Review and SPOILERS: Love Never Dies (Australian Cast)

If The Phantom of the Opera was considered a project of the composer’s love to his muse at the time, then Love Never Dies could be the composer’s desire to return to those glory days knowing full well it could never happen.

For over two decades, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (he was knighted in 1992 and became a life peer in 1997 with the title of Baron Lloyd-Webber, of Sydmonton in the County of Hampshire and sits in the House of Lords) had mentioned the possibility of creating a sequel for the beloved musical Phantom of the Opera that he created in 1986. He started working on the sequel as early as 1990 but did not start composing until over a decade and half later, but lost the score in an announced cat-astrophe, convenient and suspect to be sure.

Three years later the production, Love Never Dies, opened in the West End in London to mixed/negative reviews. During the previews the production was tooled and retooled and retooled again in hopes to garner positive reviews from critics and/or audiences but closed in 2011 after a mere eighteen month run.

The production team, taking what they learned from the West End, redesigned the musical and opened in Melbourne, Australia in May 2011. This time the musical garnered much more positive reviews, it was at Melbourne that they taped the show for DVD and eventually the production moved to Sydney for a limited engagement.

Over the course of the past couple of years there was much hype leading into the opening production with Katherine Jenkins singing her rendition of the title track:

Ramin Karimloo also created a music video of the Phantom’s opening solo of the production featuring the original Christine of Love Never Dies Sierra Boggess:

The original intent of opening Love Never Dies simultaneously at the West End, New York, Shanghai never really materialized with the production in New York to be delayed indefinitely and the Shanghai development ending in favor of opening an Australian production. However, some of us Phantom Phanatics wanted to see the production: Love Never Dies, and were granted a reprieve when a DVD version of the show was to be aired on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) just a day or two after the DVD officially released in the U.S.

A week or two ago I finally found the time to sit down and watch this DVD… after having heard the soundtrack within months after the initial released I was curious enough to see what the production entailed. Curious to see why it worked in some places and not in others.

The opening song felt rather slow and dull in comparison to that of The Phantom of the Opera, although it did give me chills, I felt that it was rather disappointing as an opening number. It did not draw me into the action as quickly as I would have liked and had I been an audience member I probably would have gotten bored.

The music throughout the remainder of the production felt disconnectedness in places and didn’t seem to flow as well as I recall The Phantom of the Opera to have been. In some ways I saw this disconnectedness and lack of flow to be reflective of the Phantom’s emotional state at the time, but still it was difficult to keep in pace with the show when you’re too busy recovering from one song to the next. One thing I realized is that the music is rather stellar, I enjoyed a fair number of the pieces. I really did like how the composer integrated many of the popular motifs from the original musical into this production (minus the title piece). I think the only real complaint I had is that the production could have been so much better if the story was stronger as opposed to seemingly to rely on The Phantom of the Opera. Even though Sir Andrew considers the production to be able to stand alone, I personally do not believe that it could.

There were some pieces that truly did catch my attention in one capacity or another:
Beneath a Moonless Sky – Christine and The Phantom meet for the first time after ten years. When I first heard this number I expected much more pain and hurt between the two, so when I actually watched it I was little more disappointed with the acting than the music.

The Beauty Underneath – a duet between the Phantom and Christine’s son Gustave who really shines in this number. In a way via this number the Phantom hopes that there would be someone who would accept him and not be repulsed, so when Gustave sees a bit of what the Phantom had in store the Phantom felt confident that he could remove his mask to the little boy…

Devil Takes the Hindmost – Throughout the production I didn’t really believe Raoul to go from being such a romantic hero in The Phantom of the Opera to a drunkard and gambler in Love Never Dies… that just seems to be too much of a stretch until my imaginative mind starts attempting to fill in the holes. In this duet with The Phantom I felt Raoul’s pain and realization of what he has done and agreed to most poignantly and convinced me that some small part of him wanted to be redeemed.

As I mentioned before one of the shining moments of this videotaped production of Love Never Dies was the little boy Gustave (Christine’s son) played by the very talented Jack Lyall. Particularly in the number The Beauty Underneath, there were moments where you could see that Christine’s genetic were most prominent.

Anna O’Byrne who played Christine and Ben Lewis as the Phantom were believable in their roles, however after seeing Sierra Boggess and Ramin Karimloo in a series of clips from the West End production, I was sold on the original cast… just something about them I suppose.

Sharon Millerchip as Meg Giry, rubbed me the wrong way for a fair portion of the musical aside from Dear Old Friend (Christine, Raoul, Madame and Meg Giry all sing). It wasn’t until towards the end when Madame Giry tells her beloved daughter that all their work and planning and hopes were for naught and her subsequent decent into madness that I started to relate and feel for the character. Subsequently Madame Giry, played by Maria Mercedes is as uptight at she was in The Phantom of the Opera, but far more imposing and a touch sinister in this second go around.

As I mentioned earlier: Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny seemed to have undergone the most in personality between the two musicals without very good reason as to why or how. There is speculation, like the possibility that Raoul suspected Gustave to be The Phantom’s son, or his feeling emasculated in Christine’s talent and apparent popularity over his old money. However, neither reasoning held much water or strength in what little we learned of his excesses in gambling and drinking. What I would have liked to have seen more is of Raoul questioning himself, he did a little bit between his conversation with Meg in “Why Does She Love Me?” and his apparently realization that he struck a deal that he may lose in “Devil Take the Hindmost”, but it wasn’t nearly enough to garner a better understanding of what actually happened to him nor his intentions.

The major issue I have with the story of Love Never Dies is the lack of continuity between this musical and that of The Phantom of the Opera. Even if I were to take Love Never Dies at face value without thinking of what happened in The Phantom of the Opera my mind still wouldn’t make sense of it.

From the Phantom of the Opera, to me Christine looks upon the Phantom as a kind of father figure, an angel that her deceased father sent to her from heaven. She even mentions this relationship in the song Angel of Music:

So if originally Christine saw the Phantom as a kind of father figure / guardian, where was there room for a romantic relationship? Not only that, when could Gustave have been conceived? Granted Christine and the Phantom did have a kind of relationship prior to the events of The Phantom of the Opera but the first time that Christine goes to the Phantom’s lair was during the events in The Phantom of the Opera. One could argue that they must have met up soon after The Phantom disappeared from the Opera Populaire… however, Christine mentions in Beneath the Moonless Sky that she felt lost and alone when the Phantom disappeared ten years prior, meaning around the time that the Opera Populaire burned to the ground during the witchhunt for the Phantom.

If only there was some kind of compendium that touches upon these questions or even shows how the two musical correlate I would have been happier, but what can you do.

In the end, I do still believe the music to be stellar as well as the acting. Considering this production was for filming I wasn’t too enthusiastic for the set design. Costumes I did enjoy. What I was hoping to see was more of the acrobatics that were featured in the West End production of Love Never Dies that disappeared in the Melbourne production, but you can’t have everything.