Love Never Dies…Or Does It?


In 2010, Love Never Dies was staged for the first time in London. A sequel to the much-loved Phantom Of The Opera, it received enough hate to call for significant revisions to script and staging. In 2011, it was staged again in Melbourne, this time receiving better reviews.

I never intended to watch this musical, fearing that it would ruin POTO for me forever. After all, sequels are always tricky business – once they are released, they cast new light on existing works whether we like it or not. In fact, this is also why I initially planned not to read Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. To Kill A Mockingbird is a gem that ought to be kept pristine.

I put Love Never Dies out of my mind for years, until recently, when I chanced upon its title once again. On a whim, I thought I’d just watch it and see how it is.

I’m conflicted. So, so conflicted. I love the songs. Well, most of the songs. There were a few here and there that didn’t really fit, one example being ‘Beauty Underneath’, which sounds a little too much like a pop/rock song than a POTO song. I cannot get enough of  ‘Beneath A Moonless Sky’, although many are raising eyebrows over the fact that the entire song consists of the Phantom and Christine reminiscing over that one night they, uh, got passionate. Yes, it is a little strange. But at least the lyrics are much better than the explicit stuff you get on the airwaves nowadays. And the tune, oh tune. Gives me goosebumps every time. I’m listening to it even as I type this.

Songs aside, I’m not sure what to make of Love Never Dies. I hate the story, but seeing those beloved characters again, together with the brilliant acting and singing from the Melbourne cast, leave me confused as to whether I really hate it. I’d watch it again, definitely. But for the romance of the POTO world, and not for the story.

What really gets to me about the story is that the characters are morphed beyond recognition. Let me start with a synopsis of the story: Christine, now married to Raoul, returns to America to perform after 10 years. Raoul, apparently jealous of being upstaged by his talented wife, prevents her from performing and squanders away their money by gambling and drinking. The Phantom, wanting to see Christine again, fixes the situation such that she sings for him in a freak show/theatre, run by Madame Giry. Madame Giry and Meg Giry don’t take this well, because they feel used by the Phantom. And Madame Giry has got her eye on his wealth. Christine agrees to sing for the Phantom after he threatens her son, who later turns out to be the Phantom’s son as well. Raoul is unhappy that the Phantom has got Christine in his grasp again and tries to get her away. The Phantom and Raoul end up making a deal, after the Phantom reveals to the latter that the boy is his son. If Christine sings, Raoul leaves the place alone. If Christine doesn’t sing and leaves with Raoul and the boy, the Phantom will not bother them again. Christine sings. But Meg Giry, distraught at being passed over for Christine by the Phantom, tries to  kill the boy. The Phantom convinces her not to, and she tries to kill herself instead. Again the Phantom stops her, but she accidentally shoots Christine. Christine dies, and with her last breath, she tells her son who his real father is. The boy runs away and returns with Raoul, who it turns out, hasn’t left. The story ends with the boy accepting the Phantom while Raoul cradles Christine in his arms.

My main issues are the following characters –

Phantom: In POTO, he’s cruel, he’s cold. The only thing he feels is passionate love for Christine. He’s alluring because he’s so distant, so mysterious. In Love Never Dies, he’s an ordinary man, albeit one who is deformed. You’d expect him to be consumed by his love, to be crueler than ever in his pursuit of Christine. But that doesn’t happen in Love Never Dies. The scenes with him and his son don’t feel natural, because the Phantom as we know him doesn’t seem capable of fatherly love.

Madame Giry: While I can understand the part about feeling used by the Phantom, I always got the impression she was driven by a mixture of pity and respect for the Phantom. In Love Never Dies, she’s too calculative and cold. She also seems to have no motherly love for Meg, which doesn’t fit with the person she was in POTO.

Christine and Raoul: I’ve always though Christine to be a rather weak character, easily swayed by people. She’s drawn to the Phantom by a mixture of fear and fascination. While he showed her passion, Raoul showed her love. She ultimately married the man who loved her. It’s disappointing that Raoul turns into this insecure man who has to suppress his wife’s talents to feel better about himself. And it’s frustrating that Christine sticks with him.

I can live with the Christine and Raoul situation. But the storyline would have been better if the Phantom and Madame Giry were better characterised. Madame Giry can feel used by the Phantom, but getting his favour shouldn’t be something she’s concerned about. It reduces the entire Phantom/Madame Giry relationship to a commercial one that ruins the magic of the POTO world. And the Phantom. It’d be better if the musical deals less with the Phantom’s feelings. His love for Christine should lead him to take more drastic, cruel measures as he took 10 years ago. He might not harm the boy, since it is Christine’s son (channeling Severus Snape here), but the tension would be better maintained if he were kept in the dark about the fact that the boy’s parentage. Fatherhood doesn’t suit the Phantom. It might suit Erik, but we are never introduced to him in the musicals.

In Love Never Dies, the Phantom is an ordinary man, albeit disfigured. We see too much into his mind and begin to understand him. In doing that, the musical loses the mystery that made POTO exciting. And that’s unfortunate, because there are few characters that have ensnared us as well as the Phantom did in POTO.

Mid-Autumn Festival

illuminated with a thousand lanterns
suspended in the sky.
the empty street below
bedecked in colour
and festive joy.
a sea of warmth,
interrupted by changing lights, stark green,
bringing a wave of cars and motorcycles, noise and fumes.
by this road a woman stands
taking photographs
in front of closed shops
and diners at a Chinese restaurant.

i stop where i am, my phone in hand
watching the scene unfold
at the heart of Chinese heritage.
predictable every year
yet one for instagram.

The Eternal Queue

Crowds at the immigration, people packing themselves in the bus terminal, all clamouring to leave the country. Queues extending in messy loops, stretching up the staircase through the customs declaration area.

That was how insane JB was in the late afternoon of Vesak Day.

Imagine a film on a zombie outbreak. Or one where a bio-weapon was released in a country. Everybody wants to get out, and they don’t care how they do it. Bodies get squashed against each other in the most uncomfortable way possible and you are shoved forwards, backwards, sideways. You can’t see ahead of the crowd and have no idea where you are headed.

You just move with them.

The immigration hall was impossible. Jam packed with people, the only thing you could do was to join the queue nearest to the entrance. Getting to the counters further away meant pushing and shoving your way through, and I didn’t really want to do that while I still retained some sense of public consideration. Ten minutes later, I realised my queue was blocking the entrance and decided that causing 50 people momentary inconvenience as I shoved my way through was the lesser of the two evils.

That was as far as logic goes, because after that, instinct took over.

The shapeless mass of people at the back of the hall meant that I had to somehow figure out who was a part of the queue I had joined. Survival instinct kicked in and I got firm with the ruthless queue-cutters who tried again and again to worm their way in front of me.

Clearing immigration, my relief morphed into some form of grumpy amusement when I heard a security staff telling an unhappy woman that the queue stretching through the customs declaration area was for the bus.

Look, more queues!

So I queued. And queued. And queued.

Until I reached the staircase leading down to the bus terminal, where I got a view of the causeway. I spied three people making their way on foot along the side of the road, looking like refugees making a stealthy escape.

It was as if someone handed me a canister of oxygen and told me to breathe again. 1.5 hours of claustrophobic queueing, wasted when I decided to step out of the line. The people behind me filled my space without any hesitation.

I crossed the causeway to get to the pedestrian path (a narrow path on the road marked out with a white line) with a stranger.

“Are you walking back to Singapore?” he asked.

“Yeah I am.”

He got really enthusiastic.

“Let’s do it!” he said, pumping his fist in the air.

I thought we’d be the rare few who chose to walk. After all, Singaporeans hate walking. And I say that quite confidently since I love walking and am too used to the incredulous expressions I get when I declare my interest.

How wrong I was.

One minute of walking and we discovered we had joined a moving line across the causeway.

You hear stories of people who walk across borders, getting arrested on the other side. I couldn’t help but wonder what happened when the bunch of us reached Singapore.

Dirty grey walls and dimly lit surroundings. Hardly a welcome home for Singaporeans who walked a distance just to see their homeland again. No fans, air-conditioning, or water coolers, but there were direction signs pointing us to the arrival hall. Singapore’s arrival hall: A place I usually hate to be in, at that point exactly where I wanted to be.

I created a bucket list then and there with “crossing a border on foot” as the sole item. It got crossed off immediately. (Can’t say the day wasn’t productive.)

On a sidenote, it’d be nice if they could mark out the boundary between Singapore and Malaysia on the causeway. It’d make good Instagram.

Air travel and self-discovery

I have a bad habit of thinking the worst before I go on an aeroplane. A series of ‘what ifs’ that get from bad to worse, and I don’t think I even need to explain what I’m thinking.

A couple of days ago, I went on a trip to Kuala Lumpur. My impromptu decision to go for the trip meant that I was on a different flight from my travelling companions, basically seven of my immediate and extended family members. Coming from a small family, that is everyone.

So my usual ‘what if’ scenarios got multiplied two times. ‘What if…..’ became ‘what if my flight…’ and ‘what if their flight…’. Starting questions that led to highly complex scenarios that had me pondering for days before departure.

The trip went without a hitch, which I suppose would be statistically the most probable outcome. After all, air travel isn’t actually dangerous. It’s just that airline accidents tend to gain more media coverage and end up skewing our perception of its dangers.

The media. Love it and hate it.

I read a news report yesterday, of flight TR2464 having to turn back en route on its trip to Kuala Lumpur on 20 May because of “inclement weather and a technical problem with the aircraft’s radar”.

Right on cue, my eyes went wide. TR2464? The flight my family took just a few days before? I read and re-read the article. Goosebumps on my skin. A technical problem with the aircraft’s radar? It was a faulty aircraft? Just one day after we returned! Was their return flight, TR2465, the same aircraft?

I began sending that article to my fellow travellers.

And waited for a response.

And waited.

My phone buzzed.

“Yeah, I saw this too. Lol.”


A few hours later, another message.


That was it.

I think I’m a worrywart.

Of defeat and Improv

I was quite determined not to have snippets of my life on this blog, but heck it. The only way I’ll keep it updated is to admit defeat. In any case, voyeuristic peeks into people’s lives are so much more exciting than stories and poems, right?

I finally tried Improv, and I’m still not sure why. I suppose we’ve all got this masochistic part of us that goes, “Pick me, pick me! I want to be publicly humiliated!”

Three participants, one instructor. Glass doors. Lots of people sitting outside, able to see what we were doing during that one hour crash course. And naturally, people did look.

Improv is probably one of the wackiest activities I have tried, and I absolutely loved it. It’s one of those things that encourages you to be silly instead of having to adult. And as we all know, to adult is probably the most difficult task society imposes upon us. Unless you’re naturally all responsible and wise.

I was in my natural state. Such a warm, mushy feeling, to be surrounded by so much love and acceptance, but disastrous in some ways. Because, as usual, someone asked me for my age.

So imagine. Under normal circumstances, people have difficulty believing I’m 26, even when I’m trying to adult. There, it was like trying to convince people that I actually was a man.

“No way!” someone involuntarily exclaimed. The other two wisely kept silent. Or perhaps they were just dumbfounded. “I just look 15,” I clarified. From their expressions, it seemed that even 15 was an overestimation. Rather ironic since the course was meant for those 18 and above.

I suppose my despair at that must have been evident, since the organisers gave me an SG50 seniors’ care package at the end of the session. It came with a pedometer that has a tendency to shut off on its own. But at least it gets these old bones moving. Plus a 2×2 Rubik’s cube to help my mind stay sharp. I really should get around to using it, but I just can’t remember where I left it.