Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Never Dies’ Review
I was all of ten years old when I first heard Andrew Lloyd Webber’s masterpiece, “The Phantom of the Opera.” To say that it made a lasting impression would be a gross understatement. I didn’t just memorize the songs and the words; I inhaled them like oxygen. They became a part of my soul. Twenty years later, I’ve seen the show live three times and have tortured both my friends and family with my attempts to hit Christine’s highest notes on more occasions than I care to admit.
Every time I see the show or listen to the music, I mourn with the Phantom. Unrequited love is the most painful kind there is, and no work of art has ever captured that truth with more beautiful anguish than Webber’s opus magnum. But until I sat through a recording of the Melbourne production of the show’s sequel, “Love Never Dies,” I didn’t realize that the original ending of the story was absolutely right and necessary, and to extend it would be to rewrite the essence of what has made “Phantom” quite possibly the greatest musical ever created.
Set an inexplicable ten years after where we left the characters (“Phantom” took place in 1881; “Love” somehow jumps in time to 1905), the show is staged on the boardwalks and in the freak shows of Coney Island, where the Phantom now rules as Mr. Y, with the help and support of Madame and Meg Giry, the latter of whom has fallen in love with the masked man she saved from the burning Paris opera house.
But the Phantom’s heart still belongs to Christine, now the unhappy Comtesse de Chagny. He lures her and a debt-ridden Raoul to America and back into his world to hear his muse sing one more time, but the plot thickens when it is revealed that at some point ten years earlier, he and Christine shared one night of forbidden passion that resulted in a child, Gustave.
Now, this is where the show started to lose me. As a writer of what could be considered melodramatic romance novels, believe me when I say that I have nothing against the love child plot line, but the execution here felt both rushed and forced. There was nothing subtle about the reveal and what could have been a beautiful and tender moment quickly turned into a joke. I actually would have been far more willing to go with this if Gustave had been conceived in the Phantom’s lair, deep below the opera house when Christine was entranced by the Music of the Night, but everything in their song would lead us to believe that their affair happened after the events of “Phantom.” One of the failings of this twist is that these circumstances are only hinted at, and never fully disclosed, leaving us wondering not only what brought these two back together, but when, where and why.
Without revealing the end of the show, which even when seen is hard to believe, “Love Never Dies” expects way too much forgiveness and suspension of disbelief from its audience. It almost feels as if Webber decided at some point that he’d made a mistake in the way he ended “Phantom,” and that Christine really should have chosen the masked murderer over the charming rich boy. I just can’t agree with that.
What “Phantom” taught me at ten years old was that true love doesn’t seek to possess. Christine chose Raoul not because he looked better, but because his love wasn’t obsessive or dangerous. Everyone likes to laugh at the Twilight series, but Edward Cullen is a rank amateur in terms of stalking when compared to the Phantom. I have known all of my life that the kind of love the Phantom had for Christine was unhealthy. Even in “Love Never Dies,” when he still thinks Gustave is Raoul’s child, the Phantom threatens to kill the boy if Christine doesn’t agree to sing for him. In what sick, twisted world does she prefer that to Raoul? He might have had a drinking and gambling problem forced onto him, but Raoul still never hands his wife any ultimatums. He simply asks her to choose him, the same way he did on the roof of the opera house. But asking me to change my mind twenty years later and believe that Christine made the wrong choice is simply asking too much.
There are some enjoyable things about “Love Never Dies,” but all the gorgeous staging and stunning costumes can’t make up for the fact that the story is wrung for every ounce of pathos possible. Some of the music is great, but unfortunately even the best pieces never rise to the magnificence of their predecessors. At various places, there are echoes of “Phantom’s” original score, but rather than giving “Love Never Dies” resonance, they serve as awkward, even painful reminders that what we are watching is subpar to what came before it.
If you are planning to attend the second and final showing of “Love Never Dies” that will be in theaters on March 7th, I hope that you don’t have as much of an attachment to the original story as I have. Perhaps that is the key to enjoying the sequel. Either that, or a willingness to follow Webber wherever he goes. I thought I was one of those people. It turns out that I’m not.