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.