Phantom of the Opera and the Sequel: Love Never Dies
There are some Phantom of the Opera musical spoilers here. This musical is so famous that I can’t imagine someone not knowing the story, but… in case that’s you, I’m saying spoiler warning up front. Most of this post is about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical version of Phantom of the Opera (and more specifically the 2004 movie version of that musical. Some of what I’m saying applies either more or exclusively to the movie version but I’m not going to say that every single time… just assume I’m discussing the movie version of the musical). At the end I’m going to make some comments about Love Never Dies, the musical sequel that came out a couple of years ago, also by Andrew Lloyd Webber.
I will NOT be spoiling LND. I figure most people have seen or know about Phantom, so, while I’m saying spoiler alert in case you aren’t in that group, I don’t think I can do a spoiler alert for LND because most of you probably don’t even know it exists, unless you are a hardcore phantom fan, then good odds are you hate it, since a lot of the hardcore fans seem to hate it but I’ll talk about that later. (I’ll go ahead and say I loved it, though.)
If you are not interested in my ramblings about POTO but want to hear about Love Never Dies, you can scroll down in the post to the picture of the Love Never Dies poster, that’s where I start talking about that.
I watched the 2004 Phantom movie again recently.
In the book, Erik (the phantom) is a LOT less appealing and a lot more evil. Though, I take stories with adaptations and multiple versions each on their own merit. To me they are separate and self-contained stories not all part of some larger canon or a situation of one true version and all others “fake”. Though I do consider “Love Never Dies” to be canon specifically for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s version of things. Because it’s not some random other person with a continuation story, it’s still Andrew Lloyd Webber’s vision.
In a lot of ways the original musical has way overshadowed the book. It’s not really that crazy to think that most people wouldn’t know about the book right now if it weren’t for the wildly successful broadway musical. Of course there have been other versions. A movie in 1925, one in 1943 and then I think a movie in the 60′s… maybe 62? And I THINK a film version or a different musical version in 1976. And of course the broadway play that’s been on broadway since the 80s. And now the 2004 movie version. But the musical is what made (IMO) Phantom a household name that continues to stick solidly with each generation.
There have also been many book versions and retellings and sequels. In some ways I see Phantom as a Beauty and the Beast type of story, though for Erik and Christine it ends more tragically in POTO, which IMO gives it a little bit of a Romeo and Juliet vibe… i.e. it’s doomed from the start. We all know it’s doomed, but we can’t help wanting it to work out anyway.
Watching the movie again, I forgot how impressed I was with it the first time I saw that version. I love the way they take us from the present into the past using the chandelier as the focal point since it plays such a huge role in the story. And I love the use of black and white and color for contrast here. It kicks ass the way they use the familiar opening strains of POTO as the chandelier is lighting up and the camera pans and everything becomes new and goes to color again. (It has a sort of Titanic feel that way, where they took the old ship at the bottom of the sea and then go back in time and bring it all back.) It’s like what happened at the Opera house was so full of magic and intrigue that everything else by comparison is and always will be drab and dull. (Which makes a sequel a challenge and definite risk to begin with.)
I also like that Gerard Butler actually does his own singing. Some think he wasn’t a good enough phantom for the singing part, but I don’t think most men who have played the Phantom have been particularly operatic… and I think it would take something away from it if they were too operatic. I think Butler has a very nice voice and more importantly he has an emotionally powerful voice and that’s what’s needed for the role. I want to feel him in my mind, and just pretty singing alone doesn’t do that. Even though it’s called “Phantom of the Opera”, it’s not technically an opera, but a musical.
Although Carlotta’s role is very operatic. (The lead singer who Christine replaces at the opera for those who aren’t well-versed in the story.)
I even thought Minnie Driver did an excellent job as Carlotta, though she didn’t do her own singing… again because it’s too operatic. They weren’t going to find an opera singer that was also a hollywood name for that part. Since they used other very recognizable faces, Carlotta was an obvious role for someone known.
Anyway, I digress seriously. Even though I, of course, don’t like the ending, this is probably the only love triangle I’ve ever really tolerated. I think she should have been with Erik. I understand that he’s done a lot of evil things, but in the musical itself he’s not nearly as evil as the book, so what he does in the book doesn’t apply to my feelings about him in the musical.
I feel like Raoul is wealthy and attractive and will have many chances in life at love, and I can’t stand the idea of Erik losing his one real shot of someone who can love him.
I think she loved both Raoul and Erik (in the musical. I’m less sure in the book if it was more pity). In the musical, there is clearly a large measure of desire, which isn’t a pity-based emotion.
I think this was showcased particularly well in the 2004 movie version during Point of No Return. That’s my favorite part because it’s the point where she really succumbs to him. And it’s on a stage with this audience who thinks they’re just watching an opera and don’t realize all the other stuff going on beneath the surface. And I love the Raoul reaction shots in the movie version. He sees it and he knows that Erik is a threat to him. Not just a physical threat but a threat for Christine’s heart. And I don’t think he realized that side of it was going on before because of how Christine always played it to him as being scared of the Phantom.
I think she’s a little scared of Erik, but I think she’s more scared of herself, and Raoul is a convenient escape hatch where she can lie to herself and pick the safe choice. I mean… the phantom has been terrorizing the opera house for awhile now, so it’s not like they can have a normal life above ground. Still, their connection to each other through music makes it something so crazy it might work. If Christine would let it.
I think her love for Raoul is a childhood love that they tried to make grow up. I think it’s a safe and sweet love but I don’t think it’s the passion she feels for the phantom.
And I admit that every time I watch that scene in the movie where Raoul is underwater going after Christine, I always hope that this time he drowns so she’ll pick Erik and Erik won’t do that stupid psychotic dramatic bullshit with threatening to kill Raoul… even though I want him dead just as much as Erik does. I swear every time Raoul is on screen I’m saying: “Why are you even here? Toddle off little boy.”
In an earlier song Erik sings: “close your eyes, let the music set you free, only then can you belong to me”
Then in Point of No Return (Note the picture up above and how NOT like “pity” that looks. She wants him. Like every woman with heaving breasts on a romance book cover), she actually has that moment while she’s in his arms and he’s singing and her eyes are closed in this look like she’s doing something very naughty and then she panics. She’s about to fall off the cliff with him basically, and I know the original plan was to unmask him and get him out of her life with the police and blah blah blah, but I’m not sure she would have gone through with it if she hadn’t felt that panic and realized how far she’d fallen for Erik. I think if it wasn’t for that, she might have let the moment pass and then warned him to protect him.
I also think her talk to Raoul about keeping their engagement a secret isn’t really about fear of the phantom. I think she hasn’t made up her mind yet.
In that scene where she betrays and unmasks him on stage, I really think in her head she wants to be repulsed by him. If she can be physically repulsed by him she can finally leave the Opera house and move on with her life with Raoul. Her choice comes down to a cheap tactic. (And really, with Raoul’s money, she could have left a long time ago. She is there because she wants to be near Erik. Even knowing he’s not really an angel… she still wants to be near him. But this is largely because she still doesn’t totally understand all the darkness there.)
I think it’s easy to forget that although it hasn’t been a sexual/romantic relationship and although she hasn’t seen him even with the mask on previous to her opening night as a lead singer… she has had a LONG relationship with Erik already where he has fallen in love with her and she at least admires him because he’s her teacher. He MADE her. Without him she’d remain in the chorus. So it’s not like he’s some totally new addition to her life. In a sense I can understand Erik’s madness and rage and obsession because things are building in this certain direction in his head and he knows it’s only a matter of time before he reveals himself to her and then something happens… but then… after he’s laid ALL this groundwork for freaking YEARS (I’m assuming it’s been years), Raoul prances into her life again like the sad little pretty boy he is.
So yeah… I’d go a little psychotic, too. I get where he’s coming from, but it only makes it easier for Christine to choose against him.
I think she ultimately makes the safe and somewhat childish choice because Erik represents who she is as a woman—this whole person with passions and desires and an actually interesting life. Raoul represents who she was as a girl. There is a level of innocence that she’s desperately trying to hold onto because it’s socially acceptable (especially for that time period) but Erik represents a shift to full adulthood. And over and over in love triangles, the woman picks the safe choice. It pisses me off because it’s like women are being infantilized and brainwashed into picking the choice that society would approve of. Screw society, that’s the choice you have to live with.
I’m not saying there aren’t issues with Erik, even in the tamer musical version, I’m just saying she’s never going to be truly happy with Raoul. He doesn’t light her up. He’s more of a friend that she loves in a not-very-passionate way. I just feel like lovers should have that passionate feeling for each other and not be like brother and sister.
In the end after unmasking him on stage, I don’t think she’s as repulsed as she expects to be. I don’t think she becomes truly disgusted with him until he gets so desperate and threatens to kill Raoul and tries to force her to marry him.
When she sings that it’s not his face but his soul that is the problem… I think she’s speaking truthfully. but when he lets them both go, I think she’s faced with the dilemna again because she sees his good side. As Raoul is rowing away on the boat and she’s looking back at Erik, you can tell she hates leaving him, but the whole scenario with him seems so impossible after all the things he’s done and how others would treat him. And since he’s committed major crimes, it’s not as if they can just walk around above ground together.
In the Opera house he has a sort of power by playing on people’s fears and seeming so omnipotent and ominpresent. But he can’t do that above ground in the real world. It’s all an illusion, and I don’t think Christine has the heart to live that illusion with him, which is why she annoys me so much at the end of POTO.
But I think it’s clear it’s not really over between them. And when she comes back to return the ring… really??? REALLY? Who else was he going to give that ring to? And what good can that ring do him otherwise? He wanted her to have it. I know this is all conjecture but I honestly think her returning is because she is still torn. She still makes the decision to go with Raoul but she wants to see him again and giving the ring back, even though the act hurts him more, is an opportunity.
Also, it shows she’s not truly that terrified of him. If she was really that scared and wanting to get away from him, she wouldn’t have come back to have that small private moment with him. She wouldn’t have let herself be alone with him after he’d freed her. In a sense, it’s a vote of confidence/trust in Erik, but the pretense under which she comes back is hurtful to him, so on that level it pisses me off a little. I’m glad to see that extra insight from her choice to come back alone for a minute, but I hate that it’s just driving the knife in deeper.
So those are my thoughts about ALW’s POTO in general and the 2004 film version in particular. Not everybody likes the film version. Some hate it with a rabid passion, but I think it makes the story more accessible to those who either can’t afford to travel and go to the theater to see it or those who can’t get into a DVD of a stage production. Not everybody can. Theater and film are very different mediums and for some it’s disconcerting to try to have the experience of one at the other.
So that brings me to Love Never Dies. Finally! I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the fact that there was an Andrew Lloyd Webber sequel to POTO, but I was intrigued. I assumed it would end tragically, but if it gave me more Erik and Christine, I was on board.
I was surprised by how much I loved it. As much if not more than Phantom. And I definitely see it as the continuation of their story, at least in the ALW world/canon. There are so many things that Love Never Dies confirms for me about things I thought about the characters. I won’t say more than that for fear of spoiling something, but I think it’s brilliant.
I think two things hurts it and might mean it never goes to Broadway:
1. The DIEHARD POTO fans who have a different vision in their head about how things should go or what the characters did after. Any time you create a sequel to something THIS beloved by people, you risk pissing them off. You’re going to make about half the people REALLY happy and the other half so rabidly haterific that it’s not always worth the drama.
Of course since I’m in part of the half that LOVES it… well… I’m glad it exists. Though I think the title: “Love Never Dies” is a little cheesy, that’s my only personal complaint about the whole thing.
2. It was originally released before it was ready. ALW said he had some things that were niggling at him and it didn’t feel quite right but he released it anyway which was a BIG mistake. Because the problem is… too many serious fans saw or heard about the original version of the sequel and so it’s a black mark. It’s already hard enough to do a sequel to something like POTO without creating rage in your fans, but to release something that’s not quite ready for prime time is just… eek. I think it could already be on broadway if he’d released it right the first time.
I think part of the problem with the original version is that he tried to make Erik TOO redeemed and romantic. Erik is a manipulative bastard, and right or not, that’s part of his sexual appeal to the female members of the audience. We LIKE him when he’s large and in charge and scary as hell. I mean we aren’t walking down a dark street alone with him unless we know for sure he’s on our side, but we’re totally into it on a fantasy level.
In the rewrite, ALW brought in the manipulation which makes it MUCH stronger IMO than what it would have been without. I didn’t see the original release obviously because it was never on film and it was just on stage in London, but I’m glad I didn’t.
I think ALW should have done it right the first time, but I also think it takes a lot of bravery and shows how much he cares about the story and show to rework it intensively and fix it and then re-release it stronger. The version he debuted later in Australia which is the version that was filmed in Melbourne is the new version and it is what I’ve seen and it is WONDERFUL, IMO.
Some people will disagree, either because they don’t realize changes were made, or they just don’t like the story line. Even if you don’t like the storyline, though, artistically it is as strong as POTO or maybe even stronger in some places.
The basic storyline is that it is 10 years later after the events of POTO and Madame Giry and Meg (her daughter and Christine’s friend from Paris) have smuggled Erik to America where he is living on Coney Island and running a sort of carnival show.
Some people HATE this, but I love it. I think it’s great. After Christine rejected him, I feel he has the right to TRY (even if unsuccessfully) to move on and actually interact with other human beings for a change. Moving to America keeps his past in Paris from following him and allows him to start fresh and actually live above ground like a person for a change. I LIKE that for him.
He’s still dark and mysterious, just dark and mysterious in a new environment that is equally dark and mysterious. I think Coney Island fits him like a glove, but some will disagree because in their head he lives under the Opera house in Paris and that’s that.
Christine has become a world famous singer (ultimately all because of Erik let’s not forget), and he lures her and her husband (Raoul) and their child, Gustave, to America. His goal is for Christine to sing for him one more time.
Of course, it’s about more than her singing, like it’s always been. Her singing for him is almost a sexual act when it happens between them because of all the subtext interwoven in the storyline with them and music. So singing for him again, knowing she’s singing for him is akin to cheating on Raoul because of the symbolism of what the music is to them and between them.
It’s also, IMO, a way for him to try to get her to admit her feelings for him and for them to reconcile in some way.
I think the whole thing is just brilliant, but again, some people HATE it. Some rabid POTO fans have basically tried to shut the show down with protests and just generally acting crazy. It’s okay not to like it, but holy hell, don’t ruin it for the rest of us. Because some of us LOVE it, and it doesn’t make us less POTO fans than you.
I think LND will probably never be as widely known as POTO, partly because of a too-early release, partly because of a sequel being 25 years after POTO started on Broadway, and partly because some of the POTO fans just won’t let it happen.
Whatever happens, LND DID happen and it’s out now on DVD. So you can judge for yourself. It’s a filmed stage play but they filmed it more like a movie (which you’ll get what I mean when you watch it) so you feel more like you’re there instead of watching a play on TV–which for me is always disconcerting. I would love to see this live and hope it comes to the US eventually because I’ll be on that train if it does.
As for my LND view: I consider it Andrew Lloyd Webber canon as far as the Phantom story is concerned. And that’s good enough for me. Other’s mileage may vary.
Here’s a youtube video preview of Love Never Dies: