It’s interesting to think that Love Never Dies was one of my favorite shows that I saw last year (read the full review, here). I kept an open mind (even though the generally negative reviews were quite passionate when it opened almost a year ago) and thoroughly enjoyed myself when I saw the production in June 2010. The melodramatic story, sweeping sets and costumes, beautiful singing by Ramin Karimloo (Phantom) and Sierra Boggess (Christine) combined with cinema-esque type direction neared breathtaking and it kept my attention the entire production.
Then, in November 2010, Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to re-write the material, songs and plot. The show was closed for 3-4 days at the end of November and a new re-worked Love Never Dies opened. (The media was even asked back to review the updated show.) I thought these changes would tighten the material and give the added edge that Love Never Dies needed to be successful as it’s own entity.
Instead, Andrew Lloyd Webber whored himself out and gave in to the reviews, critics and “Phantom purists” and created a slow-paced monster of a musical. If you thought the show was slow before, then think again. (The bloggers, West End Whingers, did dubb the show as “Paint Never Dries” last February.) The first act is now painstakingly slow, almost to the point of unbearable. The pacing was dismal, right after the Phantoms’ beautiful opening number, “Til’ I Hear You Sing”. From then on, it felt like a drawn-out, anti-climatic 40-minute scene until the organ startled the audience and woke everyone up when it played, “The Beauty Underneath” toward the end of the first act. I probably would have left the theatre at intermission if I wasn’t interested to see what mess Webber incurred on the second act as well.
The second act’s pace was better. I felt more connected to the overall material – no where near the same amount as I did back in June, but at least I didn’t want to fall asleep. There were less changes throughout the second act, and the overall material/plot/music was the same.
There was one clever change that I did like. At the very beginning, during the overture, Webber instituted some projections that tied the end of Phantom of the Opera to Love Never Dies. It was quick and when the curtain came up on the Phantom, we knew exactly what was happening.
But then here comes all of the problems — Webber decided that he needed to get rid of the mystery to “clarify” the story. Everything is literally spelled out to us in the new changes. There’s no mystery or seduction. Webber even reintroduces several motifs from Phantom of the Opera back into the orchestrations of Love Never Dies. All of this doesn’t help the story, it just makes you want to see the original and not the sequel.
I kept on telling people that Love Never Dies stood on it’s own and while it was a sequel, you didn’t need to see Phantom of the Opera to enjoy Love Never Dies. With the new changes, Webber continually goes back to Phantom of the Opera and truly makes this a sappy sequel — yes the story/plot line is clearer in this new adaptation, but let’s be honest: the story wasn’t that great to begin with. It was better when it was a fast-paced spectacle with beautiful melodic arias and sets. At least the audience could appreciate all of that.
Webber also changed the central characters in the plot — Meg used to be one of the main characters, now she’s just a sideline. Her breakdown at the end of Act 2 doesn’t make any sense, nor is their any redemption or understanding on why she accidentally kills Christine in the end. She literally just runs off the stage. There’s more focus on the Christine/Raoul/Phantom love triangle, but it comes up short because none of the characters are even remotely likable. Christine is going to commit adultery with the Phantom, Raoul is a drunk/gambler who is mean to his child, Gustave, and the Phantom is a miserable human being who has obsessed over Christine for ten years — talk about creepy. Not one of them has any human qualities that the audience can like. Before, the mystery of each character’s story kept you engaged and intrigued. Now, it’s boring and predictable.
I never thought, in a million years, that Andrew Lloyd Webber would “sell-out” and change his artistic vision so much that it would be an absolute detriment to his own show. If anything, I thought the show would be tighter, more of a spectacle and in turn, that more engaging. I’m embarrassed that I took 4o people with me to see this show because not one of them loved it. I was mortified that I had suggested that we see Love Never Dies after seeing it a second time round — my reputation for promoting good theatre was majorly at stake.
So let me say this: Love Never Dies was a good show before Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to change it. It wasn’t the best show I’ve ever seen, but it was a beautiful spectacle, worth your hard-earned money. Now, Love Never Dies is a major train wreck!
The only thing that remotely saves this show from being one of the worst productions I’ve ever seen is Ramin Karimloo’s performance as Phantom and Sierra Boggess as Christine. They are both wonderful performers, incredible singers and truly beautiful on stage. Kudos for them for sticking with it and trying to create characters and sub-plots where there are none. I can’t wait to see either one of them in a different show in the future.