This is joining, “She Slays Monsters,” as a sort of weird review, but I’m been obsessing, so here we go. Note I’ve listened to the original cast recording, and watched the Australian production, soooo. I have opinions.
Love Never Dies picks up ten years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera. Still alive, Eric has relocated to Coney Island with Madame Giry and Meg, running a carnival/side show titled Phantasma. But he is unable to forget Christine, and when opportunity comes, he brings her to his new home. But both Eric and Christine have a secret they are carrying that will change the lives of Madame Giry, Meg, Raoul, and Christine’s son, Gustav. Things aren’t quite settled yet, and Christine will have to chose again…and face the consequences.
People have very strong feelings about Phantom. Some can’t tolerate even the first five minutes of this musical. And you know, I see their point when I listen to the original arrangement. It dragged, badly, with tons of chorus numbers, it made Madame Giry into a monster, confirming that Eric is too violent to deserve a happy ending, and it kept spoiling the ending! Even if people can stand Phantom (and some can’t compared to the book), the sequel tends to give them hives.
That being said, Love Never Dies was rearranged at one point, easing the plot issues, and it also helped make Eric more approachable. Are there still holes? Oh yeah, plus new ones. They cut out important information, such as that Eric has been helping Meg learn to sing (which explains why she is not just dancing anymore), and it emphasized how she was trying to get the Phantom’s attention at her mother’s urging. The production I watched also didn’t have Meg dancing enough, so that was a bad casting call I think, since the character is a trained ballet dancer and would retain at least some skill. Overall though, the restructuring of the musical made it something that those who love the musical of Phantom can appreciate too. Even the original writers and composers agreed that it was better, so proof that editing is important!
The setting of Coney Island was…both fitting and weird? It’s a very obvious place for Eric to hide, in a side show and carnival type setting. It’s somewhere he is familiar with from his childhood and he can blend in there easily. Madame Giry and Meg are the oddballs as far as fitting there, and it takes a lot of plot wrangling to get Christine and Raoul there for the meeting of all the players. That being said, I can’t think of anywhere else this could be set, so by process of elimination, it must be the best place for it. I felt like the music at least helped with the contrast, the songs Meg sang, particular “Bathing Beauty,” what Madame called vaudeville trash in the original and made me snort in laughter, helped contrast with Christine’s opera, showing just how far they’d fallen/shifted around.
Oh, characters. I feel like Raoul pulled a 180, and whether or not it makes sense…sort depends on your experience with the prequel. I had to watch it a couple of times and THINK about it, and realized that what happened was a disillusionment. Raoul believed himself in love with Christine (when he was just infatuated), believed himself to be this big hero (because he was the society favorite between him and Eric), and even won in the end…only to realize he didn’t love her, he wasn’t ever going to be as important as Christine, and so he forced himself to keep winning. Christine, in return, finds herself in a trap of her own making. She went with the society choice, especially considering how intense and violent Eric can be, only to have it all fall apart underneath her and she’s trying desperately to keep it all together.
Eric of course is the defeated villain, but rather than focusing on revenge, he still wants his original goal–Christine. Madame Giry is trying to recoup what she has lost by manipulating her daughter, and Meg… Meg fell for it and can no longer stand herself, so she wants Eric to rescue her like she thinks he rescued Christine from being another girl in the chorus, not realizing Christine’s talent and heart aren’t something that can be learned. It makes the ending very bittersweet for everyone. As for new characters, the trio of “barkers” makes less sense in the rearrangement than it did in the original, and overall Gustav is very bland, but considering the fact he’s ten, I am betting there is some limitation there.
So what about the plot? Well, it’s pretty straight forward, not a lot of surprises. Even when you cut the spoiler-ridden stuff out of the original scripts, you figure out a lot of it before it happens. I do like the conflict that is shown between Raoul and Eric, and how it shows how time has affected these characters–Raoul is still trying to be the hero and is aggressive in stance and words, but Eric is more willing to let his words fight rather than physically engage until it is defensive. And Meg’s little bit before Christine performs really helps highlight how defeated she is. The ending drags though, even when cut. I honestly think it still needed work to pare it down.
Overall, I think this musical can be watched. Do you have to watch and make sure what version is being performed? Oh yeah. But if it’s the Australian rearrangement, I highly recommend at least trying it if you liked Phantom of the Opera as a musical. It is entertaining, and if nothing else, as a writer it’s a good example of what editing can do to change how a story is presented.