Continuing with the Phantom theme, this mid-week post will be a discussion of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to Phantom of the Opera. Premiering in London’s West End (which is analogous to New York’s Broadway) in March 2010, Love Never Dies is the continuing saga of Christine Daae, Raoul de Chagny, and the Phantom of the Opera.
I can’t recall the exact time that I first learned that Webber was working on a sequel to Phantom, but I’ve always been excited about it. Several months ago a friend of mine sent me this video, and I fell absolutely in love.
The lyricist for this show, Glenn Slater, is my new hero. In just over three minutes, Slater manages to convey ten years of Erik’s thoughts and feelings. It’s a gorgeous and chilling way to set the stage for Love Never Dies.
I doubt that I will ever get the chance to see Webber’s musical (unless someone wants to buy me plane and show tickets?), but once I heard this song I could not stop myself from purchasing the soundtrack. My best friend and I listened to it on a recent drive to visit family, and I was blown away. Slater’s book and lyrics and Webber’s musical score combine to create a haunting story that absolutely sucked me in and had me on the edge of my seat (not necessarily that good a thing when one is driving).
[Caution: spoilers abound. If learning any of the plot of Webber’s musical would upset you, please do not keep reading. I have made no attempt in this entry to hide huge spoilers. Also, comments in response to this entry also contain spoilers. Readers be warned.]
It’s been ten years since the disastrous events at the Paris Opera House. The Phantom has fled to America, where he has worked his way to the top at the famous Coney Island with the assistance of Madame and Meg Giry. The big event is called Phantasma, and it soon becomes clear that the Phantom (now known as “Mr. Y”) has been planning something.
Soon Christine de Chagny (nee Daae) arrives in America, along with her husband (Raoul, of course) and their son Gustave. Rumors abound that the Vicomte is deep in gambling and drinking debts, and that Christine’s talent has faded with age. The little family has come to Coney Island for Christine to perform–for Raoul’s debts are real, and oppressive. It seems that the invitation has come just in time, and even though the couple only knows their host’s name, Mr. Y, they make the decision to go to Coney Island.
From there on, all hell breaks loose. It’s not long before everyone knows that “Mr. Y” is the Phantom, and both Madame and Meg Giry begin to feel threatened: as Madame Giry says (or rather, sings), it was she and Meg who sheltered and helped the Phantom get to America, and it is they who have been helping him ever since. Meg’s increasingly desperate attempts to please the Phantom–to replace Christine as a performer–become more painful by the moment. Raoul has long since ceased to be the man Christine married, and he has become alternately cruel and neglectful of his wife and son. Meanwhile, it seems (at least from the soundtrack) that the Phantom has become a kinder, gentler person.
In fact, we learn several surprising things about the Phantom. In “Beneath a Moonless Sky” we learn the extent of Christine and the Phantom’s physical relationship (thus answering a question I’ve had since first seeing the show), and–in a moment that made me yell surprised obscenities in the car while driving 70mph down highway 281–we also learn that Gustave is the result of that union.
The Phantom has spent ten years writing songs meant to entertain the beach-going tourist public, such as “Bathing Beauty.” However, he has been writing something else, a piece unlike anything he has written in years. Meg is hopeful that he has written it for her, but is crushed when she discovers that Christine has been brought to Coney Island sing yet again for the Phantom.
And so is Raoul. He is drunk and raving when the Phantom appears on the pier with him. Then one of my favorite songs, “Devil Take the Hindmost,” turns the tide of the play to the point of no return (allusion/pun intended). In a thundering, angry duet, the two men make a bet.
If Christine refuses to sing the song the Phantom has written for her, he will let the couple leave, and he will pay off all of Raoul’s debts. If she sings, however, it will mean that the Phantom has one, and Raoul will have to go back to France alone.
Not surprisingly, Christine sings. It does not end well. Knowing that he has lost, Raoul departs, leaving Gustave. Meg Giry, driven totally insane after having been replaced by Christine, kidnaps Gustave and taking him to the edge of the pier. In her anger and insanity, she mistakenly shoots Christine, who dies in the arms of the Phantom after telling Gustave who his true father is.
As I said above, I’ve been completely excited about this show since I first heard ” ‘Til I Hear You Sing.” Using such websites as YouTube and Twitter, I was able to find and watch all kinds of stuff, including the press release get-together Webber hosted. I bought the soundtrack as soon as I could, and have been obsessively listening to it for weeks.
A friend of mine contacted me in a tizzy after she read the synopsis. She felt that it was too much, and that knowing how the sequel ends has now ruined the original for her. This is a perfectly valid thought, and she is probably not the only person to express it.
From the perspective of the story and characters, I truly believe that Webber ended Love Never Dies in the correct way. My friends know my hatred of stories in which the lovers don’t end up together, but for some reason the ending of this show doesn’t particularly bother me. Perhaps this is because I have only listened to the soundtrack; seeing the play and hearing more dialogue might change my mind.
I told my friend that even though she was not fond of the story’s ending, it shouldn’t prevent her from at least enjoying the rest of the tale (much like I tried to with Odd Thomas). The music and lyrics are gorgeous, and the vocal talent is truly incredible (although it’s pretty much impossible to replace Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford).
“What I think is that Love Never Dies is a completely standalone musical that just happens to have the same four characters as the Phantom.” -Andrew Lloyd Webber
So I shall endeavor to enjoy Love Never Dies for what it is: an example of truly beautiful and captivating music that endeavors to tell the story of a love that surpasses all things.
Time Changes (Almost) Everything
I think that the first thing I noticed was the ways in which various characters have changed since we last saw/heard them in Phantom. Because we hear the Phantom himself first, let’s tackle him.
Erik seems to have lost much of his personality in the past ten years. I chalk it up to the fact that he lost Christine, the one real home he’d ever had burned down, and he had to run away to America and become a part of a freak show once again. It is really only with the help of Madame and Meg Giry–who assisted him to America–that he has been able to work his way to the top echelon of Coney Island. Meg–who is constantly seeking his approval–bombards him with questions and Madame Giry rebukes her with, “Can’t you see that obviously he’s thinking of things more important than you?” In an act that surprised me somewhat, Erik actually tells her, “Careful, Madam, you forget yourself,” and when the woman continues to rebuke Meg he actually yells at her, “That’s quite enough!” Later he proves himself to be just as devious, and quasi-evil, as he has always been, but there’s a softening around the edges.
It is Raoul who has changed the most, as is evident from the moment he, Christine, and Gustave arrive at Coney Island. He is deep in debt, and his once-happy marriage is disintegrating around him:
“She needs my tenderness
She begs it of me
I give her ugliness
Why does she love me?…
She yearns for higher things
Things I can’t give her
The rush that music brings
I can’t deliver
And even when she sings
And soars above me
I try to clip her wings
Why does she love me?…
Beneath this mask I wear
There’s nothing of me…”
As for her part, Christine is a pale imitation of who she once was. She loves her son, but her failing marriage falls heavily on her shoulders. Her appearance at Coney Island sets into motion events that lead her right back to Erik, and forces her to confess to him–and herself–secrets that she has been keeping, and feelings she’s been hiding:
“Learn from someone who knows
Make sure you don’t forget
Love you misunderstand
Is love that you’ll regret.”
As for Madame and Meg Giry…woah. Previously both much smaller characters, in Love Never Dies the audience gets to see all the crazy that’s been building up. Madame Giry’s singing–harsh, angry, bitter–sets my teeth on edge, and Meg spends most of the show slipping further and further from reality. It’s a really sad way for me to discover the answers to my questions regarding her. In Phantom she seems no different from Christine–she is just pushed to the side, both by the Phantom and by her mother (who is busy babysitting Erik). And even after she does what she’s told, follows her mother and Erik to Coney Island, sung stupid songs while pretending to be someone she’s not…she is still pushed aside for Christine. And it’s not really anyone’s fault. Erik loves whom he loves, and the fallout is disastrous. Meg is psychologically damaged, and everyone pays for it. And it’s obvious from the very beginning that it’s not going well for little Meg:
“This town is coarse and cold and mean
It’s hard to keep your conscience clean
Faceless in the crowd
And so I come at dawn each day
Come to wash it all away
Sink into the sea
Blue and cool and kind
Let it set me free
Let the past unwind
Leave the hurt behind.”
It’s almost as if everyone’s roles have switched in the past ten years. And with Raoul acting like a drunken sot, suddenly Erik is looking pretty darn tempting. But of course, old habits die hard.
The old Phantom shines through clearly in “Devil Take the Hindmost.” If you think of the plot of a play as a straight line, this song is something like unexpected construction that sends you off in a totally different direction where suddenly all the signs are in a different language, and you’re expected to drive on the left side of the road.
The duet is amazing–again, props to the lyricist–but my inner feminist is not totally thrilled. Generally it’s because of lines like this:
“Now Christine shall choose at last
Is she yours or mine?”
And of course both men are puffing out their chests, trying to prove who’s got the biggest…um…voice. And Raoul, having a successful history with Christine already, is especially arrogant:
“I won her long ago
I won her from you then
I wager even now
I’ll win her back again.”
All of this talk of “winning” Christine is rather demeaning, and makes me wish that someone would write a spin-off in which she spurns both of them and heads off into America to become a successful actress and single mother. Alas, were I in her shoes, I think I’d be just as unable to make a decision as she is.
Erik, despite his somewhat calmed attitude, is still really great at issuing ultimatums.
“So do you end your days with me,
Or do you send him to his grave?” -Phantom of the Opera
You leave together
Pockets full, debts paid.
You leave alone.” -Love Never Dies
I can’t really think of a good segue for the last thing I want to talk about. It’s a weird…quirk of mine that I always wonder whether or not certain characters have…done the horizontal mambo.* And if they haven’t, and then something tragic–like say, one is betrothed to another person, and takes a potion that makes her seem dead, and then messages get crossed and everyone ends up poisoned and stabbed–happens and they never get to that point…that’s like the epitome of lame. I’m not even totally sure why. I think it’s just that I link love with sex so closely. It’s not that I think that you can’t love someone without first having sex with them (talk about awkward family reunions!), but the two concepts (for me) are so closely interconnected that when it doesn’t happen, I genuinely feel as if I’ve lost out on something.
I suppose that’s one of the questions I’ve always had about Christine and the Phantom. There’s not really even a whiff of sexuality in Leroux’s novel, but go and see Webber’s Phantom and it’s practically dripping from the set. The audience generally gets the impression that Christine is not happy with being yanked around like a puppet, but in the end she does kiss Erik. And let’s face it, kids: when you’re holed up under the Paris Opera House, in dim lighting, stuck with a guy who worships you and writes/sings gorgeous music about you…come on. I mean, come on.
But I thought I’d never really know the answer, and so would have to go through life assuming that Christine and Raoul spent the rest of their lives having pasty white boring relations (not that he’s not a delightful man, I’m sure).
So I’m tooling along down the road and “Beneath a Moonless Sky” comes on. This song makes exactly what happened very clear, and I think it’s genius. Couple that with the jaw-dropping moment in which it becomes obvious that Gustave is Erik’s son rather than Raoul’s. To quote my best friend, “Awkward.“
Okay, I’ve rambled on long enough. I am really enjoying Love Never Dies. The music is so incredible that I would be totally happy if I never saw the staged version.
But don’t take my word for it. Head out to YouTube to watch videos and see vlogs and reviews, or pop out to the iTunes store to listen to samples and possibly download your own copy.
*You’d think someone who minored in Psychology, and spent her time taking classes like Human Sexuality, Abnormal Psychology, and Sexual Deviance would be a bit less embarrassed when talking about sex. But people who read about and research human sexuality often get the sneaking suspicion that people think they’re pervs.
What do you think of the a sequel to Phantom? Was one installment enough, or are you downloading the soundtrack already?
Because I will be traveling this weekend, I will not be able to post a Sunday entry. But don’t be too sad–I’ll be back mid-week with some awesomeness. Happy reading!