Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Three Days of West End: Love Never Dies

Here it is. The big one, the one everybody loves to hate.
Siiri reviews Andrew Lloyd Webber's Love Never Dies.

If I'm so sure no one likes Love Never Dies, what was I doing, seeing it? Well...
  • I felt I can't really badmouth LND properly before I really see it - and, who knows, maybe I'd like it live after all?
  • I loved Ramin Karimloo in The Phantom of the Opera and in the Les Misérables 25th Anniversary Concert, so I really wanted to see him again.
  • David Thaxton as Raoul. As I've noticed, around the Les Mis fandom talking about Thaxton may result in some quite heated exchange of opinions, but I'll still confess something: I had seen Thaxton two times before Love Never Dies, both times as Enjolras, back when I was a brand-new Les Mis fan. And I don't remember anything about his performance. Sacrilegious, huh? So, I wanted to see Thaxton in something, if only for the reason I could say I remember seeing him...

If you want to read about my opinions based on the CD alone before diving into the full stage experience, take a look at here. And, mind you, I really like the original Phantom. I try to stay as respectful as I can, but if you love Love Never Dies with all your heart, you might want to close this window now...

First, I'll analyse the characters. Because this is a sequel, the way the characters have developed is of course an interesting aspect to observe. Let's begin with the Phantom.
In some ways, The Phantom is still the same guy he was ten years before. He's just as obsessed about Christine as before. You'd suspect he's going to die without her after the original, but if that doesn't happen, him setting up a new lair and mourning his lost love is the second-best guess.
But otherwise... Don't you think this Phantom is a bit, well, too high-functioning, compared to the original character? In The Phantom of the Opera, the title character had severe difficulties with interacting with the rest of the world. He had spent decades hiding, obsessing about his own appearance to an unhealthy degree. By the end of the show, we've found out he is a blackmailer, a kidnapper and a murderer. He mopes about the world abandoning him, but doesn't try very hard to gain its appreciation.
In Love Never Dies, the Phantom - still with no proper name given - is a successful businessman with his own amusement park. He has become more social, and at one point he even confronts Raoul without his mask on. You'd think that situation would rip open a dozen scars and make him feel really vulnerable, but he goes through the whole incident with a smile on his face. By the end, he's making speeches of inner beauty and trying to rescue damsels in distress, not causing the distress in the first place.
People change, sure, but to me such huge changes as these seem very unlikely.

Christine, then again, has a little more believable character arch.
We don't really know that much about her character, based on the original. She misses her late father, has musical talents and finds herself in a difficult situation between two men. Still, her inner world remains a bit of a mystery to us. Does she get engaged to Raoul because she loves him or because she needs protection from the danger the Phantom represents? Despite her fears, she does see something in the Phantom - so is there something more than pity behind her decision to kiss him? 
We don't know, and that's why Christine's still a believable character in Love Never Dies. Of course, it's rather cruel of her to sleep with the Phantom the night before her wedding, but I think it's very well possible she might regret choosing to marry Raoul.

Speaking about Raoul... His character actually made me laugh a little. 
Maybe he was a bit of a stereotype, being the young, cute, love-struck hero in the original, but here he hasn't so much developed as turned into another stereotype: the drinking, gambling, possibly wife-and-kid-beating jerk. And so angry at that it's almost funny. It's not the actor's fault, but the way the character is written... This is unacceptable, do you hear me! Must you make that racket!! Heh. Poor guy. 

The last characters transported from the original are the Girys, Madame and Meg.
Meg is another character I can see developing to this direction. She didn't seem too keen on the ballet in the original, and we know very little about her. Therefore we can't really claim she didn't wish to be a vaudeville performer the whole time.
But Madame Giry... She is a bit of a showbiz mother in the original, teaching Meg the ballet, sure, but I don't see her abandoning the opera. Ballet seems to mean so much to her in the original, and the way she acts as a link between the Phantom and rest of the world doesn't mean she isn't afraid of him, nor that she would want to help him to set up an amusement park on another continent. I just don't see it happening.

To the story!
I think the show's first act is a bit of a mess. I like some of the music a lot, but the act itself - all the issues with characterisations aside - doesn't feel whole to me. Not every part seems to belong. It's probably a result of the extensive rewrites the show went through, though I'm ready to admit many of them were for the better.

So, as you may know, nowadays the show begins with 'Til I Hear You Sing. I love this song. Whatever is said about Love Never Dies, 'Til I Hear You Sing is a showtune of the first class and Ramin Karimloo sung it really, really beautifully.
Unfortunately, the messiness of the first act kicked in right after the brilliant first song. After the amazing starter, the plot disappears somewhere for a good while, leaving the audience to watch a cavalcade of projections and circus acts. Neat. Then we get some exposition and some more exposition in the form of Madame Giry and Meg. Finally, after quite a while - though the wait wasn't quite as long as on the CD - we see Christine and Raoul and the plot accelerates again.

After meeting the main characters from the original again, I found myself enjoying some scenes. For example, the big ensemble song, Dear Old Friend, and Christine and Phantom's first love duet, Beneath a Moonless Sky, were to my tastes. Even though the latter's lyrics sound like a middle schooler's draft at vaguely erotic poetry, it's a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I just like the tune. 
Nevertheless, couldn't they have remove the second love duet when they were rearranging the show? From my point of view, two in a row feel rather tedious, even though the second song comes back in the finale of the show.

The act wraps up with The Beauty Underneath, a duet between Phantom and Christine's ten-year-old son. Like the title song of the original, it doesn't quite match the tone of the rest of the score. Fine. Except for that the song, in my opinion, is absolutely creepy. 
Maybe this is hopelessly immature of me... But listen to it, imagine an adult woman sings the boy soprano's part and, then, tell me about the situation you imagine this song accompanies. "Don't you feel amazing things?/Things you know you can't confess/Things you thirst for, nonetheless." Um.
When seeing the action onstage, the piece doesn't sound quite so weird, but I think the lyrics should've been thought out a little more carefully.

The second act feels a little more whole to me, maybe because it hasn't undergone so many changes. Again, there are some songs I enjoy quite a lot, most notably the Entr'acte and the both versions of Devil Take the Hindmost (I'm a big sucker for counterpoints). The big Phantom of the Opera reprise moment is a favourite of mine, too, even if it doesn't leave quite so big an impact anymore than on the CD - there are maybe too many hints to the original in the current version.
Sadly, again, there are problems.
My biggest peeve with this act was how it set up the main dilemma from the original Phantom once again. Will Christine sing or not? Which one of these two men will she choose? Been there, seen that, yawn. It's even more boring because the solution is so obvious this time: would you rather go with a constantly angry moron who has gambled away all your money and hates your kid, or with a rich amusement-park owner who is extremely in love with you, and, despite a minor flaw in is facial complexion, is also quite sexy? Hmm. I truely wonder.
And while I'm at it... Why Christine only has two choices, anyway? Isn't walking away without either of these men an option at all? Christine doesn't set up a great example of an independent woman. I'm certain she could've earned a living on her own, with her obvious musical talent, but unfortunately the show doesn't set that as an option.

Finally, the ending of the show - spoilers ahoy! - almost made me fall asleep. With the Phantom's heroic speech about Meg being beautiful inside and whatnot, the Finale feels almost like a joke to me. This is a man who has been so embarrassed of himself that he has spent half of his life hiding, and now he lectures about inner beauty. Yep. The ridiculousness of the plot, which has been kept in a decent check for most of the time, really flourishes during the ending.
I mean... How long does it take for a person to die from a gunshot? If you think A Little Fall of Rain in Les Mis is stretching it, try to sit through Christine dueting with the Phantom without getting a sudden urge to scream "die already!" And, again, after she finally draws her last breath, and Raoul comes back to observe the body... I felt like laughing. I could almost hear Raoul speaking: "Man... I leave my wife with you for two minutes and this is the result? Geez..." Not the reaction the scene was going for.
I think the whole story, and score, of Love Never Dies, is hit-and-miss. Score mostly hit, but story mostly miss. If Lloyd Webber had used this music with an original tale, I'd surely enjoyed the result more, but sadly Love Never Dies can't survive comparisons with the original.

A word about the scenery: I think the sets and costumes are beautiful. However, as said, the original is always in the watcher's mind, and I don't think they quite match it. Then again, not many shows will, sequels or not. On their own, the sets are very nice, even incredible sometimes. The skeleton lady in the Phantom's lair, for example, was simply amazing! I also loved the lights surrounding the balconies - in my opinion they could've been even more blingy.

Lastly, the cast. As said, I saw the show with Ramin Karimloo and David Thaxton, with Celia Graham as Christine. 
They did the best they could, I'm certain of that, and I really enjoyed their performances and voices. But, no matter how talented the cast, this show remains a mess to me. I'm not surprised it's closing soon. It's not for my tastes, and I don't think I'll be buying the upcoming DVD anytime soon.

The photos aren't mine. 
The photo with the Phantom and Christine by Joel Ryan, the one with Meg by Jonathan Hordle.


  1. Your description of Christine's death scene reminds me of how I felt seeing Adriane Lecourvier (still mispelt)...though, I think she got to duet with both leading men...and being an opera it took 15 minutes for her to take her last breath...and come back to life. XD
    And I'm rambling. But I think I shall be skipping LND (especially as I've never seen Phantom live).


  2. Yeah, I admit it's way worse in opera - if LND was an opera, it'd probably take the whole act for Christine to die... ;D

  3. Did I understand right: a DVD of the show will be released? When?

  4. Anonymous: Yes, you did! I found out about it via http://www.broadway.com/buzz/157070/phantom-sequel-love-never-dies-to-be-filmed/ - they say the Australian version will be filmed eventually, though they don't specify the release date. :)

  5. I'm a big sucker for counterpoints.

    I use almost these exact words to describe myself! Haha. Just something about 'em.