Stage Musical Review: Love Never Dies

This is my first attempt at reviewing a stage play, so bear with me folks. I saw the show last Thursday night at Adelphi Theater. Walking from the main square from Covent Garden, we asked a couple of people along the way how to find the theater, and one of them remarked, ‘Oh is that the one showing Tomorrow Never Dies?’ Ha! Perhaps Andrew Lloyd Webber and James Bond’s producers flip a coin on the title?

Anyway, having loved the original Phantom of the Opera and its beautiful, haunting music, I was really curious to see how the sequel pans out. No, I’m not one of those ‘phans’ who’ve seen the original hundreds of times and collect all kinds of memorabilia, who apparently are none too keen on the sequel idea even before they even saw it. Many of them are even posted on ALW’s own company site Really Useful Group. It’s interesting that POTO is still playing just a few blocks away at Her Majesty’s Theater, and the stats on what’s dubbed as the most successful single piece of entertainment of all time is staggering. Now, I’ve only seen the stage show twice when it toured in my hometown, but I’ve enjoyed the songs since I was in high school and still love it to this day. But when I caught a glimpse of Ramin Karimloo‘s singing voice as the Phantom, I found myself swept away by the song ‘Til I hear you sing, so it was a real dream come true to see it months before it opens on Broadway!

The Phantom and his muse, Christine

The Story:

Love Never Dies continues the story of The Phantom of the Opera, who has moved from his lair in the Paris Opera House to haunt the fairgrounds of Coney Island. It’s set 10 years after Phantom’s mysterious disappearance, and he’s now a successful impresario with his own freak show appropriately called Phantasma. Even after all this time, he still pines for (read: obsessed) with the French soprano singer Christine Daaé, who no longer performs. She now has a 10-year-old boy Gustave and her husband Vicomte de Chagny/Raoul has squandered much of their fortune on drinking and gambling. The Phantom invites her to sing an aria he’s written especially for her, and as soon as she arrives in the then-popular beach resort, the roller-coaster romance continues.

The Good:

Before I proceed, let me just say that I had no doubt in my mind before I even saw it that this show wasn’t going to top the original, especially in terms of the music and the story. But with that said, I found the show to be enjoyable and delightful, even if I wasn’t as enchanted as I did the first time I saw the original show.

High marks should go to the visually-stunning and inventive production design of Coney Island, which is a feast for the eyes. Mixing digital projection technology and art nouveau pieces, it was electrifying-ly bizarre. Things and creatures in the Phantom’s new home are far more freaky than those in his former underground lair, i.e. medusa-like singing chandelier; half-skeleton, half-woman legs in fishnet stocking pushing what looks to be a tea cart, which are fittingly set to the eccentric, loud rock-opera tune “The Beauty Underneath.”

The Phantasma staff: Squelch, Fleck and Gangle

Then there’s the spectacular voices from the main cast. The Iranian-born, Canadian-bred Karimloo has impressive set of lungs, his rendition of the main tune ‘Til I hear you sing gave me goose-bumps and moved me to tears. We’re sitting on row F which is quite close to the stage and I thought his performance was good, sure he didn’t quite have the imposing stature as the titular hero, but he nailed the emotional scenes nicely. He had a sort of peculiar hand gesture as he belted out a tune, but it wasn’t overly distracting.

Brit Joseph Millson as Raoul

Sierra Boggess was equally enchanting as Christine, and seems to be age-appropriate as the heroine who’s supposedly be in her mid twenties by now. In contrast, the Phantom seemed to have grown even younger ten years on (Gerry Butler in the 2004 movie version was already a younger version of Michael Crawford, and Karimloo looks at least five years Butler’s junior!). In any case, Boggess’ vocal prowess was downright amazing, the aria Love Never Dies already started quite high but it soared to what sounded like a five-octave range towards the end, I was breathless just listening to her! Joseph Millson gave equally strong performance as the handsome but crestfallen Raoul, as did Summer Strallen with her impressive dancing sequences as Meg Giry, who ended up being the ‘villain’ of the show.

Summer Strallen as Meg Giry

Of course, there’s the music itself. Of course POTO is a formidable act to follow musically as the tunes such as Music of the Night, All I Ask of You and The Point of No Return are so unabashedly romantic, haunting-ly beautiful, and has that inherent timeless quality. Now that I’ve gone back to listen to POTO music again, I realize those will remain a cut above the rest of all Webber’s work, including LND. At the same time, I really enjoyed the new music, particularly ‘Til I Hear You Sing, which was far more moving when heard live on stage. It’s packed with a strong emotional punch and more than a hint of romantic obsession and frustration. Boggess’ rendition of the aria Love Never Dies gives me goose-bumps the way the original theatrical Christine Sarah Brightman does with most of her songs, which is always a good thing in my book. It was hard to keep my eyes dry during the two scenes. The rockin’ The Beauty Underneath may seem out-of-place in a romantic tale, but it fits just fine in the Coney Island freak-show theme, though it’s probably not a tune I’d rewind and listen over and over again like the ballads.

Which brings me to …

The Bad:

IMO, the major problem with the sequel is the implausible plot. A Guardian reviewer said it best, “Romantic obsession may be common to both shows, but where one may feel sympathy for a doomed outsider, it is hard to feel much for an omnipotent impresario.” That’s precisely how I felt. For me, the reason I had so much sympathy for the tragically-flawed character was because he was an outcast, rejected by the world, even those he loves so dearly. But now, he’s got a slew of staff ready at his beck & call, and even his arch nemesis, the formerly influential Vicomte is now reduced to a drunken wreck.

Christine & Phantom during ‘Beneath a Moonless Sky’ scene

Love triangle is apparently not complex enough for ALW, as now we’ve also got Gustave, who’s more-than-implied to be the fruit of Phantom/Christine sexual tryst (wha–?). Apparently, upon his disappearance, Christine was able to locate the disfigured masked-one and the song Beneath A Moonless Sky intimates their err, intimate rendezvous “… and I held you, and I touched you and embrace you… and I felt you, and with every breath and every sigh …” (whew, is it hot in here?)

Ok, fine I’ll buy that, I confess that despite his deformity, the Phantom could be quite seductive. But get this, in this story, he’s actually the one who left Christine in the middle of the night, which left her no choice but to choose Raoul. Yeah right, I find that extremely hard to believe. I mean I’ve always thought in POTO that Christine wasn’t so much in love with the Phantom as much as she was indebted for his teaching and felt sorry for him. There was no way the relentlessly obsessive Phantom would’ve let her go after he finally won her over.

The mystique and thrilling mystery of the main character is also lost somehow, which IMO is the biggest issue I had with the show. The biggest draw for me in watching and listening to the Phantom is its untouchable, otherworldly quality, he is after all the Opera ghost… dark, tormented, terrifying… yet we’re drawn to his wretchedness and genius musical creation. Alas, there’s not much of that here. Perhaps the fact that we see him so often on stage (with and without his mask) have something to do with it. Nothing in Karimloo’s portrayal depict him as a threatening character who can suddenly lose his temper and go for the kill, and instead of his trademark punjab lasso, he’s now a gun-totting curmudgeon.

And lastly, I’m not a fan of the ending. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but let’s just say that though love might never die, but a major character does, and it’s the most drawn-out death scene ever. One that defies logic of course – I never knew someone suffering a short-range gun-shot wound is still able to not only talk effortlessly but sing as well! And all that convoluted gothic love story is reduced to a mere father-son hug. Heh!

In conclusion, it’s not as bad as the ‘paint never dries‘ notion this blog said, but phantastic? Not exactly. Still, the experience of going to Adelphi to see Karimloo and Boggess sang their hearts out was worth every pence!

…..

By the way, when this sequel was first announced, there were rumors that Gerry Butler might reprise his role as the Phantom in the the movie version of LND. In my eyes, the Scot will always be the best and most captivating Phantom – as legions of his fans would agree – so to see him swing his cape and smolders will always be a welcome sight. Besides, as of now Butler has never done a follow-up to any of the role he’s played, so why not go back to the one he’s obviously born to play.

But now come to think of it, it’s probably best for him to move on to other things. The sequel story is just too weird and preposterous for a film adaptation. Plus, even though he’s supposedly the same character, in LND, the Phantom’s essence has been altered so much from the original that the mystique is lost. Thus, I’d rather have my memory of him as the perfect opera ghost I wouldn’t mind having as a stalker :) Why mess with perfection, y’know?

So, has anybody’s seen either POTO or LND? If so, I’d love to hear your take on ‘em.

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23 thoughts on “Stage Musical Review: Love Never Dies

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  2. I feel compelled to point out what seems to be an inexplicably common misconception regarding a pivotal plot point in this story. After their night together, the Phantom does not simply get up and leave Christine in the manner that you describe. If you listen to (or read) the lyrics to “Beneath a Moonless Sky”, you’ll find that he leaves because he fears (and understandably so) that this experience was only possible because Christine couldn’t see his physical self in the dark and in the morning light she will shun him again.

    • Thanks for your comment, rjg. As noble as his motive sounds in your explanation, it still doesn’t make sense. I mean, Christine HAS seen the Phantom’s true form on several occasions, so it’s not like she just met a stranger in the dark, make love to him only to find out he’s deformed. At the end of POTO, she said “This haunted face holds no horror for me now … It’s in your soul that the true distortion lies …” which implies that she wouldn’t have shunned him for that reason. I didn’t mention this before, but I find it just as strange that she’d even go to all that trouble to find the Phantom after leaving him with Raoul, it just didn’t make sense.

      In any case, regardless of the plot problems, I still think it’s a worthwhile show and I’m glad I got to see it.

    • It only just debuted last March Aiden, so it’s a relatively new show. Didn’t know you like Phantom, do you mean the character itself from Leroux’s book? I’m more of a fan of Webber’s interpretation of Phantom rather than the Lon Chaney’s version.

  3. I read a lot of reviews when this first came out in March, and yours is by far the very best! I can see how POTO (first the film, then the play) will remain my favorites, but LND sounds like amazing theater and will certainly see it someday.

    • Hey thanks PrairieGirl! I think after watching GB’s performance, I do prefer the film adaptation. His portrayal was so soulful, dark yet sexy that I was left wanting more from the stage actor (in the second play I saw after the film came out). For a moment there I did wish to see him bring all that back again in the sequel :)

      Yes, go see it once it starts touring here. Let me know what you think once you do.

  4. I’ve been a huge fan of the original musical for 15 years now, and LOVE this sequel. I daresay I quite rank it as good as, if not slightly better (for me) than the first one. The character of Gustave just crushes me in every way, and I doubt I’ve ever experienced another moment filled with more suspense and sheer elation than the fateful moment when Christine steps forth to belt out “Love Never Dies”; swan song indeed!

    • Hi Damon, thanks for your comment. Glad to hear a positive comment from a POTO die-hard fan! :) Where did you see the show? I’m sure glad I got to see Ramin and Sierra’s performance in London, as they’re both sensational. I won’t go as far as calling it better but I was mesmerizing at many points during the show, including the swan song part. Her voice is haunting, just what you’d expect from a Phantom show.

  5. I just want to say, I have not seen LND yet, but I have seen POTO- both in movie form and on stage- and God forgive me, I am one of those die-hard phantom phans who prefers the movie to the stage *gasp*. I know the plot- I had found it on another source before I read this review – come on, the story’s not THAT ridiculous. Did you know Gerard Butler went to SEE Love Never Dies at the premeire? I have watched a number of interviews with him, and it is clear that he deeply loved this part. Do any of you remember how different the film was from the play with POTO? then why do you assume with LND the film is going to be exactly the same?! I believe that Gerard Butler is the most haunting, hypnotic, seductive, and poignant Phantom, with his killer voice and attractiveness, and he is a talented actor- extremely. I REALLY hope they will make this into a movie just so I can see Gerard reprise his role as the Phantom and act this story out in a way only he can- sorry Ramin, you’re awesome too. But I would like to see Mr.Butler sing “Til I Hear You Sing” and “Beneath a Moonless Sky” with Emmy Rossum, as well as her sing “Love Never Dies”. Just please, make it into a movie and keep an identical cast and my life, and the lives of so many millions across the world will be complete!

    • Hi Lydia, thanks for your comment. Yeah, I’m totally with you as far as preferring the movie version to the stage one. I saw the stage version about 10 yrs before I saw the movie, and then I saw it again a few yrs after that, and I have to admit I was expecting GB’s soulful and sexy performance as the Phantom. He captures the tormented, lonely persona yet brings such sex appeal to the role that I’ve never seen before.

      I did hear about Butler attending the LND premiere, but I don’t know if it meant anything about his involvement in the movie adaptation. I think I read somewhere that he just happened to be in the area. I’m pretty sure if ALW is ready to start production of the movie (which is inevitable IMO), that talk/rumor will swirl again. Despite the plot, I’m not totally opposed to the idea (for the reasons I mention above), and yeah, to hear him belt out ‘Til I hear you sing’ would be a dream come true. I agree about having Emmy back as well, she is not only a great singer but embodies the role of Christine perfectly.

  6. Ok. First off, I just wanted to say to all of the “nay-sayers” out there that Love Never Dies is FANTASTIC. I have not yet seen the show (as I live in the U.S. and not England) but have practically memorized the soundtrack and while I was hesitant and skeptical at first, I am now completely in love with the Phantom sequel and hope it gets to Broadway ASAP. And I do consider myself to be a die-hard Phan, so you know that I speak the truth about all things Phantom. While Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera cannot be topped, Love Never Dies is a masterpiece nonetheless. The plot is impossible, but it is filled with such passion, emotion, and magic that I cannot help but be seduced by it. Ramin and Sierra are AMAZING and bring such life to these characters and the chemistry between them is so strong it hurts. Lloyd Webber’s music in Love Never Dies brings tears to my eyes just as the original Phantom did (and still does). As to the small debate over why the Phantom left Christine after their “night of passion”, I think I can shed some light on that. In my opinion, the reason why he left makes perfect sense. I agree with rjg, in that the Phantom was afraid that Christine would shun him in the “morning light” when she could actually see him as opposed to the blackness of that night. There is more to it than that, however. I think that he left because deep down he knew that to truly love her he had to “let her go”. He possibly thought that Christine was perhaps better off with Raoul and that if he truly loved her (which he did) he would do the right thing and let her have her freedom and her choice to do what she wanted. His fatal flaw in doing this, however, is that he didn’t stop to share his thoughts/feelings with Christine and therefore made a premature decision on his own without asking Christine what she thought about the situation. To all my fellow Phans on this thread: You ROCK and never stop believing in the music of the night! <3

    • Hi Samantha! Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I hope you get to see LND in Broadway soon, the stage production is absolutely beautiful, though I’m afraid Ramin and Sierra might not travel to NYC as they have to do the London shows. I agree with you, plot issues aside, the production is wonderful to look at and the music, well, that’s the best part of any ALW musicals! When Ramin belted out ‘Til I Hear You Sing I was practically balling my eyes out I was so moved!! The same with Sierra’s Love Never Dies, they are both amazing in their roles… and I was also impressed by the actors who play Meg and Raoul.

      As for the ‘Phantom leaving Christine’ debacle, I like your reasoning a lot… that’s incredibly romantic and ‘noble’ of him to let Christine go, but that is possible, as in the movie version, after she kissed him, the Phantom cried and finally decided to let her go with Raoul.

      Btw, who do you think should play Phantom for the LND adaptation (it’s inevitable they’ll do that one day)? Did you like the film version of Phantom of the Opera?

      • I am glad that you liked my post rtm. After I posted it I thought, “Good God, could I have rambled on any more?” I just have so much to say and so much that I feel about all things Phantom and Love Never Dies. I listened to the whole soundtrack again today for the millionth time and just balled when the ending came. “Til I Hear You Sing” gives me goosebumps and chills everytime I hear it (Ramin is a GENIUS) and Sierra’s “Love Never Dies” just makes my soul fly from my body. I REALLY HOPE that Ramin and Sierra do what Michael and Sarah did which is to originate the roles in London AND on Broadway! Might just be wishful thinking though. To answer your question, I LOVE the film adaptation. I saw it twice in theaters when it first came out and immediately fell in love with Gerry Butler (of whom I had not heard of until the Phantom film). While I missed the perfection of Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman’s voices in the roles of Erik and Christine, Gerry and Emmy brought such life and seduction to the characters that it made everything else worth it. Gerard Butler is SO DARK and SEXY and Emmy is GORGEOUS and innocent to boot. They fit the roles extremely well and I’d be intrigued and interested in seeing them both reprise their roles in a possible film version of Love Never Dies. We shall see what will come for Love Never Dies in the future!

        • Hello again Samantha! Oh no, I welcome long comments, so ramble away :D I’m glad you are passionate about these plays, they are worth getting excited about. I’ve only seen Phantom twice and I’d see LND again in a heartbeat, I just wish I could see it in London again with Ramin and Sierra… yeah right! We were there for our anniversary and LND was my gift from my husband as I’ve always dreamed to see Ramin on stage ever since I saw the promo clip of him singing ‘Til I hear you sing.’ Oh he is sooo handsome!!

          Ooooh, so we have something in common! I fell for Gerry in POTO as well, and have been a fan of his ever since (I talk about him A LOT on my blog, just click on his name in the tag cloud and you’ll see all the posts). I had seen him in other films before (Lara Croft 2, Timeline) but didn’t immediately realize he was the same person playing Phantom!! In fact, after watching the movie, when I saw the POTO play again the second time I much prefer Gerry’s ‘untrained’ voice as he put so much emotion and passion into his performance. Dark and sexy, YES that’s exactly what I thought of him. Trust me, my friend Becky and I are both puzzled why on earth Christine would EVER choose to be with Raoul??! Deformed face be darn, if the other half looks like THAT and with THAT body, who cares? :D

          With that said, I’m still on the fence about him reprising the role. I mean, maybe if the script is solid and they’ve got a capable director at the helm, I could see it working. Besides, I definitely won’t mind seeing GB in that Phantom outfit again, oh la la!

          • Hi rtm! I’m happy you don’t think that long comments are weird. That’s a relief! Anyway, I have seen Phantom on stage 3 times (1 time on Broadway and 2 times with the US Tour in Philadelphia) and I NEVER get sick of seeing it! I am hoping to get up to Broadway to see it again soon, that is if I have the funds for it.

            That’s so sweet and romantic that your husband gave you Love Never Dies tickets as your anniversary gift! He’s a keeper! And YES Ramin is TOTALLY HANDSOME! I’d like to meet with him “beneath a moonless sky” (*wink*). I know he’s married, though.

            About Gerard Butler, even though I’m a huge fan of him in Phantom, I haven’t really seen any of his other movies. At some point I do want to make a point of seeing 300 and some of his other films. I love him in the Phantom outfit too! It’s like I always say, “There’s nothing hotter than a man wearing a tux and cape”

            And I agree 100% with you and your friend Becky! I have NEVER understood why Christine left the Phantom and chose Raoul. I mean, I know that Raoul is handsome and safe and everything, but he’s also kind of a wimp. Not to mention, the whole music thing! The passion and music that just pours out of the Phantom is just so intoxicating, I don’t know how anyone could pass that up! Christine is CRAZY and doesn’t know a good thing when she’s got it! I would’ve done things totally differently.

            • I think it will end up in Broadway, Sam, I definitely will see it again when it arrives in my town.

              He..he.. yes my hubby is a keeper in more ways than one. He enjoyed it too and amen about Ramin. I wish I could meet him backstage. I heard he’s a nice guy & family man, too, what a package!

              As for Mr. Butler, may I suggest this post: http://flixchatter.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/my-top-5-favorite-gerard-butler-roles/ ’300′ is a good one but an absolute must is Dear Frankie. It’s amazing that he did that around the same time as POTO.

              Well, if she chose Phantom, there won’t be a story would there? :D I’d totally go with the Phantom too, but only if the other half looked like Ramin or Gerry’s he…he… but the Phantom in Gaston Leroux book, not so much.

  7. Just came accross this thread and just learned that there was a sequel to Phantom!! I once had tickets to see the stage version, but a Hurricane down here in FL spoiled the event, and the show got canceled. I fell in love with the music of the original and film version…G. Butler really made things Fresh and Sexy, and of course E. Rossem was spectacular as Christine! I recently came accross ALW Love Never Dies stage recording at my local library. I really enjoyed it and hope that I will be able to see the Stage Version someday, The Phantom and then Love Never Dies in that order, but for now I can enjoy the music until that day arrives!!! Thanks for the wonderful review of the Sequel and the great pictures of the London Show!!! Every now and then I take an interest in looking into new Phantom news, as well as all the Legend and Lore that surrounds the Original Book and all…WAS THERE REALLY A PHANTOM AT THE PARIS OPERA HOUSE, THE LAKE BENEATH THE OPERA HOUSE, ETC. IT’S SUCH A FASINATING SUBJECT…I GUESS LOVE NEVER DIES WHEN IT COMES TO THE PHANTOM!!! Happy Valentines Day!!!

    • Hi Jennifer, welcome to FC.

      That’s too bad that the show got canceled, hope you’d be able to see this in the near future. Glad to hear you love the film version. I fell for Butler in that movie and am still a big fan of his to this day. He brought such charisma, sex appeal as well as a sense of desperation to the role that was just mesmerizing to watch. It was a great blessing to be able to see LND in the London stage after seeing all the vids of Ramin Karimloo, he and Sierra really were amazing as Phantom and Christine.

      Happy Valentine’s day to you, too! Thank you for commenting.

  8. Pingback: A lovely weekend in the Big Apple + Thoughts on 2014 Les Miz on Broadway |

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