I had the opportunity to see the current version of “Love Never Dies” the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera (TPOTO). Prior to this, I had purchased the soundtrack that they released, and although I like a few songs I was not impressed. I was not a lone in this, and it appears that the creators of the show decided to listen closely to the critics. As a result, much of the show was changed, and I am happy to report that the changes made a drastic improvement in the show. It would appear that Andrew Lloyd Webber learned that no matter how sweeping and beautiful the score is, it is important to have a decent book to go along with it.
To save myself from attempting to articulate the plot, I suggest you read the synopsis from the website. The main change that people discuss is that the phantom retains his dark manner and is still somewhat manipulative. I agree with this, but I felt the best changes were that Meg, Christine’s friend who sings “Angel of Music” in the TPOTO. In the original version of this show, Meg is seemingly annoyed by Christine the entire time, and hates her for attempting to steal her spotlight. In the new version, Meg is happy to see Christine again, and does not mind sharing the stage with her. Meg’s main desire is simply to be recognized and rewarded by the Phantom in a manner similar to the things he did to turn Christine from chorus girl to a woman with an incredible voice. This change was absolutely necessary, and it really made all the difference in the world. To do this, Meg sings a few different songs, and songs she formerly sang, are sung to different people. I will provide a greater run down of noticeable changes in a list at the end of the post.
What the show gets right, it gets right extremely well. With Ramin Karimloo, as the phantom I was spellbound from the first note he sang. Though I had low expectations for the show on a whole, my ears and eyes were ready to be critique Mr. Karimloo’s performance based on my belief that no one can sing as beautifully as the soundtrack would have you believe. Now I must report that the beautiful tones you hear on the soundtrack barely do the man justice. When he opened the show with, “Till I Hear You Sing Once More” I started crying before the song was even half over. This started a trend, and I found myself brought to tears multiple times when he sang. Even when my brain was thinking “the lyrics he is singing are really stupid.” The voice singing them was absolutely enchanting. It really made me believe that the Phantom had special powers. I was as enchanted with him as Christine was. Only later did I find out that not only does this man have a sexy voice, but he is perhaps the hottest phantom ever:
Speaking of Christine, Sierra Boggess, who plays the role was a bit of a surprise. I thought she would be a better actress, and a weaker singer. Instead, I got to hear her sing far better than I thought she could, but seemingly not be able to act her way out of a paper bag. I don’t think it is completely fair to blame her for her lack of acting ability, however, as Christine has almost no dialogue at all. She seems to show up, and react. The revamped script did make her appear less stupid, as Christine believes she is being invited to America to sing for impresario Oscar Hammerstein, not to be confused with his grandson Oscar Hammerstein, of Rodgers and Hammerstein fame, instead of a mysterious benefactor. My main problem on the original soundtrack was that I didn’t feel Ms. Boggess could sing the title song well enough, and, as her decision to sing or not is so pivotal to the plot, the song needed to be amazing. Ms. Boggess seems to have finally mastered the incredibly different parts of the score. Although the fact she was singing it on a set that rotated with varying light effects, and that she was wearing a dazzling gown, helped her sell the performance, she no longer needs that much help to sell it to the audience. If Christine’s role is simply to be there to sing this song beautifully, then Ms. Boggess can claim she did an excellent job.
The rest of cast sang and performed their roles with great professionalism. Even poor Joseph Millson, who has the unfortunate displeasure of having to play Raoul, did the job as best he could. Unfortunately, Raoul is never given a chance to make himself an equally good option to the Phantom. The song he sings “Why does she love me” is silky and smooth, but the range is horribly limited both vocally and emotionally. This same set of notes are repeated when Raoul attempts to persuade Christine to choose him, but compared to the amount of time the Phantom has had to bewitch Christine back to his side, it is not much of a competition. I wish the show had found a way to make Raoul a possibility.
Fortunately, when watching the show, I was not given a lot of time to ruminate on these obvious flaws, as the show has a high spectacle factor that was worth the £35 I paid for my ticket. The phantom’s theme park, Phantasma (a name worthy of an eye roll), has fire jugglers, acrobats, a woman who is styled to look 1\2 woman and 1\2 bird, a crystal clear stage coach driven by a skeleton, a chandelier of golden singing medusa heads, and so much more. Plus, the production includes projected images onto a screen, so that things seem to be even more amazing and layered. While I don’t like to admit that the spectacle helps cover up for the gaping holes in the show….but they kind of do. However, it is what makes the musical simply good, and prevents it from being a masterpiece.
Although I would not have suggested people pay to see the production as it was originally, I don’t feel bad in recommending it to people now. Just don’t pay full price. The show has its flaws, the biggest/most insulting one being that Christine and Phantom sing a ridiculous operatic duet detailing that they had sex before she married Raoul, but if you just go with it, it is easy to get swept away. So long as you have a phantom as darkly enchanting as Ramin Karimloo at the helm.
List of notable changes:
- “Heaven by the Sea” and the reprise is cut.
- The show begins with “The Ayrie” wherein a marionette of Christine walks around, followed by “Till I Hear You Sing.” The big show stopping number.
- Christine believes she is singing for the impresario Oscar Hammerstein
- Meg is not mean to Christine, and sings a song about how the ship is bringing her friend so close to her, and she hopes they will be reunited.
- “Only for Him” is cut, and “Only for You” is just sung to introduce Coney Island to the audience.
- The entire beginning bit where Madame Giry is on Coney Island years later and confronted by Ms. Fleck is cut.
- The lyrics to “Till I hear You sing” are slightly different
- There are several small lyrics changes
- The 3 phantom lackeys don’t refer to the Phantom as “Mr. Y” in the first act, but instead refer to Mr. H (meaning Mr. Hammerstein).
- Bizarrely, the 3 phantom lackeys DO refer to the Phantom as “Mr. Y” when they say “Mr. Y’s last surprise” during “Ladies…Gents/The Coney Island Waltz (reprise)
- The phantom is only unmasked fully in Act 1, though his disfigurement is somewhat visible in the scene where he confronts Raoul in act II.
- The original ending had Christine dying in Meg’s arms after Meg, in the midst of a mental breakdown after kidnapping Gustave, accidentally shot her. Raoul had already fled New York for Paris. Whereas now, the Phantom cradles Christine’s body. Raoul returns with Gustave, who ran off upon learning the Phantom was his father, and sits with the dying Christine. Gustave then embraces his real father, leaving Raoul with nothing.
- Bit of trivia: The tune to “Love Never Dies” is actually from a song called “Our Kind of Love” which was originally called “The Heart is Slow To Learn” which was in the musical “The Beautiful Game.”
I used to think ALW’s use of previous tunes in this show was kind of lazy, but it appears he has been trying to write this show for 20 years, but he had to do other projects, so he would just stick bits of it into other shows.