
The Phantom is meant to be a secretive, complex character. And yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber, despite your ramblings that the Phantom is full of two-dimensional personalities, the Phantom is complicated. When a character can brutally murder two people in front of the audience and yet we still want to see him get the girl, there’s something special about him.
Why did they feel the need to change him so much? Well, the writers said they wanted the Phantom to have the qualities of love that he didn’t have in the first show.

Ok.

So you’re saying that the man whose unrequited love for Christine, and music, which was the focus of the first show, didn’t love? So what made him let both Christine and Raoul go in the end? What causes his redemption? Why do audiences love him so much? Why would we empathise with him, even though he does some terrible things, if he didn’t have the capacity to love? It just doesn’t add up.

As for Christine, she’s played by Sierra Boggess in London and Anna O’Byrne in Australia. Sierra Boggess is well-known on Broadway, having played Ariel in The Little Mermaid and Christine in the original Phantom on Broadway and Las Vegas as well as the 25th anniversary recording. When you see her onstage in the original, she encapsulates Christine’s naivety and gentleness, as well as showing the torment Christine is supposed to be going through. In Love Never Dies, she also does a very good job in terms of singing and acting. It’s clear that she’s passionate and talented, and takes her work very seriously.

Anna O’Byrne on the other hand just started her career and to be fair, she’s doing rather well. Her take on Christine is very warm and motherly rather than just innocent. Acting wise she wasn’t bad at all considering what she had to work with in the first place. She’s charming and on the whole, I enjoyed watching her. Her singing voice is quite lovely too. I look forward to seeing her on the stage in future.

Deconstructing actresses aside, let’s look at the character herself. In the original Christine is your classic ingénue. Gullible, naïve, sweet, beautiful. At face value, there isn’t much else to her but by the end of the show, she finally gets some courage and is able to stand up for herself, ultimately saving Raoul’s life and giving the Phantom the only real love he’s ever known. There’s actual character development. Even though she’s naïve, we can identify with her because we can see the grief she feels over her dead father and how the thought of him really sending the Angel Of Music to her is something she’d completely fall for. Also, she has a genuinely moving solo number, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, sung at her father’s grave where the audience does see the pain she’s going through and how she’s afraid to let go of her gratitude to the Phantom since she feels it would be like abandoning her father’s memory. That’s a very sympathetic character trait and it’s something most people can empathise with.
In the sequel however, Christine is completely one dimensional and has gone back on everything we knew about her in the first show. There’s no mention of her father, she cheated on Raoul and can’t even work out who could possibly own Phantasma.

As for the poor actors forced to play Raoul, you have my eternal respect for going on every night. Please strike this production from your resumes. You honestly deserve better. Nobody should be made to have Raoul from Love Never Dies attached to their names.

And then you have Fleck, Squelch and Gangle, who…um….just assist the Phantom, I guess. Why he needs assistants at all, we’ll never know, because this acid trip will provide no explanation as to who these people are, where they came from, or if they even have personalities to speak of.
Squelch announces himself as the world’s strongest man. Great. Please show me how strong you are! Oh, you won’t? Just going to leave it at that? Ok. Gangle? Well, he just sort of stands there looking scary while Fleck bounces around. Why would you add these three MCs if they aren’t going to be established?

So essentially, the characters we knew and loved have been replaced by people who we’ll never get to know due to lack of development and characters like our three MCs, who could have been interesting or at the very least bearable, are tossed aside. And don’t give me the whole “people can change in ten years” argument. People can change but that doesn’t mean you can give them entirely new personalities.

~

Anyway, back to the story. Raoul is angry (of course) over discovering that Christine is working for the Phantom. Truthfully, I can’t blame him. But then off he goes to have a drink as Christine realises Gustave has gone. Wow, I wonder where he could possibly have got to?
We then see Fleck, Squelch and Gangle leading Gustave to meet “Mr. Y” for his promised tour of the island. The Phantom watches as Gustave plays a melody on the piano and realises “He plays like me….he’s just ten years old!”

* bang * Gustave plays the piano, he’s ten and he has dark hair. I do wonder where this will go. It’s throwing me on so many levels!

Gustave_at_piano

I can’t imagine what cliche this is leading to. Can’t imagine at all.

Hello, electric guitars and rock music! This number is called The Beauty Underneath and in all fairness, it’s not a bad song aside from the terrible lyrics. The Phantom begins to show Gustave the wonders of his world, meaning exhibiting to him glass cases full of more circus freaks, asking “Do you find yourself beguiled by the dangerous and wild? Do you feed on the need for the beauty underneath?”

I get that it’s a circus but in the original, the Phantom seemed perfectly happy with a giant chair, an organ and a few candles, so what’s with the embellished surroundings?

While browsing through a grotesque gallery of contortionists, people with fingernails a mile long, skeleton horse things and midgets with misshapen heads, Gustave is enchanted. “It seems so beautiful. So strange yet beautiful, everything’s just as you say,”

LND4

Take a shot whenever the word “beautiful” is said/sung. You’ll be blackout drunk by this point.

I’m sorry, WHAT TEN YEAR OLD IS THIS?!? Really, what little child could honestly look at a tattooed man with three eyes and say it’s beautiful? Who the heck wrote this? What, were they high?!? Do they have any idea how children think?
And just when you think this couldn’t get any more ridiculous, the Phantom, who is no longer a”loathsome gargoyle who burns in hell” decides to reveal ‘the beauty underneath’ to Gustave by taking off his mask. That’s right, the man who went ballistic if his mask was removed takes it off himself freely exposing his deformity. And this kid, who just called a mutilated attraction with extra limbs ‘beautiful’, screams in horror and runs away only to find Christine, who immediately comforts Gustave instead of smacking the little brat to kingdom come for running off.

Meg takes Gustave back to the hotel while the Phantom demands the truth. And he gets it. Yes, Gustave is his son. *bang bang bang bang bang*

jumping the shark

Forget jumping the shark. No, they’re going to freaking POLE VAULT OVER IT! This show is physically hurting me. You really had to sink to this level?!?
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they went here given the evidence so far. I hoped against hope. But no, we just had to have this tired cliché rear its bored head. Serves me right for thinking the writers had anything remotely resembling a brain.

Well, this does at the very least explain why they needed to have Christine go and find the Phantom before she got married, because their one night stand didn’t happen at any point in the original. It really didn’t.
Think about it: the only time it would ever have happened is the first time Christine went to the lair and we never saw it happen. Christine was asleep most of the time anyway! Furthermore, the rest of Act One is set the next day or at the most two days later, the second act takes place six months later and Christine clearly isn’t pregnant at the masquerade ball. I also pointed out above how the Phantom is blatantly obvious that he hasn’t and would do something like that, so this still makes no sense. At all!
And how does Christine know that the Phantom is Gustave’s father? Their one night stand was the night before her wedding and we all know what happens on the wedding night. Gustave could easily be Raoul’s. He could’ve inherited his musical prowess from Christine. We’re just expected to agree the Phantom is the father, ignoring all evidence because the kid’s ten years old. That’s really the extent of the evidence. I hate this show so much.
But all reasonings aside, it appears the Phantom and Christine did in fact have a child together. Despite all the evidence from the first show, this has still happened. They’ve jumped the shark, gone past the point of no return*, it’s all over, there’s no way this is going to be salvaged.

Love Never Dies, you are officially dead to me.

PONO

*See, Love Never Dies? I can make unnecessary references too!

To close Act One, Christine promises to sing at Phantasma before she leaves for good and swears to the Phantom that she will never tell Gustave the truth. The Phantom then decides to leave everything he owns to Gustave.
Madame Giry then appears from the shadows, having overheard everything. I would point out that it should be the Phantom who appears from the shadows having overheard everything but I think most people who cared about the original knew that already.

Giry is most displeased at this development, feeling all the years she and Meg helped the Phantom are for nothing. She sings about how she and Meg will be left destitute and are being tossed aside. She reminds the audience three times that it’s been ten years since the original and shrieks how it’s all Gustave’s fault.

Yet another element that makes no sense. Why are they making Madame Giry the villain? Seriously, there’s no reason for it. In the original show, like I said earlier, she’s mysterious and forbidding. As for helping the Phantom, the most we ever saw her do, apart from being the ballet teacher at the Paris Opera, is deliver the Phantom’s notes, give a few warnings and reveal some background information about the latter. So why are they trying to portray her as the wronged party who just wants her reward? I don’t get it, and I’m sure most fans of the original don’t either. In the original, Madame Giry constantly tries to save lives by warning people not to anger the Phantom and she shows Raoul the way to the underground lair so he can save Christine at the end. I seriously don’t buy that she now stands here verbally bashing the other characters, wallowing in self pity and blaming a ten year old child for circumstances beyond his control.

“All would be ours if that bastard had never been born!”

Great, lady. Real classy. Lovely lead in to the intermission there. (And is this really what they consider an appropriate ending to an act?)

TO BE CONTINUED…..

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