***Warning: this post contains plot spoilers. I do not want to discourage anyone from reading anything I write, but here it is: I will be divulging the plot of “Love Never Dies” below. To my three loyal readers—I think you already know this, so please read on!
Last Saturday I woke up to the words “The Phantom of the Opera is here!” thundering through my house. Being the musical lover that I am, I rolled out of bed, quite literally, and stumbled downstairs toward the source. Spouse was watching the Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber YouTube channel, The Shows Must Go On.
When I moved to New York City, “Phantom” was the hottest ticket in town. It was not even new by then, but the wait for tickets was two years. Two years, “Hamilton” fans! In those pre-internet days, I literally had to call the box office and be told that I can get on the wait list. I planned to be in NYC for three years, but I was also 21. Needless to say, I never got on a wait list, and never saw “Phantom” on Broadway. Instead, I continued to listen to the tape. I loved the soundtrack, and still do.
However, something always bothered me about “Phantom”. Plot is important to me (unless we are talking about “G&S” (https://oldladywriting.com/2020/03/29/it-is-a-glorious-thing/). The fact that Christine ends up with Raoul always seemed like a copout. Raoul is not that special, but he is handsome, and beautiful girls end up with handsome men and not with disfigured cavern dwellers. I realize that that’s the original story, but I also think that Sir Andrew can do whatever he wants to do. And guess what? A quarter of a century later, he did. “Love Never Dies” is a vindication of Team Phantom.
Seeing “Love Never Dies” was one of those unexpected transformative experiences that only live theater can give. We found ourselves in London for a night’s layover, and my only goal was to sleep in a pod. That was, by the way, absolutely terrible. You might think it would be cute to sleep in a box where you cannot even comfortably turn, as I did before I experienced this nonsense, but trust me—it is the worst. But I digress.
We had a few evening hours in London, so of course ran to Leicester Square to buy show tickets. “Love Never Dies”, the sequel to “Phantom”, seemed interesting. Little did we know, it was selling terribly and was already set to close. I am still sad about it. This is not only one of the most beautiful stories and musical works I have seen (“Beneath the Moonless Sky” and “Devil Takes the Hindmost” quartet are alone worth the price of admission), but it has also finally reconciled me to “Phantom” by redeeming (and ultimately martyring—and what can be more redeeming than that?) the seemingly superficial Christine.
Once I saw “Love Never Dies”, I have not been able to view “Phantom” the same way. Once you know that Raoul will end up a drunk and a gambler and a total anchor for Christine, their whole courtship in “Phantom” looks doomed. I kept wanting to tell Christine to just ditch him and stay with Phantom.
When I saw “Beneath a Moonless Sky” live on stage, it was so unexpected and so heartbreaking. Christine sang, “I loved you, I’d have followed anywhere you led”, and I just saw her in a completely different light, a woman beaten but unconquered by a bad marriage, full of regrets over a lost love, a woman who was prepared to follow her heart but who was given no choice in the matter and tried to do her best. And Angel of Music returns too late, because life is complicated…
I understand that a lot of the fans of the original story hated the fact that Christine dies in “Love”. But I think that no other solution would have worked. No one would have believed if she and Phantom stayed together and lived happily ever after, and no one would have believed if she stayed with that wastrel Raoul. Sorry, but she basically had to die—which makes the entire two-parter a great and tragic love story and ultimately elevates the original “Phantom”[*].
Now a word about the failed London production versus the revised Australian one, which was more successful. If you see “Love Never Dies” on official video, you will see the latter one—and I am sorry. Aside from the fact that I saw Ramin Karimloo as Phantom and Sierra Boggess in it, the West End version is superior in several subtle but key ways. First, the set is better—one of those rare instances where computer generated set works (and anyone who knows me knows that I do not love CGI on stage). The lights of Coney Island in Adelphi Theater were unforgettable! The entire show is just darker and more mysterious, which is absolutely what it needs to be.
Second, starting the show with Madame Giry and the Phantasma freaks reminiscing is much more intriguing and evocative of the start of “Phantom” (“The Coney Island Waltz/That’s the Place That You Ruined, You Fool!”), while starting the show with Phantom singing “Till I Hear You Sing” [Once More] is just too much foreshadowing. I am a firm believer that you just do not need to see Phantom in his mask until a few numbers in. You know he is coming, unless you have never seen or heard of him. In which case, you are in for an even bigger treat!
[*] Honorary mention goes to the amazing music box monkey that steals the show, according to my youngest son.