Love Never Dies is Dead to Me, Part 3

And now, the final chapter!

ACT TWO

The second act begins with Raoul sitting in a bar arguing with the bartender over whether he’s had enough to drink. I guess they tossed this done-to-death cliché in at the last-minute.

checklist.jpeg

There has to be a checklist. There has to be!

Raoul’s wondering why Christine loves him, and to be perfectly honest, I’m wondering the same thing. Raoul was by no means my favourite character in the original but depending on who was playing him, I could understand why Christine fell for him. But now…all I can say is if I had a husband like Raoul is here, I would have shown him the door a long time ago.

Anyway, Meg Giry enters and explains through that she swims every day to combat stress in a boring slow song which lasts around two minutes. So she swims. Wow…that’s such a vital piece of information about Meg there. I could not have got through the rest of the show without knowing that laughable attempt at foreshadowing.
Meg tells Raoul that he must take Christine and Gustave and leave before Christine sings, lest the Phantom cast his spell on her again. Raoul says he’s not afraid of the Phantom, just as the Phantom shows up behind the bar – I know, just go with it – and makes a bet with Raoul. If Christine does not sing, Raoul may leave with Gustave and Christine and all his debts will be paid. If she does sing, Raoul must leave alone. This is all in song, of course, called Devil Take the Hindmost because that phrase is repeated every line whether it makes sense or not.

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Which brings me to yet another issue I have. The songs. This is possibly the most forgettable score I have ever heard in my life. The melodies are boring, they don’t stay in your head and the lyrics make the listener die inside. The score is so obviously trying to live up to the score of Phantom and it just fails hard. Wait, no, I tell a lie. I did enjoy two songs. I liked ‘Til I Hear You Sing although that’s more due to the fabulous vocals of both Ramin Karimloo and Ben Lewis than the actual music. The melody itself didn’t actually become familiar until I listened to it about 10 times (I have a photographic memory so for me to say I struggle to remember something is a profound statement). I also give The Beauty Underneath credit since it does have a somewhat catchy beat. But again, the lyrics are so sub-par and in Beauty Underneath, the bizarre visuals kind of detract from the song. Not to mention the heavy use of electric guitars being so distracting and out-of- nowhere (by the way, I’m aware that the original used rock music for the title number. But in that song, it worked because the rock influence was subtle and one of many ways the song stays with you after you leave the theatre). Songs in musicals are meant to tell the story and show what the characters are feeling; it’s not a license to show off how much you can scrounge from Nightmare Before Christmas’ table scraps. Trust me, I’ll get to my complaints about the design of the show soon, but let me start by saying the set is there to create another world. It should not be used as a crutch to help the story limp along and it shouldn’t be the one thing praised about a show!

The song Devil Take the Hindmost has more like a repeated 2 note, 2 beat underscoring as opposed to actual musical accompaniment. And I need scarcely mention that this scene is just as bad as most of the others we’ve been subjected to. It’s slow, painful to sit through, and there’s absolutely nothing subtle about it. I should be used to it by now but it particularly stands out to me because there is one aspect here I simply can’t let slide. The Phantom delivers one of the worst lines in the show in this scene. “Our Christine will choose tonight: is she yours or mine?”

alice-face-palm-featured

I’ve been trying to limit my use of this one, but the show isn’t helping.

* bang * What do you mean, she’ll choose tonight?!? Have you lost your mind?!? She already chose, you idiots! The first show spent the final 20 minutes on her choice, we all saw it! What, did you fall asleep or something? Are you seriously trying to bring back the already resolved conflict? This is just….painful!
Not only this, but the Phantom also hints about Gustave’s paternity, causing Raoul to sink into despair wondering what Christine will do and beginning to regret making such a stupid bet in the first place. So here’s our big dilemma, people. Will Christine sing or not?

stupidity knows no bounds

For heaven’s sake, children’s nursery rhymes have more drama than this! This story has no depth or tension at all. The main complication is starting in Act 2, and it’s not exactly riveting either! You can’t have a good, gripping story without some major conflict; this is primary school knowledge! Even uplifting shows like The Sound of Music know this!

My three favourite musicals are (in no particular order) Phantom of the Opera, Into The Woods and Wicked. (Edit: as of 2015, my three favourite musicals are Into the Woods, Seussical and Once) Why do I like them? Because the music is spectacular, the stories are solid, and it’s a visual feast that can take you out of this world and into its own for a couple of hours. Now I know there are some of you out there who hate Wicked and say “That was just a flashy neon spectacle, all they cared about was ruining The Wizard of Oz!”

wicked

I disagree and here’s why. Wicked knew what it wanted to be. Wicked knew the audience. It knew the show should be a light, fun comedic musical with serious messages behind the laughter. The show was carefully constructed with memorable music, sympathetic characters and mind-blowing visuals. Is it Les Miserables? No, but it’s not trying to be. Wicked may not be a heavy dramatic story like Next To Normal but it’s very entertaining and a heck of a lot of fun to watch, which in turn made the serious messages come across much stronger because you LIKE AND CARE ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS! The staging accentuates the story, and it pulls you into another world. It’s not a flashy spectacle for the sake of being a flashy spectacle. There’s PURPOSE!

But wait a minute! I can hear people saying. Wicked is a prequel to the Wizard of Oz! It’s destroying a classic story! I personally feel that Wicked is more about creating it’s own world and paying homage to a classic story than about changing it in any way. It asks hard questions and gives us some very moving moments. It’s all about giving us another perspective on a story we love. Wicked is truly it’s own creation. We never see Dorothy but there’s witty references to her throughout the show. Elphaba’s theme is a tribute to Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Yes, the original novel is fan fiction but it was thought out and the creators of the musical did a great job updating and creating their interpretation. Yeah, there’s a few clichéd plot devices here and there but the rest of the show is so sweet and uplifting that you really don’t notice. On top of that, Wicked essentially knew that the story had to be about the friendship between the two main characters. That’s the heart of the narrative, that’s where people can relate, and that’s where the drama comes from. It’s not about fan service or pandering to childish desires for a happy ending. It’s an enjoyable escape for all ages.

But back to Love Never Dies, that’s the one I’m talking about.

 

Finish-Line

I’m on the home stretch!

Instead of developing the drama, we’re instead treated to Meg Giry’s striptease Bathing Beauty, easily the most dreadful song in the entire show. It’s about, and I’m not joking here, deciding which swimming costume to wear on the beach. * bang *

bathing beauty

This can’t be real. It can’t be.

Granted the choreography is impressive but the whole song I am literally praying for death. The lyrics are just embarrassing and the music is something you’d be more likely to hear in a Family Guy parody. But even they’d have more dignity that this rubbish!
Meg has five costumes in this number and by the end, she’s completely bare. Yes, she’s covered with the umbrella and I’m sure she’s wearing a unitard or something but really? She had to strip down to bare essentials? What happened to the quiet little ballerina who tiptoed around in a white tutu most of the time?

I truly don’t understand why the characters are so opposite to their established personalities. They were fine the way they were, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Apparently, members of the original London Phantom cast either refused to see the sequel because they couldn’t see it working (including Michael Crawford) or working, and those who did see it, such as the original Meg (Janet Devenish) disliked the treatment of their old characters. See, people involved with the far better and more successful original don’t like this one. Are you still sure it’s worth the millions of dollars spent?

Now it’s time to talk about the design. I can honestly say that it appears all effort in this show was solely poured into how it looked. Costumes and sets. That’s it. The book? The score? Characters? Eh, we’ll mix something together ten minutes before the curtain. It’s like the 2004 Phantom of the Opera film adaptation. Style over substance. The set and costume design is terrific but apart from that, there is absolutely nothing below the surface. At all. It’s like watching money being burned. We’ve gone from interesting characters and dark dramatic action to a cheesy striptease. Maybe it works in the Rocky Horror Show. But this is Phantom of the Opera. Just….why?

While you try to grasp what the heck you just witnessed, Gangle announces Christine will be singing next as Meg gushes about her performance to her mother who tells her that while she was wonderful, the Phantom was with Christine and Gustave and didn’t see it, along with revealing that Gustave is the Phantom’s son. “We have both been replaced,” Madame Giry laments. Meg is shattered, I suppose, but because the lights go down within several seconds we don’t get much of an idea of the torment Meg is suddenly feeling. We’ve gone the whole show with very little character development or insight; we can last a little longer.

Meanwhile Christine gets ready for her performance in her dressing room and we see another nice but still glanced-over scene between her and Gustave. Raoul comes in and declares Christine looks as beautiful as she did the night he first visited her dressing room at the Paris Opera House. “And look at you, Raoul. You look just like that handsome boy in the opera box. The one who would always toss me a single red rose,”
Wait a second, when did that happen? The only time he visits her dressing room he brings a bottle of wine and he never tosses a rose from the opera box. Sweet heavenly lights, are you TRYING to add as many plot holes as you possibly can? Did you get ONE thing right? At all? And yes, I know I’m nitpicking here but damn it there’s so many things to nitpick!

Anyway Raoul gives Christine something resembling an apology and promises to change his ways if she’ll just leave with him now and not sing. Christine says she needs some time to think, unaware that the Phantom is watching through the mirror. I guess old habits die hard. He tells Christine she must forget Raoul and sing while giving her a necklace which doesn’t in any way resemble the Heart of the Ocean from Titanic, or, heaven forbid, the necklace from Moulin Rouge.

Love Never Dies, sequel to Phantom of the Opera


Actually, I heard someone point out that when Christine first appears onstage she looks an awful lot like Rose from Titanic. Heck, in this scene she’s also dressed like Rose and she’s looking in the mirror while the Phantom puts the necklace on her.

* bang * I’m surprised I’m still conscious.

The Phantom leaves as Christine reprises yet another melody from the original. Actually, I kept score of how many times I heard recycled tunes and direct quotes from the first show, and it totals 20. This is beyond desperate.
So while Christine debates whether to sing or not (what a chilling dilemma), we see a completely pointless scene where Raoul, the Phantom and Madame Giry wonder what Christine will do (and may I point out that we know she’s going to sing since she promised the Phantom she would; why would a couple of words from her loser of a husband change her mind?) while Fleck, Squelch and Gangle dance around Gustave before Meg…since there’s no dialogue I guess she tells Gustave to come with her and takes him somewhere in front of the Phantom who doesn’t even notice. Father of the freaking year, you are.

And while I’m on the subject, what the heck is Gustave doing unattended backstage? Raoul and Christine told him to go wait outside the dressing room so he could watch from the wings with Raoul. Why didn’t Raoul go and find him? Oh that’s right, he had to go and sing about the so-called dramatic climax, leaving a little child to fend for himself. No surprises that he’s going to be dragged off by a mentally unstable vaudeville dancer.

But of course what we all really want to know is if Christine will sing or not. Lo and behold, she appears onstage, unable to sing for several bars, but eventually she trills out the title song, written by the Phantom. And listening to it, it’s painfully obvious Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted this to be the centrepiece, the next big musical theatre classic. It’s not. Aside from the fact that it is note for note recycled from ALW’s The Beautiful Game, the tune is nice enough, but forgettable, and the words are horrendous. Thankfully I’ll never remember it so I guess that’s not going to haunt my nightmares or anything.

peacock

No, I’m not sure what peacocks have to do with this either.

Once it’s over, the Phantom is overjoyed by Christine’s singing. Just to clarify, he’s talking about the song that he wrote even though he spent the opening number singing about how he couldn’t write any music without Christine, yet somehow finished before she arrived. For the record, I know that he wrote it before she showed up because it was on the piano in the first hotel room scene. I hope some of you are keeping track of all the plot holes because I lost count a long time ago.

Also, am I the only one who can’t believe that they say the Phantom, the groundbreaking musical genius, went from Don Juan Triumphant in the first show, with lyrics such as “For the thrill on your tongue of stolen sweets/You will have to pay the bill, tangled in the winding sheets,” to this drivel?

Seriously, talk about losing your touch. Christine just sang “Who knows when love begins/Who knows what makes it start/One day it’s simply there/Alive inside your heart”
I’m sorry, even a Disney movie would laugh this off the stage. There’s just nothing there. It’s all superficial and did I mention a massive step down from the beautiful writing of the first show? But….I digress.

Now that Christine’s sung this song, the Phantom is fulfilled and Christine finally kisses him…again…..but suddenly she discovers Raoul’s note of farewell. And with another recycled Little Lotte, Raoul sings via the mirror – I’ll let that one go – that he’s leaving her since they are no longer the two people they were at the Paris Opera (the first accurate line of dialogue I’ve heard in this thing!). Yes, after his vows of “Say you’ll share with me one love, one lifetime” he’s just up and gone. No truthful explanation. No sticking to the marriage vows for better or worse. No memories of the promises he made on the Paris Opera rooftop. Just a note signed yours in regret.
Are you serious? I know it’s 1907 but is that really how you sign a goodbye letter to your wife?
In addition, he also says “May your Angel of Music watch over you now,” Yeah, you know, the man you spent the majority of the last show protecting Christine from. The man who tried to hang you in the final scene. I’m sure he’s a great one to leave your wife and the boy you raised (and most likely is!) as your own son with. For the love of all that’s holy, where’s social services?!?

makeitstop

HOW MUCH LONGER IS THIS THING?!?

But enough of that. It turns out Gustave is missing and the two worry that Raoul took him. However Squelch, without knowing anything about what’s happened, says Raoul left completely alone. So the next logical choice is Madame Giry, but she denies it. Then Fleck says she saw Meg with a small figure and says her dressing room was “silent as a tomb”. Clearly the lyricist went back to English class and changed this from the horrendously inappropriate original line “empty as a tomb,”
The Phantom somehow knows where Meg’s taken Gustave and they hurry after her. Apparently Meg has taken Gustave to a notorious suicide spot, the pier, which has only been mentioned once and therefore creating no connection, tension or buildup.

Down at the pier, Gustave tells Meg he can’t swim as the others try to talk her out of drowning the boy. Now that she’s finally gotten the Phantom’s attention a distraught Meg, inappropriately reprising Bathing Beauty, reveals that she has been working as a prostitute to provide his finances.

* bang * She’s been selling herself? What sick…twisted….how…. * bang * That’s it. I officially give up. No more logic, no more questions. There was no thought put into this whatsoever, they just didn’t care.

In the London production, Madame Giry is the one who forced Meg to prostitute herself. They must have had some sense penetrate their thick skulls for the Australian remake, since her own mother making her do something like this also doesn’t add up. While it’s true we don’t see a real lot of motherly love going on in either show, Meg does spend the majority of her appearances with her mother and she doesn’t really show any fear or resentment towards her. But even if Madame Giry didn’t make Meg do this, I’d love to know what possessed Meg to let herself do something so degrading and then cry about it!
I’d also like to mention that if they’re trying to make us feel sympathy for Meg, it’s not working! Why? For a start, she’s a secondary character. She’s not the focus of either story. We don’t see that much of her and every time we do see her, there is absolutely no hint that this has happened to her. You can’t just suddenly act like she was this big crucial character all along. It doesn’t work. We don’t feel sympathy for her, we’re just confused at this revelation. Plus, she was about to kill an innocent child! And what I really struggle to believe is that out of all the people who worked on this ridiculous script, not one person thought to question whether this made sense or not.

Ok. Sequel 101 guys:

A sequel is meant to logically continue the story using characters and hints at future plots given in the original source material. You should give careful consideration to what direction the story should go in and giving us more insight into established character traits with reasonable developments according to what we already know about them. A sequel isn’t an excuse to exploit what was an excellent piece of theatre in its own right by pulling characterisation and plot devices out of thin air. It has to make sense!!!!!!

So even though she was going to drown a ten year old, Meg needs very little persuasion to let Gustave run back to his mother before pulling out a gun and threatening to shoot herself. “No Meg, don’t!” says Madame Giry.

Now listen lady, you’re just as big a part of this since you’re the one who didn’t notice your own flesh and blood was sleeping around, even if you didn’t make her do it. You’re responsible here, and honestly, you shouldn’t be a parent if you neglect your only daughter like that. Again, one of those brilliant character choices they’ve made here. If Meg’s mother did make her do this like in the London production, that makes no sense because of the characterisation and if she didn’t notice that her daughter was selling herself, that still makes no sense! Did she ever think to question where all the money to buy Phantasma was coming from?

Also, Meg wanting the Phantom’s attention is a bit…sporadic. There’s no interaction between them until now, and they hardly mention that she wants approval.Why would she even want to be the subject of his obsession? She saw first hand what his obsessions mean.
Here’s yet another plot point they hardly explore and expect us to take seriously. You’re supposed to weave exposition into the story and dialogue, not wait until the last minute to tell the audience what they’ve been watching all along!
But…I digress.

The Phantom sings a little bit about beauty and tells Meg to give him the gun. She almost does, but then the Phantom makes the stupid mistake of saying “We can’t all be like Christine,”
* bang * That is the absolute worst thing you can say to someone who’s threatening to commit suicide because you gave all your attention to someone else! How thick can you get?!?

Needless to say, Meg isn’t too thrilled about once more hearing a certain name. “Christine? Christine?! Always Christine!” She accidentally shoots the gun and no prizes for guessing who gets hit.
Christine conveniently knocks out a section of the bridge as she falls so the audience can see her demise. Madame Giry and Meg leave the scene so we can have the long, drawn-out goodbye. Oh, and there’s no blood. I guess the budget didn’t allow for it. Or maybe they just didn’t want to stain the pretty dress.
Gustave calls out for his father and Christine decides it’s time to tell him the truth. Oh yeah, in addition to dying in front of your ten year old child, why not rock his world further by telling him that everything he knew was a lie?
Despite the Phantom’s pleas, Christine tells Gustave who his real father is. And for once, Gustave does what most children would do: he runs away. And somehow, despite apparently having minutes to live, Christine is able to half run after Gustave before remembering that she’s supposed to be dying and falling over again. * bang bang bang bang bang *

So they sing to each other — tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing — because for the finale we’re going to hear a reprise of nearly every song this train wreck has to offer. It’s like they knew nobody would remember the music, so they’re trying to cram it into the audience’s minds.

death

Why is it people who apparently have fatal injuries are always able to give a heroic goodbye speech or sing for ages? Just shut up!

By the way, Christine’s death is being stretched out to excruciating lengths, so I’m playing a little game here as I watch this scene. It’s a fun game the Nostalgia Critic introduced me to, and it’s called Try To Be Invested.
Seriously. I actually tried to care while I saw Christine die and I failed hard. I know, I have no heart and I’m going to hell and whatever else you want to say. But I’m sorry, this is so cliched, so contrived and so pointless that it has no effect on me. This is the kind of thing you’d see in Days of Our Lives, not a grand stage musical. The original show had a point with its sad but realistic ending. The whole show was building up to this big final confrontation and the first time I saw it, I really had no idea how it would end. When the curtain finally fell, nobody could deny the power of the final scene. It was so genuine, so real and so well played that it moves many people to tears even if they’ve seen it multiple times. We can relate to being alone and rejected, and it’s just heart- wrenching to see our complex leading character being so broken.

Here, this finale, and the whole show for that matter, is so carelessly thrown together that it’s just nonsensical. If you want to have a sad ending, fine, but there has to be a build up! You can’t just toss this incredibly spontaneous death scene at us and expect us to feel emotion for it. There is absolutely no reason at all for Christine to die and especially not like this. Why would Meg shoot Christine? Even by accident (in London it was played as a more deliberate shooting)? They’re friends; wouldn’t someone be a little more careful about pointing guns when their mother, their friend and the person whose approval they crave most of all are mere feet away? Coupled with Meg being revealed as a prostitute it only makes this ending more bizarre. It comes completely out of nowhere without giving any explanations or time for the audience to comprehend such heavy plot twists. Heck, Meg never even explicitly states that she was a prostitute; she cryptically sings about it, so the audience is basically expected to read between the lines. So this death scene only throws more at you in a short amount of time with no breathing space.

To the credit of these actors, they do this ending well, and while I know sometimes sudden character deaths can be sad, here it’s just a sad ending for the sake of being a sad ending. The first show managed to give us a very touching finale without killing off any main characters. And I repeat, these aren’t the characters we saw in the first show, so how am I supposed to feel anything for them? If Webber wanted a really moving, heartfelt finale to a show, he needed to look no further than the one that already exists!

Anyway, they sing some more, he kisses her one last time, she dies and he laments his loss by screaming “No!!!”
Now to be fair, I did feel sad seeing Gustave cry over his mother, but he quickly gets over his grief as Raoul (hi, how did Gustave find him?), Madame Giry and Meg return to have their moment with Christine. Gustave takes off the Phantom’s mask, but this time he doesn’t scream like a banshee. I suppose he just decided that it was beautiful too. The Phantom sings a few bars of the title song (this is the one time it probably would have worked to repeat the line “You alone can make my song take flight/It’s over now the music of the night” and they didn’t take it. But what should I have expected?), and the curtain falls leaving the door open for Phantom 3: Son of the Phantom (heaven help us).

So, just to recap everyone, The Phantom and Christine had a child together, Meg Giry was a prostitute the entire time, Madame Giry should have DOCS on her case, Raoul’s a drunken loser, and the real drama in a story is whether Christine sings or not.

alice-face-palm-featured

How can anyone like this? HOW???

People, this show is bad. It really is. It’s dull, it’s predictable, it’s contrived, and honestly, it doesn’t know what the focus of the story should be. There is no drama here. Granted there are some lovely moments between Christine and Gustave but they’re pretty much glanced over and anything else which threatens to become engaging is quickly extinguished. I tried to watch this show with an open mind. A few things surprised me, but overall, it gave me pretty much what I expected: a stupid sequel to a story that didn’t need one. I’ve forced myself to slog through this mess and here’s what I have to show for it: 30 facedesks and two hours of my life gone.

What really shocks me is that the show had four writers. Four! And not one of them knew they were writing absolute rubbish. What were they thinking?!? What was going through the minds of these people when they sat down and actually read over what they’d done? I’ll never know, and frankly, I’m not sure I want to. Some mysteries of life are best left unsolved.

I could honestly tolerate the musical more if it was at least entertaining, like Wicked. But it’s not. It’s horribly put together. Plot twists that even a soap opera would laugh at, lyrics that make most people want to crawl under their seat and die quietly, melodies that you’ll only remember if you sing them as often as the cast does, a weak conflict that isn’t introduced until Act 2, and they’ve completely dissembled our main players. They just don’t work in this environment, especially in the London production. Visually, it was slightly better in the Australian re-imagining, but the flaws are still there and from a storytelling point of view, there is virtually no attempt at fixing them. Making a boring and incredibly unfeasible musical good can be done (Sondheim proved this with Merrily We Roll Along), but not if the only solution is to make it worth looking at. That’s like finding a burned-out car, giving it a shiny new paint job and attaching a bunch of pretty stickers. Sure, it looks nice and you’d admire the decorators for putting in effort, but it doesn’t make the car run.

The critics called the sequel Paint Never Dries. And sadly, they’re right. Phantom did not need a sequel. And certainly not one so poorly constructed. This is not the show for me and anyone else who enjoys intelligent, quality theatrical entertainment. I wouldn’t recommend it to a dog.
And my main problem lies with the story. I am all for suspension of disbelief, but I have my limits and the choices they made to go with the narrative are just mind-boggling. I can hardly comprehend it. And while the visuals are spectacular and the singers are undeniably brilliant, I get the feeling that they’re working overtime to give the show some credibility.  Sometimes a strong cast can save a horribly written movie or show, but in most cases, like the one we see before us, it actually hurts to see such talent wasted on such incredibly weak material.
The beauty of the original was its emotional impact. The sets and costumes were a visual feast but they weren’t the focus. The designs were there to give the show a setting. The focus of the story was where it should be: the three main characters. And that’s all that was needed.
With Love Never Dies, aside from marvelling at the set and admiring the vocals, there really isn’t much else to enjoy. Even as its own creation, it doesn’t work. It still has a weak story, unlikeable characters, bland music, and terrible lyrics. Which means that as a sequel to the most successful stage show in history it’s even worse.

And before I finish, here’s one last omen showing that Love Never Dies was a bad idea from day one. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cat Otto reportedly clambered onto his digital piano and managed to delete the entire score. All attempts to recover the music failed but the score was eventually reconstructed.

Webber, even your cat tried to stop you. Next time, could you consider listening?

2 thoughts on “Love Never Dies is Dead to Me, Part 3

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