Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies – An Appropriate Continuation of Phantom of the Opera?

You may have read Contrapuntist’s previous post where he talks about his musical obsession with the tango. Well, I also have a musical obsession. Literally. Ever since I was 11 years old, I’ve loved Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s Phantom of the Opera. I’m a terrible romantic, and I’ve always been fascinated by the plot. After all, how can you not be touched by the story of a man who loves a woman so much that he would do just about anything, including bringing down a chandelier and wrecking an entire opera house, to claim her as his own. Of course, if I encountered a guy like that in real life, I would run away screaming. But that’s not the point. I desperately wanted to see the musical when it first came to America, but my family didn’t have the money. Instead, I read the original Gaston Leroux The Phantom of the Opera novel, and I watched the 1990 TV Mini Series on NBC, starring Charles Dance. I was thrilled to see the Andrew Lloyd Webber’s movie version in 2001, and then, in 2007, Contrapuntist and I went to see the musical. I loved it so much that when it was over, I was ready to go and see it again. So as you can tell, the musical is near and dear to my heart. That’s why, when I heard that Andrew Lloyd Webber had completed work on Love Never Dies, the continuing story of the Phantom, (which he insists is a stand-alone musical and not a sequel), I had a lot of mixed feelings. Here’s some information about the musical from the official website:

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long awaited new show will have its World Premiere in London at the Adelphi Theatre on Tuesday 9 March 2010 followed by New York on Thursday 11 November and in Australia in 2011.

“LOVE NEVER DIES” continues the story of ‘The Phantom’, who has moved from his lair in the Paris Opera House to haunt the fairgrounds of Coney Island, far across the Atlantic. Set 10 years after the mysterious disappearance of ‘The Phantom’ from Paris, this show is a rollercoaster ride of obsession and intrigue…in which music and memory can play cruel tricks…

For one thing, the Phantom of the Opera is such a well-loved story that it’s hard to imagine a sequel that is anything but anti-climactic. For another, I’m not thrilled about the storyline. I watched the video of the press launch, during which Lloyd Webber discusses how he came up with the idea of the sequel. 16 years ago, he and Maria Bjornson, set designer for the Phantom of the Opera musical, were discussing how the ending of the musical was “unsatisfactory” (stick a knife in my heart!). Lloyd Webber thought that it might be interesting to continue the story in America. He collaborated with novelist Frederick Forsyth on a new story about the Phantom coming to Coney Island. At the time, Lloyd Webber was unable to complete the musical. Forsyth went on to publish the story as a book called The Phantom of Manhattan. I’ve never read the book because it has gotten many negative reviews. I guess I can’t judge until I pick up a copy of the book, but I always thought that putting the Phantom in Coney Island was a bad idea. And I’m not the only one. There are entire websites devoted to criticizing this new musical. I think that this one, from www.thephantomoftheopera.com, expresses how many of us feel:

In 1997 Forsyth’s book, The Phantom of Manhattan, was released to poor reviews from fans and professional critics alike, though with praise from Andrew Lloyd Webber. Fans were particularly irritated by its prologue, in which the author explains to us that Gaston Leroux was wrong about the characters he created, and that Lloyd Webber (and now Frederick Forsyth) had “corrected” these errors.

Plans for a new musical were announced… we learned that it would be based on, though not identical to, Frederick Forsyth’s novel…It sends the characters off to Coney Island, New York, where the Phantom runs a freak show, Raoul is a broken down alcoholic, and Christine has a son… At the end of the original novel, the Phantom dies, and Andrew Lloyd Webber poetically translated this into him disappearing at the end of the musical, allowing audiences to decide for themselves what became of him.

Love Never Dies reduces this mystery, and directly contradicts the original story and its characters. The power of Phantom, for many of us, lies in its ending, in which the title character is redeemed by his sacrifice, sending Christine away when she shows him the first moment of love he’s ever experienced, kissing him. For him to continue to pursue her, years later, tarnishes this redemption.

Interestingly, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company, The Really Useful Group, is allowing open commentary about the musical on its website. That’s a bold move, especially when so much of the commentary is negative. For example mogul1 writes:

My feeling is that it seems like setting yourself up for a very long fall to create a sequel to one of the most successful musicals ever staged…not to mention beloved.

How can you recapture that same kind of success? It’s almost DESTINED to fail in terms of longevity. It won’t run like the original.

Having said that, I’d be curious to see it, and I’m sure that’s the main reason it will make a fortune – curiousity.

I have to admit that I’m also curious about this musical. In the end, I love all things Phantom. Unless I hear truly horrible reviews, I’ll probably go to see this musical when it arrives in America. In the meantime, I’d like to recommend some alternative stories to those of you who might want to read more about Phantom and its characters. Many “phans” enjoy writing fan fiction, and there is a plethora of stories out there. Two of my favorite sites are The Fifth Cellar and fanfiction.net. Finally, I would be remiss without mentioning the granddaddy of all Phantom fan fiction stories, Phantom by Susan Kay. She wrote the book after seeing the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, and she does an incredible job of getting inside the Phantom’s mind. She even explains why the Phantom always wears eveningwear, even though he lives in a cellar. If only Andrew Lloyd Webber could have based his musical off of this book instead…

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