Thursday, May 13, 2010

Gotham Gal Review: Love Never Dies

I'm in London on vacation for 10 days before I plunge into my revisions for Scandalous Women. While I'm here, of course, I must see some theater. Last night I took myself to the Adelphi Theatre to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to his 1986 musical Phantom of the Opera, entitled Love Never Dies. Let me just say upfront that I am a huge fan of Phantom of the Opera. I've seen the musical three times on stage, twice with the original phantom Michael Crawford, I saw the original Christine Sarah Brightman. I've also seen the movie starring Gerard Butler as a super sexy phantom several times. What I love about the musical is that it's lushly, unabashedly romantic with a touch of the grand guignol. The Phantom is the ultimate anti-hero, he's been treated as a freak since childhood so he has some serious issues. He's sexy but dangerous, he's not afraid to send a chandalier come crashing to the floor, or to kill anyone who get's in his way. He loves Christine, is obsessed by her, but he also wants respect for his music. For Christine, who lost her father at a young age, the Phantom is father figure, mentor and lover all rolled up into. Brought up in the opera house, Raoul for her represents the past, and some normalcy.  The crux of the show is the passion and the danger leading up to the climax.

It's tempting for me to say I loved the show simply because I bought a ticket in the last row of the Upper Circle yet I was able to move to the third row because it wasn't sold out, or because I found a program on the floor which meant I didn't have to pay £3.50 for one. Unfortunately I have to say that I was not impressed by Love Never Dies. I think that Andrew Lloyd Webber had a great concept: The Phantom survives and moves to Coney Island where he starts out as part of the freak show but then amasses enough money and power to own  his own theater called appropriately The Phantasma. It would have been too easy to just have the Phantom come to New York and say buy into The Metropolitan Opera House, perhaps trying to turn Meg Giry into another Christine. However, he doesn't go far enough with it. There is no sense of what made Coney Island so different from other seaside resorts.  Apart from three characters who look like refugees from The Rocky Horror Picture Show, there is no sense of acts like the Bearded Lady, The Wild Man of Borneo, or the Siamese Twins that would have been regular attractions at Coney Island.  This Phantom could have been The Phantom of Blackpool or The Phantom of Atlantic City for the use Lloyd Webber makes of his chosen setting.

Instead of the unseen but powerful voice at The Paris Opera, this Phantom is just some dude who lives in a giant skull and writes Vaudeville tunes. That's right, I said Vaudeville or should I say Burlesque since that's what it sounds like. Yes, the Phantom is writing ditties called 'Bathing Beauties.'  The director mentions something about Ragtime in the program but there is no hint of ragtime in the music.  That would necessitate knowing something about the music and that it was created by black musicians who played pianos in brothels. The show takes place in 1907 which Lloyd Webber says is 10 years after the end of the first Phantom. Unfortunately he's wrong, Phantom takes place in 1881. Anywhoo, Christine has been invited by a mysterious impresario to sing on Coney Island now that she's a world famous opera singer and all. And who should be the mysterious impresario? Could it be David Belasco? Charles Froham? Now why it's the Phantom. That's another problem with this show, neither Christine nor Raoul seem surprised that the Phantom is still alive and living on Coney Island.

Raoul is now a bitter alcoholic with a gambling problem which is why Christine took the engagement, they need the money to pay off his debts.  They also have a son named Gustave who Raoul has no use for. Hmm, why would that be I wonder? While the music from Phantom was lush and hummable, none of the songs are memorable, in fact they are down right dull. Nothing seems to be at stake for anyone in this musical. Christine doesn't seem torn at all between Raoul and the Phantom, there's no real tension.  Meg Giry, who is now the star of Phantasma, seems jealous of Christine's return which is never fully explained. Is she hot for the Phantom? Has he made her a huge star? Why doesn't he write her better songs? The audience is never given any scenes between The Phantom and Meg, the way that Christine and the Phantom has scenes.

Sierra Boggess who made a big splash as The Little Mermaid on Broadway flounders here in the role of Christine. Sarah Brightman, the original Christine, had a four or five octave range with a voice so pure it was almost unreal. She could sing opera, musical theater, pop tunes, there was nothing she couldn't sing. Boggess doesn't have that kind of range, her voice is pleasant but a bit bland. She's ill-served by the fact that her Christine isn't given anything to do really. Ramin Karimloo who plays The Phantom tries really hard but I got the feeling that he had been directed to be like Michael Crawford. Again, I'm not sure what his motivations are. He gets Christine to Coney Island but for what? He hasn't seen her in 10 years, does he want her back, want revenge for leaving him? What? He has a very powerful voice but Michael Morrison on Glee could have played this role and been better. His Phantom has no charisma, no sexiness. Women were dropping their knickers for Michael Crawford, I have a feeling no one's doing that for Ramin Karimloo.

By the time the show came to the final secene, I really didn't care what happened to anyone. I won't spoil the ending for anyone who is planning on seeing the show in London or on Broadway. If you love Phantom of the Opera, who will not like Love Never Dies. Save your money and rent the movie.

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