Thursday, April 27, 2023

Love Never Dies

Oh boy, how do I summarize Love Never Dies? Oh we go.

I need to make a few things perfectly clear! Set the Wayback Machine for 2009/2010, I'm hip deep into Phantom obsession and believe you me I was there okay. I was there when the announcement was made, I was there seeing theory videos from fans and behind the scenes from the creators, I was there when the soundtrack dropped, I was there on the official website doing all the fun stuff, and I was there when the intial run had begun and reviews started coming in. And I seriously am about to get a punjab lasso around my throat, before being beaten to death by a mob and summarily thrown into the Seine when I say, I do NOT hate Love Never Dies. In fact if I am being horrifically embarassingly honest, I had more Love Never Dies tracks on my MP3 player back in the day than I had Phantom Of The Opera tracks and I'm pretty sure both musicals are tied with songs now on my phone. So just bear with, please. I was 15 when this production began, I never saw it live, and it wasn't until many years later after the Phantom obsession died down I discovered very much like the 25th anniversary they filmed a performance, with the Australia cast in a real theater with a real audience. And hearing so much about the story and character progression that was only limited to my imagination for so long I had to watch it. So this isn't my first viewing and far from my first listen. Kay? Kay. So let's friggin' do this. Set 10 years after the original the Phantom has crossed the sea and set up shop at Coney Island but is very much still not over Christine and pulls some strings to get her back to perform for him again. She arrives with Raoul and their son Gustave unaware of the situation but when the hammer drops she has to make a decision, sing once more for her angel of music or run like hell with the family unit. Things get a bit more complicated but we'll leave it at that! I don't want to divulge much here so I'll refrain from saying massive spoilers as much as I can but we have to discuss this film and more importantly the overall production before all is said and done. I'll admit when Phantom ended, full catharsis, semi-open ending, regardless of whether I saw it on stage or screen, the thought of a continuation never crossed my mind. Everyone loved the ending so there you go. No more, no less, no demand. Yet, here we are. We got a sequel to Phantom Of The Opera that nobody ever asked for. But why? Other than perhaps highly lucrative sales for Lord Andy, I don't know. I feel strongly even stalwart in the defense of this production that a sequel could genuinely work and work well. You get elements and snippets of that in this film, where you could flat out make a sequel that deconstructs every single relationship in Phantom and just delve into it from both past and present standings. The romance between the Phantom and Christine, the fledgling relationship between Christine and Raoul, how the Giry's connect to the Phantom after a decade of being together, Gustave's fascination with the Phantom's world and machinations, you could write genuinely insightful and emotional stuff from that. But even with the choices made in the initial run that may have been redacted or altered slightly for this version, it ain't half bad! The Phantom is an absolute broken man without his lady love, a shell of his former self and almost flat out dying from a broken heart, and the revelations that come shake him to his foundations because he's so defeated and longing for a reprisal. Christine and Raoul's marriage has broken down, Raoul lost all his money and spiraled into alcoholism, Christine has some doubts and regrets about choosing Raoul at the end, and Gustave takes more after his mother than father. Madame Giry and Meg have dedicated a decade of their lives to smuggle the Phantom out of France and help him build his carnival venue Fantasma, going through years of hell and have been happy to essentially serve him so they can have a better future and how they percieve Christine as a major upheaval of their lives. That's some compelling stuff that can be expanded on more and honestly, if they have made changes version after version, run after run, who the hell says they can't do a massive rewrite from the ground up? Not to say what we got is a shambles, I very much like the majority of it and can roll with how it progresses. Because there's so many little touches most importantly in the acting and characterization that I feel is a huge improvement over the debut, that adds to the drama, romance, and tragedy. Ben Lewis may not have that rocky stunning singing voice of Ramin Karimloo, but he does admirable and his acting seems incredibly Universal Monster almost Bela Lugosi-esque with his powerful stare and slight accent, and even when he gets to act big (cause theater am I right) it doesn't feel overblown. I really dig his look from head to toe and that they give him a threatning edge feels much more in line with the original musical. Anna O'Byrne as Christine is very beautiful and has a good singing voice, she brings a bit more fire to her acting calling out the Phantom when he reappears and feels like she has infinite more depth than the original. Again it's the little touches of her interactions with Gustave, or how she has so much unsaid emotion on her face with Raoul or whether she wants to perform I mean that's good stuff that goes a ways. Simon Gleeson I feel the writing for Raoul helped him out a lot cause Raoul was almost a flat out abusive son of a bitch the first go around release but they've mellowed him a notch, giving more of a depressed man trying to get his life together again while still partly living in a bottle vibe, so when he has that unguarded moment where he shows his emotions you feel something from that, it's not as brutish or cold as the West End version. Sharon Millerchip just gives me even more reason to crush on Meg Giry, yeah I'm sorry if the decision was Christine or Meg I'm going Meg. Odd? Incredibly, she's barely there in the book and even more rare in adaptations, I can't explain it, Meg just has my heart. I know people who howled betrayal and character assassination when it came to Meg in this story, but again they've tweaked it and fine tuned it for this production where she's not....creepy psycho obssessed phangirl, and more made her still the sweet and young girl trying to make the best of the situation, holds the Phantom's opinion highly, is genuinely thrilled to be able to see Christine again, and those little character moments pay gigantic dividends when it comes to Meg in this film which makes her story so much more tragic. Plus Sharon has an absolutely lovely singing voice and is cute as a button. I don't know what you expect from me anymore. Leave me be. The character of Gustave doesn't really have much to do during the story, he comes off more as a plot element instead of a character, but Jack Lyall has a bright and crazy singing voice for one so young and ain't half a bad actor either so what can you do? I think my biggest complaint isn't really what anybody would expect me to say but, this theater that they performed at in Melbourne had a really small stage. Small in terms of width and not so much depth, even though the scene transitions and set designs are really damn good it can feel a bit claustrophobic and I kept noticing it. But everything else, the sets, costumes, makeup, and overall color and motion look great! They take a slightly darker edge to the carnival scenery and the performers therein, and even though the props and furniture do seem sparse it doesn't detract from a scene. Of course I can't talk about this movie without mentioning the score, and as stated above I've listened to this music plenty. In my incredibly humble opinion I feel they excised the right musical numbers, kept the best, changed some things here and there but ultimately as an improvement. Not as a slam against these singers, cause I damn well assure you I could not do better, when my mind plays these songs I hear Ramin, Sierra, and the original West End cast giving such powerful emotion to some numbers, but I still enjoy and appreciate the australian cast here full force. I actually feel the acting bits are superior to the singing bits here but the singing is still good. And just for the hell of it let's talk favorites. I'm split on making one of the few instrumental songs The Coney Island Waltz into a lyrical song so just stick to the album on that one. Till I Hear You Sing may honestly be my favorite of the tracks, with real powderkegs of emotion with certain singers at the helm and just a beautiful lament from the Phantom. It's hard for me not to sing along with it. Speaking of which, The Beauty Underneath goddamn is this a rocking wild tune that put my mind in a stranglehold and I begged for more when the album hit, it's a split decision between this and the Phantom's solo as best song of the entire album. Both Devil Take The Hindmost's are respectively great duets and quartets, I think the quartet is my favorite of those two with so many intertwining melodies where it's almost addicting to listen to. Good stuff man. And the less we speak of the beauty of bathing the better, don't despise it but good lord that's a whoooole other can of worms. No thanks. And as for the ending well, my lips are sealed but you know what? It made me feel a tinge of emotion if only for one moment so it isn't a failure. That's how I'd sum up the entirety of Love Never Dies, despite what people said, despite the not so popular and consistent runs, despite the direction Lord Andy wanted to take for the sequel, it didn't fail. It's just one more piece of Phantomy goodness to enjoy and it is so not the worst. Not by a longshot across a country mile several lightyears from our galaxy. I give it 3 stars, 7.5/10! And The Phantom himself has stopped haunting Broadway after 3 decades, so nothing clearly lasts forever. But it's never really gone. Who is the Phantom? He is...whatever you want him to be.

No comments:

Post a Comment