Rating: D, as in “This goes in the DUNGEON.”
Summary: 10 years after The Phantom of the Opera, the gang finds themselves back together again. At a carnival. On Coney Island.
Remember when I said I’d watch any musical? Yup. That’s right. When Andrew Lloyd Webber posts full musicals for free during lockdown, you can count me in. I did this to myself.
I don’t know if I’ve even mentioned this on the site, but I’ve had a specific theory for a few years that The Phantom of the Opera is ALW’s wet dream: a not-so-handsome
bonafide creep musical genius falls in love with a young ingenue, writes her a musical, casts her in the lead; she realizes all of his writing has been for her and that she owes all of her success to him, somewhat falls in love with him over the course of the show. Then she leaves him to be with a young hottie and the musical genius lives out the rest of his days alone in a dungeon, with just his music box to keep him company. (I have another theory that Meg is the Phantom’s daughter and he’s planning on making Christine his next Madame Giry, but story for another day. That one is actually more supported with the existence of Love.)
That’s a lot of disdain, but believe it or not, I really like Phantom. Actually, it’s more like I appreciate many parts of it. The music is iconic. I love how everyone’s voices complement each other. I love the pageantry and opulence. The Point of No Return is damn sexy; All I Ask of You drives me to tears sometimes. While I don’t think it’s as full as Les Miserables or some other shows, if Phantom shows up on Spotify, there’s a good chance I’ll end up listening to the rest of the show. Love Never Dies on the other hand… Oof. I’m trying to think of better way to phrase this- Phantom, as stated in the “wet dream” paragraph, is wholly self-indulgent, but compared to Love, it’s very, very restrained. Love Never Dies takes ALW’s phantasy way, way, way phurther.
Love Never Dies is like ALW saw the success of his Phantom 20+ years later and thought “I,
Phantom Andrew am deserving of a better ending! I bet my ex-wife singer is still in love with me! Let’s show her what she’s missing!” and wrote himself Love. Then, maybe he rented Batman because he remembered that Phantom director Joel Schumacher (RIP!) did one of those, saw all the Tim Burton stuff by accident, and was all, “CONTINUITY. Let’s have SWIRLS and CLOWNS. EVERYWHERE.”
Basically, we’ve undone everyone’s character development and retconned the end of Phantom. Remember when the Phantom and Christine part ways because they realize they need to let each other move on? Nope. That was a one night stand and now she has his kid. She’s loved him from afar this whole time! Meanwhile, he’s started a mildly successful circus show on Coney Island in Brooklyn, NY with Madame Giry and Meg, because they follow him blindly instead of holding him accountable for his anger and violence. (They are still with him- did this need to be set in Coney Island?) Meanwhile, Raoul is a drunk gambler because we need Christine to fall out of love with him and sen her running back to Phantom. Did I mention the age gap between Phantom and Christine no longer exists? Did I mention she’s still madly in love with him and he’s TOTALLY HORNY for her after all this time?
You ever see that episode of Black Mirror where the characters use memories of sexual encounters with past partners to stay sexually active? That’s this show! There are about five songs in here that are just way too sexually charged. Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever been more uncomfortable watching a musical before. It’s not sexy in the good, El Tango De Roxanne or Point of No Return kind of way- it’s kind of like watching one of the American Pies with your parents kind of cringe.
It seems like that’s the general consensus, as the show never made it to Broadway and barely survived an 18 month run on West End in London, including extensive rewrites- five months after it already opened. That’s just mind-boggling. Shows usually get reworked after previews but they basically gave this thing a Snyder Cut before the term Snyder Cut even existed. I’ve heard this show has ruined Phantom for some people, but none of the music sounds remotely the same (not even the opening chords to announce the Phantom is used here). You can separate them and not be reminded of the other, if you really wanted to. But I don’t even think this would be fun to watch drunk. It’s that bad.