This is it. The big one. The worst musical I know of existing in past, present and future dimensions. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s pet project and the sequel to one of my favourite musicals ever, Love Never Dies.
Oh, there’s plenty of musicals and even musical sequels out there that could probably be considered worse on a technical level, such as Shock Treatment (sequel to Rocky Horror) or Bring Back Birdie (sequel to Bye Bye Birdie) which only ran for 20 performances combined. But in my whole life and throughout my entire devotion to musical theatre, no other theatrical experience has made me so desperately unhappy and caused so much rage in me at the lack of creativity, intelligence and worst of all, being so utterly insulting to not only the audience who paid to see this abomination, but to the original show and to theatre in general. Oh yes, I went there. That’s how much I hate this musical.
Love Never Dies (LND) is a special kind of awful. It’s so utterly terrible and so irredeemable that even the things about the show that are less-than-terrible, dare I even say, good (I will always give credit where credit is due) , only makes me angrier since the “good” aspects serve to highlight how dreadful the show is as a whole.
I initially wrote the following rant in 2012 for my own relief or I may simply have disintegrated into ashes from unexpressed anger. It’s 12, 085 words long, therefore I shall be presenting it in parts. Take a deep breath, and let us begin with Part 1…..
LOVE NEVER DIES IS DEAD TO ME
I wandered around the ABC shop at Westfields Parramatta, in search of the elusive CD my mother had recommended I take a look at. It was nowhere to be seen, but my eye caught sight of the DVD shelf, specifically, the 10th Anniversary recording of Les Miserables. Breathtaking music, staging you had to see to believe. If only it would come back to Australia…..
I was quite happy to admire it, place the DVD back and leave when my (then) boyfriend laughed and pointed at another case.
“Look, it’s your favourite musical,” he said. I narrowed my eyes at the sight. Love Never Dies. “Ugh, no way. Die, die, die!”
Without warning, a voice rang out. “What?!? How can you not love it? It’s a masterpiece!”
I shall spare you the boredom of a verbatim recap of my following encounter with an Andrew Lloyd Webber fanboy who had nothing but scorn for my contrasting opinion and was prepared to keep up his irrefutable argument of It’s a masterpiece! until one of us died. Not wanting to argue with a complete stranger over something so mundane, I simply told him he was quite within his rights to like it and it wasn’t for me before leaving.
I came away completely dumbfounded. How could people not see the sheer stupidity of this show? Why didn’t anyone seem to realise that it was a ridiculous sequel to a story that didn’t need one? That was it. Enough was enough. It was time for me to have my two cents.
For the record, I’m studying music theatre at university, so yes, I do know what I’m talking about. I love musicals. They are my life. It’s what I want to do, and I rarely get a thrill like I do when sitting in the stalls, staring at live performers singing their hearts out and praying that one day I’ll do the same.
Except when it came to Love Never Dies. It seemed like everyone in my department at university had seen it and they were all raving about how spectacular it was. Everyone was telling me to see it. I staunchly refused, and when I finally thought about throwing in the towel, I couldn’t get tickets. And how could I when every man and his easily-entertained dog was flocking to the Capitol Theatre to “ooh” and “ahh” and the latest 2D firework’s display to hit the stage? So there. I haven’t seen it on the stage, I’ve seen the DVD and that’s that. I was willing to check it out, but I repeat, I couldn’t get tickets.
I can just hear all the whining from my computer desk:
You can’t judge a show you’ve never seen!
It’s an experience, you have to be there to fully appreciate it!
And yes, that’s right to a point. Seeing a show live is not something you can capture 100% on the screen. Yes, I do sort of wish I’d been able to see it but as to judging it negatively, you know what? Sometimes, you just know you won’t like something. Why didn’t you see that new movie that’s just been released? Because it wasn’t your kind of movie and you know you wouldn’t like it. It’s the same reason you didn’t try the new sweet chilli milkshake at McDonalds. You knew it wasn’t worth it. Get the idea?
The show was incredibly popular in Australia, it was sold out every session, it was only running for twelve weeks and do I even need to mention how expensive theatre tickets are? The bottom line is, I couldn’t see it. And trust me, seeing it live will NOT make me like this trainwreck.
I know people who loathe Phantom of the Opera but I am not one of them. I’ve read the original novel by Gaston Leroux. I have every song from the musical on my iPod, and several other covers of the most famous tracks. I have the original libretto, two show programmes and the sheet music to 6 of the songs. I sang Think of Me at 16 for a recital. I saw the show twice in 2008 on the Australian tour. I own the 2004 movie (which is not very good) and the 25th anniversary DVD. I know the entire show by heart. So yes, I am probably a little biased. And I am by no means an Andrew Lloyd Webber purist. He might be the pinnacle of perfection to some, but to me, his work is very hit-and-miss. Phantom and even a few of his individual songs like Tell Me On A Sunday I really enjoy. Evita isn’t bad. Sunset Boulevard has it’s moments.
Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat? Hate them.
Twenty six years after opening night, Phantom of the Opera is still playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre in London’s West End to packed houses. It’s never left Broadway and it’s toured throughout the world. It’s been seen by over 130 million people and is showing no signs of slowing down. People can’t get enough of it.
In stark contrast, Love Never Dies opened on the West End in March 2010. It closed for four days in November of that year for significant rewrites and a new director. It closed August 2011. The Broadway production is on hold indefinitely. (Edit: as of 2015, there is STILL no word on a Broadway production!)
As we know, a re-vamped production opened in Melbourne, Australia and received much more favourable reviews. My refusal to like it led me to a lot of incredulous looks and several ‘I’m not speaking to you’ comments. Since I couldn’t get tickets for the live show, I forced myself to watch the DVD, so I would have some form of credibility when I mercilessly bashed it. And let me tell you folks, it didn’t disappoint. My feelings towards the story of Love Never Dies can only be described as falling off my scale of hatred into the darkest void of dispassionate loathing.
But on with the rant. What does the composer himself have to say about what many call a crime against the art form?
“I’ve often thought,” says Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, “That we left the original Phantom with a little bit of a cliffhanger. And I thought, why not do a sequel to it at some point?”
I can think of many reasons why not. And furthermore, you didn’t leave it on a cliffhanger. Ask any audience member and they will tell you that the original ended perfectly and there was no need for a sequel.
Webber has been heard to call the original Phantom the “biggest piece of hokum ever written,” Going to have to disagree with you there, Mr. Webber. As shown above, a production that runs in the exact same theatre it opened in for 25 years and rakes in over $5 billion worldwide is doing something right.
In addition, Webber has stated that Love Never Dies is a standalone piece with the same characters. When people refused to buy this ridiculous statement, he admitted it is a sequel but you don’t need to have seen the original to understand the story. That’s ok though, because the story makes no sense either way. And again, given the statistics I mentioned above, it appears most people have seen the original already. So there goes that argument.
Webber has apparently worked on this sequel since 1990 after reading the novel The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth which the sequel is based on. He wrote the book (script) with the help of lyricist Glen Slater and renowned British writer Ben Elton.
Webber also says he feels Love Never Dies is more three-dimensional in terms of the characters. Again, I don’t particularly agree. I can’t stand what they’ve done with the main characters and I know many others hate it too, but I’ll get to them later.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has made no secret of his disdain for those against his beloved sequel, saying “There’s a whole sad culture around the world of people who seem to only live by the old Phantom of the Opera.” That’s right, the theatregoers who have embraced this man’s work, not to mention kept his bank account above seven figures for all this time are apparently ‘sad’ because they don’t care for this ludicrous sequel.
It doesn’t take a genius to realise how insulting his last comment is. Are we not allowed to have opinions now, Mr Webber? People who don’t like the show aren’t trying to sabotage it from within; they simply want to have their say. Is he going to keep insisting that all the fans wanted a sequel even though they clearly didn’t? The ‘long awaited sequel’? Who was waiting for it? I know I certainly wasn’t. When I saw the original show, nobody came out saying “I can’t wait for a follow up, I wonder what will happen next!”
Sadly, a follow up has now been made and I am subsequently going to review it. Why would I do that when everyone’s criticised it already?
Well, I have a couple of reasons. One, because I want to have my say despite others already having their own. Two, because it seems most people in Australia loved it. And three, because I’m a glutton for punishment.
Now, before I go on, I want to make one thing perfectly clear: if you like Love Never Dies, that’s great. More power to you. It’s great to see people go to the theatre. I don’t think this production is a particularly helpful show to see, but still, the principle. Just remember, this is strictly opinion based. So don’t go crazy if you don’t agree.
With that said, for what it’s worth here’s my review of Love Never Dies.
So the show opens in 1907. Oh, did I mention that it takes place ten years after the first show? Never mind that the original took place in 1881. I’m no maths expert but I’d go out on a limb and say that figure is more like 26 years but no, it’s ten years and ten years only. And how do I know this? Because from the opening line, they’ll have no problem telling you over and over and over. Heck, the fourth musical number is titled Ten Long Years. And practically every scene a character casually mentions the lapse in time, sometimes more than once every sentence.
Another thing, the Prologue to Phantom takes place in 1911 when Raoul is seventy, according to the libretto. I had some LND fans try to convince me that timelines don’t matter. Yes, they do, because Raoul cannot go from his early thirties (at most!) to seventy in a few years. It’s simple logic! Something that you’ll find has no place here!
Wait a second, the prologue tells us that a mysterious fire consumed the Paris Opera House in…1895! Well, there’s one plot hole they walked right into. And what fire is this? We never saw a fire, we just saw the mask left behind.
Ten seconds into the show and already there’s three plot holes.
Anyway, instead of the Paris Opera House, or even in Europe, the show is set in America, on Coney Island to be precise. Because when you think Phantom of the Opera, you think Coney Island. We see the Phantom, who now owns the circus known as Phantasma, still brooding over Christine, and how he longs to hear her sing again.
We…see…the Phantom…as the opening?
Of course anyone who cares about the original will know that part of the strength of this wonderful character is the mystery surrounding him. He doesn’t make an appearance until at least twenty five minutes into the first act and half of his lines are voiceovers. But the Phantom still has a haunting presence at all times. You know he’s always lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike. But not here. He’s the first thing you see.
I actually put a pillow on my desk in case I needed to bang my head. The need begins here.
* bang * The first of many facedesks.
The scene cuts to the Coney Island Waltz. And by ‘waltz’ I mean a generic bland tune plays while three creepy MCs welcome the audience to Coney Island. Equally creepy ensemble members surrounded by neon lights flit about the stage in harlequin costumes on a set that is very impressive, but also looks like it belongs in a Tim Burton film rather than The Phantom of the Opera.
During this opening we see a shameless replica of the monkey music box while the Phantom, who used to hide out of sight underneath an opera house, stands in full view on top of the circus tent.
I should also mention that the first show had prima donnas, hapless managers and ballet dancers. But not anymore. No, no, no. Here we have the aforementioned MCs, known as Fleck, who kind of looks like Harley Quinn’s vertically challenged cousin, Squelch the scary sad clown and Gangle, who reminds me of Timothy Mouse from Dumbo if you made him human and gave him the personality of a lobotomised Mad Hatter.
They’re the Phantom’s protégés, because you know, after Christine, I guess he needed three. They introduce the main showgirl who turns out to be none other than Meg Giry, the sweet ballet dancer friend of Christine from the original who sang the lovely Angel Of Music.
Except she’s now a vaudeville stripper, or to use the correct headache-inducing terminology, the “Ooh-La-La Girl”. Yes, that’s right. Meg Giry, the girl who got a few lines in the original, sang one duet and is the last character we see on stage as the show closes, is now a vaudeville dancer with an irritating voice and singing some of the worst lyrics ever written for a musical. “We’ve a remedy for all who feel a frown. We won’t bite you, we’ll delight you, we invite you to succumb…”
Don’t worry, you’ll never remember the music.
Meg, it turns out, is hoping the Phantom will see her potential and turn her into a star. Because heaven knows, being the star attraction at Phantasma isn’t enough. We then see Meg’s mother, Madame Giry, backstage. Madame Giry is another of the most interesting characters from Phantom because she too, is shrouded in mystery. She never changes costumes and it’s obvious that she knows some things about the Phantom but we never know exactly how much. Every time she’s on stage in the original, she commands attention. We all enjoyed watching her. Here, I just want to smack her. I hate the miserable temperament she suddenly has and the way she blames everyone for her lot in life (that she chose! Not once did the Phantom force her to be his courier!).
Madame Giry tells Meg that Christine Daae is coming to sing at Oscar Hammerstein’s new theatre. Wait a minute! Oscar Hammerstein? The lyricist most famous for his partnership with Richard Rogers? What the heck?!?
First of all, Oscar Hammerstein II was born in 1895, making him 12 at this point. So they must be referring to his grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein I, who was a theatre owner. Fair enough, but there’s just one problem. How is the audience meant to know all this? Because when people hear the name Hammerstein, they’re going to think Carousel, and The Sound of Music.
But I digress. Madame Giry sings about how she and Meg helped the Phantom escape from Paris, and that she highly resents Christine now. “Where was she when the lawmen hounded him?”
Where was Christine? I may be able to enlighten you. After being taken against her will to the labyrinth by the Phantom, she was escaping with Raoul just like the Phantom told her to. Stop trying to turn us against her!
The next day, Christine, along with her husband Raoul and ten year old son Gustave have arrived at Coney Island to see scores of paparazzi waiting for them. Even though Christine is meant to be singing in Manhattan, she’s arrived two weeks early and Gustave wants to go to Coney Island and learn how to swim. Fleck, Squelch and Gangle come to take them to Coney Island and Gustave, rather than run screaming in fear from these strange people, is the first to jump in the carriage and sings about how excited he is to see the sights.
However, Raoul is not happy about the situation he finds himself in, throwing a minor tantrum, insulting everything under the sun and refusing to play with Gustave because I guess in between musicals he underwent a personality transplant.
If you saw Phantom then you’ll know that Raoul was a handsome, charming aristocrat who fought to protect Christine from the Phantom’s obsession because of his undying love for her. While not the most fascinating character, there’s a lot to admire in Raoul and it makes the story that much more compelling. In Love Never Dies, to create a further sense of irony in the title, Raoul is now a drunken loser who does not love Christine as he once did and is deep in debt due to an unexplained gambling habit. He’s also an abusive father and husband prone to infantile fits of anger and the actor playing him must have to shove his dignity in his back pocket every night. “Who would believe we’ve sunk this low?” Raoul sings.
I don’t know Raoul. I don’t know.
Don’t get me wrong here, I know EXACTLY why they changed Raoul’s character to this completely unlikeable twit. If you’re going to have a sequel, obviously the audience has to hate Raoul and want Christine to end up with the Phantom, (completely undoing the entire point of Phantom) so you have to get Raoul out of the picture. It’s a reason. But that doesn’t mean it makes any sense whatsoever.
Since when does Raoul drink excessively? And a gambling habit? Hello, I’m the audience, you want to fill us in on how and why he changed like this? The only explanation I can come up with is post-traumatic stress from almost being murdered in the first show, but even that’s pushing it a touch.
Raoul receives a note from “Hammerstein” asking for a rendezvous at the hotel bar. Wow….I wonder who could possibly have sent that note? Could it be the person who spent most of the last show communicating through notes?
After Raoul leaves, Christine has a rather touching moment with her son, singing about love while he plays with a music box given to him by the circus freaks (Oho, I see what you did there, show!) which plays a tune from the original show. Sure it’s not a sequel Mr. Webber. You just recycled the superior melodies for fun then?
While I can see that they’re trying to tie the scores together, it backfires unbelievably because
a) hearing these tunes only serves to highlight how poor the new score is and
b) It just makes me wish I was watching the original even more.
Gustave goes to bed leaving the music box to play Little Lotte. The music swells ominously making it obvious what’s about to happen….you guessed it, the doors swing dramatically open, revealing the Phantom to Christine who dramatically collapses on the floor. She comes around a few seconds later completely able to shout at the Phantom for coming back into her life.
* Now, the lyrics to this next song, Beneath a Moonless Sky, were slightly rewritten in Australia but I really must point out the woeful exposition from the London production. “I should have known that you’d be here.”
* bang *
Well yes. Yes you should have Christine. An anonymous impresario calling himself Mr Y. invites you to sing at a place called Phantasma and you have no idea who it could possibly be?!?!?! REALLY?!? Really, Christine? Look, honey, I know you weren’t always the brightest bulb in the socket (you thought a guy in a mask was the Angel of Music) but I never thought you’d be this dim. Seriously, you know what this guy is capable of. You should be able to spot this from across the freaking universe! *
“If you could know the pain I’ve known, then you would know I had no choice…My Christine…”
I’d call this contrived, but that’s putting it mildly. In the final scene of Phantom, the Phantom tells Christine “Forget me, forget all of this….forget all you’ve seen,” But no, he was so desperate to have her back that he had to orchestrate a genius plan. “I was yours one brief night long ago,” Christine retorts.
What? WHAT?!?!? You’re actually….you’re really….you….WHAT????
* bang bang bang bang *
No no no no no no no! NO! This can’t be real, it can’t be! You’re not actually serious! Nothing could possibly be this stupid!
“I won’t regret, from now until I die, that night, I can’t forget beneath a moonless sky,”
No, ladies and gentlemen, this is not a joke. Christine, it turns out, went to find the Phantom the night before she married Raoul and yes, they went all the way.
Ok. Right. I see. Just give me a second to react accordingly…. * bang bang bang bang bang *
THIS IS THE MOST IDIOTIC TWIST EVER!
Never mind that in the original the Phantom says his deformity denied him ‘the joys of the flesh’ and he makes it very clear that he would never do anything to Christine. No, we need to forget about all that. This is what we all wanted. We wanted the Phantom to get the girl. It’s just wish fulfilment, right?!?
Before we can ask why they didn’t stay together, it’s explained that the Phantom left early in the morning because, get this, he was worried about Christine’s reaction to his face.
* bang *
Do I even have to tell you that she spends the last 15 minutes of the original show looking at his unmasked face? Should I remind everyone that she says “This haunted face holds no horror for me now?” Must I also make it incredibly obvious that if Christine is willing to…somehow go out and find him the night before she gets hitched, it’s pretty clear that she’s comfortable with the way he looks?!?
Congratulations, LNDl! 30 minutes in, and you’ve jumped the shark. I’m just going to go and cry over this horrendously insulting plot device…..
TO BE CONTINUED……