1001 Albums You Must Die Before You Hear
#60: Andrew Lloyd Webber – Love Never Dies (2010)
MATT KELLY is something of an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan but even the hardiest enthusiasts boycotted this horrendous Phantom Of The Opera sequel.
With ticket sales in excess of $6 billion, over 13,000 performances at the Majestic on Broadway where it has played since 1988, and a status as almost the most successful musical of all time (second only to The Lion King), The Phantom Of The Opera is a titan of musical entertainment. With a rich score that combined classical music and pop-smart riffs, a memorable cast of characters, thrilling action scenes, and lyrics that range from laugh-out-loud comedy to moving pathos, its success should not be surprising.
Its sequel however is none of the above. The only laughing out loud you’ll be doing is *at* it. Love Never Dies was only 13 years ago but the most anticipated follow-up in musical theatre history has already been forgotten, people today barely aware it ever existed. It ran a single year in the West End and never got to Broadway at all after scathing critical notices made investors back out.
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The show was rewritten in late 2010 (after the soundtrack release, so I am reviewing the original, worse version) to address some of its flaws such as the comically long death scene of a major character – spoilers but some wags dubbed this ‘Christine Never Dies’. The revamped LND opened in Australia but could not sell tickets and soon closed. What’s interesting is that the most vitriolic hate did not come from the usual gang of anti-Lloyd-Webber snobs (of which I am not one; I am a fan of Phantom, Evita and Jesus Christ Superstar) but from the Phantom Of The Opera’s own devoted fanbase who loathed the new chapter and started a Facebook group dedicated to ending it.
Many reasons for this were non-musical: the plot is awful, and incredibly slow over the 135 minutes of this recording. The sense of danger, mystery and action of the first show is absent as an enigma-free Phantom swans about the stage with all the menace of Barry Manilow. Forget the disturbed yet darkly noble murderer of the first instalment- this Phantom is a grumpy inventor and showrunner who stands about in full daylight having bitching sessions and being creepy with a little boy.
Returning characters such as Meg and Raoul are unrecognizable, transformed into ghastly, scheming villains. Making Raoul an odious ass destroys the love triangle at the heart of the plot. With the Phantom clearly being the “correct” choice, LND becomes a predictable bore. Christine and Raoul’s son Gustav is insipid and the revelation that he is the Phantom’s son is obvious, melodramatic and as surprising as the sun coming up.
And the way this shits on the original is INCREDIBLE. It is revealed that when Christine stayed in the Phantom’s lair, they conceived Gustav. Okay, fine. No problem. Oh, one small thing though Andrew, AT THAT POINT IN THE STORY CHRISTINE THOUGHT THE PHANTOM WAS HER BIOLOGICAL FATHER. And it gets worse. The climax of the original comes when Christine kisses the hideous unmasked Phantom fully on the mouth – her compassion for him breaks his resolve to enslave her and murder Raoul, and he lets them go. Except LND would have it that THE PHANTOM AND CHRISTINE HAD ALREADY BANGED, so why would a kiss be a big deal?
It’s so careless. The original ending where Meg clutches his empty mask with so many questions unanswered is a classic of the “leave them wanting more” maxim – this is its complete inversion. Even the mask on the cover looks wrong.
But you can get away with anything in musicals if the tunes are catchy enough, right? Just look at Webber’s own Cats. Yet your heart will sink as ‘Heaven By The Sea’ kicks up and we see Webber reduced to xeroxing Alan Menken. Childish and garish, with really sour vocal melodies for Raoul and Giry in particular, the compositions here leave plenty to be desired.
‘The Beauty Underneath’ is a real lowlight, wildly out-of-place hard guitars, stilted vocal performances and Gustav’s *awful* cries of “YES!” ‘Bathing Beauty’ is probably a parody of 1890s popular music, but it’s still supremely irritating, and sick-bags-at-the-ready sentimental gloop like ‘Look With Your Heart’ should never have made it to the final copy.
It’s not *all* bad. ‘Til I Hear You Sing’s’ poignant, yearning melody successfully tugs at the heartstrings – but the good moments are drowned out by the likes of the dreary quarter-hour-long closer ‘Please Miss Giry I Want To Go Back’ (they couldn’t even be bothered giving it a proper title) where a torrid little soap opera you wouldn’t expect of The Young And The Restless plays out to its miserable, pompous, slow, slow, SLOW conclusion.
There are casting issues too. Charlie Manton is incredibly annoying as Gustav, and while Ramin Karimloo (The Phantom) can certainly sing, he sounds far too goody-two-shoes, like he’s playing Raoul. Michael Crawford’s captivating blend of nastiness and poise is nowhere to be found. The orchestra plays well – they shine on instrumental pieces like ‘The Coney Island Waltz’ – but a lot of the time they’re stuck sleepwalking their way through monochrome sleeping-pill compositions such as ‘Why Does She Love Me’.
LND is not only a disaster, it’s a boring, unentertaining disaster, not even having the decency to be as amusing as a Diana or Turn Off The Dark. Only someone adding songs to The Cursed Child would be more compelling musical evidence that not everything needs a sequel.