In 2004 I saw the Phantom of the Opera film, and 18 year old me fell in love with the sad-sack Phantom and Christine love story. Then a few weeks later, I forgot about it. I've re-watched the movie since then, and can safely say that the 2004 film adaptation of an otherwise enchanting Broadway hit sucks. But I'm not here to talk about the movie. Or any of the other adaptations, or even the actual Broadway show. No, I'm here to talk about the sequel, Love Never Dies.
Based partially on the book The Phantom of Manhattan, Andrew Lloyd Webber created a follow up that no one asked for. And since clearly no one ever says no to Webber, we got this atrocity. If you have never seen Phantom of the Opera and decide to watch Love Never Dies after reading this — don't worry. The only similarity between the two shows are the character names. That's it. Likewise, if you go in like a wide-eyed doe knowing nothing of the previous show, you may like it at face value. For this article, I watched the Australian production of Love Never Dies, which you can rent on Amazon Prime. Ben Lewis stars as our tortured Phantom, while Anna O'Byrne is our Christine.
The plot of this show is squarely ok. Ten years after the events that happened at the Paris opera house, Madame Giry, her daughter Meg, and Phantom, run off to America. It's there that Phantom starts his own carnivale/vaudeville spectacular on Coney Island. Going under the name Mr. Y, Phantom builds up an impressive empire where Meg is featured nightly. After Christine married the Viscount Raoul de Chagney, they had a child. But that's as far as their happy ending goes. We learn that Raoul has a thing for drinking and gambling. And as such, he has blown all of his money. Unlike in the first stage show, Raoul is no longer heroic or even romantic. He's an asshole. Madame Giry has also taken a page from the School of Becoming an Insufferable Asshole and has been turned into a backstabbing and largely irredeemable character. For someone who viewed Christine as her own daughter, she is put off that Christine was coming to America. As for Meg, she is just another cog in this unfortunate play. She was once a prestigious ballerina in a Paris opera house, and now she's been reduced to singing about swimsuits while performing a tongue in cheek striptease on the Coney Island boardwalk. Her character boils down to being jealous of Christine, who was once her best and closest friend.
Almost every character is changed into an insufferable annoyance that deserves all the worst things in the world. The only decent person here is Christine. We can see she's a loving mother, is still somehow attached to Raoul, and is always willing to perform for the sake of her family. In some ways, even the Phantom is redeemable. He built his own makeshift empire with people who may seem less than desirable and gave them a place to call home. But this isn't enough for Phantom. In the first number of the show, it's revealed that Phantom is still desperately in love with Christine. When he learns she is in America to perform for someone else, he dramatically breaks into her hotel room. There is some back and forth, and the two sing about the one time they had sex ten years ago.
Love Never Dies: Oh My Sweet Lord
If you've seen the original play or the 2004 movie, you're probably asking yourself, "When did they have sex?" because I sure was. I've never seen Phantom live. I've only seen the movie and the 25th Anniversary Show. But based on both of those viewings, I still don't know when they would have gotten it on. Phantom absolutely manipulated Christine into thinking he was the ghost of her dead father, or that he was sent to her by her dead father during Phantom of the Opera. She was convinced her dead father had something to do with Phantom appearing in her life. The reason Phantom let Christine leave with Raoul at the end of Phantom of the Opera was that her kiss "woke him up." Her act of compassion and genuine love made Phantom realize what he was doing was wrong, and her happiness was the most important thing. So with that in mind, Mr. Webber, WHEN DID CHRISTINE AND PHANTOM HAVE SEX.
And then it only gets better. If you're not interested in spoilers, stop reading. It turns out that not only did Phantom and Christine get it on, but Phantom is the father of her son Gustav. Yep. Phantom decides he's going to leave his carnival to Gustav. Madame Giry overhears this and decides she has to dispose of Gustav. Not once at any point in the original play did Madame Giry show such dissent to anyone. The character she was based on from the original novel didn't kill anyone either. It's so out of character that it's hard to believe this wasn't a poorly written fanfic that was later turned into a movie.
Like 50 Shades of Grey. Phantom and Raoul then sing a catchy duet about how they have to fight for Christine's love once again, and the winner gets her once and for all. If Christine sings Phantom's song, Raoul has to go away forever. If she goes back to Paris with Raoul, Phantom will die a sad man. Christine sings Phantom's song, Raoul fucks off to God knows where, and Christine just accepts this.
Christine 100% didn't even think twice about Raoul just leaving. She even throws herself into Phantom's arms for a passionate kiss. Then she realizes, "Oh shit, where's Gustav," and Christine and Phantom run off to look for Gustav. We find Gustav with Meg, who is threatening to throw the boy off a dock. Why? Because the Phantom never noticed her. In the first play, Meg did seem intrigued by Phantom, but not in this sense. After some back and forth, Meg releases Gustav. Then Meg and Phantom wrestle with a gun Meg had, which was thusly fired, sending a bullet into Christine's stomach. Christine probably could have survived this wound. But drama has to drama, so as Phantom cradles his reunited love, she tells him Gustav is his son. They kiss, she dies. The audience is then left to assume that Phantom takes in Gustav — despite Raoul showing up at the end to cradle Christine's dead body.
If you've seen the 2004 film, Christine's death in this play makes zero sense. At the end of the film, we see an old Raoul being wheeled to her grave, which states her age as being 63. Webber was very much so hands-on with this film, but I can only assume since it was panned to hell and back that he chose to retcon that entire movie. Granted, Webber did start work on Love Never Dies in 1990. But he didn't start writing the music for it in 2007. Then in 2010, the show premiered on London's West End. So despite producing and writing the screenplay with Joel "Batnipples" Schumacher, Webb probably said fuck it, and here we are.
There Is Some Good But Not Much
Not everything about Love Never Dies is a complete disaster, though. The sets were genuinely engaging and fun, despite looking like something from a Tim Burton fever dream. The costumes were hit or miss. Christine's wardrobe was stunning, while the carnival costumes looked like they came from Hot Topic. Lewis shines in his role as Phantom, though, and really brings life to this show. Yet so much of it seemed to miss the mark that I struggle to find anything good about this.
The play also leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions and assumes the audience can fill in the gaps as to why these otherwise likable characters soured so much over ten years. Sure, Madame Giry laments about how Christine abandoned Phantom — but Giry was very much so aware of how dangerous Phantom was. She knew he tended to murder people. It should not be up to the audience to figure out this woman has a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome. If this was written better, the audience could have largely sympathized with Meg more. Here was a woman who only wanted the Phantom to notice her for her own talent, but instead, she's consistently brushed aside for Christine — by both her mother and her employer. Christine herself is reduced to nothing more than a prize to be won. She seems so terribly shallow and just there for the sake of being there.
Is this show so bad it's good? No. It's just bad. Should you see it at least once? Yea, why not. You might get some cheap laughs out of it. Love Never Dies, except for here, when it deserves to be put out of its misery.