After enjoying last weekend’s streaming performance of one of my favorite musicals, The Phantom of the Opera, I was intrigued to see that this weekend’s offering was Andrew Lloyd Weber’s sequel Love Never Dies. Having never experienced the musical before, I decided to go in without any preconceptions, which meant I didn’t stream the soundtrack or look up any details about it on Wikipedia.
I was intrigued and excited as I sat down to watch this sequel Friday evening. It would take a lot to equal or even top Phantom of the Opera in my mind, but I was optimistic about Love Never Dies.
The opening song as the Phantom laments the way things ended with Christine and his desire to hear her sing again held promise.
Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there.
I’m not saying that Love Never Dies is terrible, so much as it’s disappointing. For one thing, Lloyd-Weber seemingly ignores the timeline he used for the original story, claiming that it’s only been ten years since Phantom ended but using dates don’t quite concur with that.
Following the fire at the opera house, Madam Giry and Meg smuggled the Phantom to Coney Island in America. There he’s set up an amusement resort that feels like it’s lifted directly from a Tim Burton movie and amassed a small fortune, all the while still pining for Christine. Christine just happens to come to New York and is being paid a handsome amount to sing again to pay off Raoul’s gambling debts. Oh, and she has a ten-year-old son.
At multiple points watching the story unfold, I kept wondering if these were the same characters I’d come to know from Phantom. Yes, they all had the same names, but they certainly didn’t act like or feel like the characters I knew. Raoul may suffer the worst — becoming a boorish lout who has gambled away his family’s money and seems to live in a bottle. Oh, and he also apparently can’t do basic math (more on that later).
Everyone in this play feels like they’re taking cues from daytime soap opera, complete with over the top melodrama and paternity questions that, quite frankly, don’t make a lick of sense. The original musical told us that the Phantom couldn’t physically be with Christine but the sequel makes her kids his son, based on the night they spent together when the Phantom took her below to his layer. Never mind that this takes place in act one of the original and act two takes place six months later with Christine not — ahem — showing. (Look, I can accept that it happened to Peggy in season one of Mad Men, but it’s far too huge a suspension of disbelief here).
Before you know it, the Phantom has appeared to Christine again, figures out the boy is really his son, and seems determined to win Christine back. This doesn’t sit well with Meg (who is a taco or two short of a platter here) and Madame Giry, who have stood by the Phantom all these years and helped him rebuild his life. It alls ends up on Coney Island with the Phantom and Raoul betting whether or not Christine will sing, Meg going a bit crazy and the boy being kidnapped.
As I said before, it’s all so, incredibly melodramatic. The actions and motivations of the characters never really seem grounded in any way — and this is a sequel centered around a guy who lives in catacombs under the Paris opera house, mind you.
It may not help that the music doesn’t necessarily do the show any favors. I’ve read that Lloyd-Weber though this was some of the best music he’s ever created — and maybe it’s a technical thing and it is superb on that level. But I kept waiting for a show-stopping number like we get multiple times in Phantom and it never quite happened. It’s probably not helped that the score echoes Phantom a few times, reminding me of just how much I love that music and how this music just wasn’t connecting in the same way.
That said, I did like the set design of the show. Once I got past that this felt like something directed by Tim Burton, it was easy to enjoy the set designs and the way things moved. There’s nothing quite as arresting as the journey on the lake in Phantom, but watching the stage swivel and turn had its moments (though I did feel like it was taking a page here from the Les Mis tour I saw years ago).
The biggest flaw of this one was that it didn’t leave me with the feeling I get after listening to or watching the original Phantom or Jesus Christ, Superstar — that desire to go back and listen to or watch it again. Like too many sequels, Love Never Dies doesn’t quite live up to the original.