Love Never Dies (2010)

     by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Ben Elton

          starring Ben Lewis, Anna O'Byrne & Simon Gleeson 

            starring Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess & Joseph Millson

Reviewing this musical was a journey even before ever cracking the jewel case. Because of the massive influence of Lloyd Webber's musical version of the Phantom story, which has for many people become the definitive version and is without question the most well-known worldwide, easily overshadowing the book it was based on, Lloyd Webber's decision to release a sequel to the show caused a tropical hurricane in the world of stage shows. Fans of the show were both ecstatic, hoping for more of the original musical's magic, and horrified, wondering what this story could possibly do without invalidating its predecessor. Musical fans in general, even if they weren't big on the first Phantom show, pointed out that sequel musicals invariably bomb and are almost always a terrible idea. Rumors ran rampant. It was a wild time.

It was also 2007, which was right around the time that I started working on the Phantom Project, so the hurricane took me right along with it. It was impossible to turn anywhere on the internet without hearing about it; and while gossip is one thing, the show actually did indeed eventually come out in 2010, after which it exploded all over everything Phantom-related. Since I spend a lot of time trying not to read too many other peoples' opinions about things I'm going to review, so I can be as impartial as possible before I decide to hate something all by myself, I then had to basically instruct my browser to never ever show me anything on the internet with the words "love never dies" in it, which for a long time blacked out almost every Phantom haunt I was frequenting and large swaths of fanfiction and poetry sites. Every person even vaguely related to me in my life also decided simultaneously to buy the darn thing for me, so I had DVDs and CDs sort of stashed around the house, the way someone trying to diet half-heartedly hides truffles and pretends they'll never find them.

I was not entirely successful in spite of these measures; there was just too much shouting about the show to stay totally unspoiled about it, and now, four years later, there were not a lot of surprises for me in terms of the show's plot and style. But I have only just experienced the actual execution (I hadn't even listened to the sample tracks before this, because that is how dedicated I am to science!), so I have many, many things to say that are all my own.

And the first of those things is that it is a confirmed fact that this show was based on Frederick Forsyth's story for his 1999 novel The Phantom of Manhattan, on which he collaborated with Lloyd Webber for a sequel way back in the 90s, and my friends, I hate that book so much. I would have been able to tell that this show is obviously based on the same premise without knowing that, but I would have expected someone on the show's PR team to suppress widespread knowledge of that fact, if only because of how universally hated that book is.

I want y'all to know that I dug out my copy of Forsyth so I could perform deep-text comparative analysis, though, and if that doesn't mean I love you, I don't know what does.

Since Love Never Dies has been through a LOT of rewrites - which, according to Lloyd Webber's statements and press releases, is because it did not do particularly well in its first several runs and critics kicked it in the ass a bunch until it was reworked - it's hard to choose the version of it to review. I'm therefore trying something in this review I've never done before: a dual review, in which I'll talk about two versions of it at once. I'll try not to make it incomprehensible. I'll signpost my mess.

I decided eventually to both listen to the concept recording, which was Lloyd Webber's original vision for the show and features the original London cast that performed it, and watch the DVD release of the much later Melbourne production of the show, which includes all the changes made during edits and allowed me the opportunity to see the story play out visually instead of just guessing from inferences on an audio recording. Also, I mean, I had both already. For science!

 

Act 1:


The DVD's introduction provides us with some handy informational text here, which gave me a little sigh of fond nostalgia for the title cards in the 1925 Julian/Chaney film. They inform us that the opera house burned down in 1895, apparently because they want to utterly confuse and aggravate me before any actual show has begun. The idea of the opera house burning down is clearly a continuation of the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film version of Lloyd Webber's show, which introduced that as the final disaster of the piece; and while that movie has its own problems and I'm not in love with it taking the place of the earlier stage show for continuity purposes, Lloyd Webber did work on it closely so I can understand the decision.

However, what I don't understand is the timeline, because the same film that is the only place you can find the opera house burning down also has its own floating text dates at the beginning, and it sets the story in 1870. Either the events of the previous musical took two and a half decades to happen, in which case I am impressed by everyone's fortitude in keeping that drama going, or someone has severely mismatched something somewhere. It might be that someone on the team for this show noticed the small but vocal number of folks who pointed out (stridently, in my case) that Paris was in the middle of a war with the Prussians closely followed by an internal uprising at the time and moved to correct the historical problem, but I'm not sure why that resulted in moving the whole shebang to the very twilight years of the century. They have again missed the most likely time period of the original novel's story by a decade, just in the other direction - 1895 is even further away from 1881 than 1870 was. It's also even later than Forsyth's book, which decided on 1893 as the right year for all of these shenanigans based on the fact that electric light would have been available by then.

The show doesn't try to justify its date, so we'll just have to wonder. My guess would be that Lloyd Webber wanted to set it considerably later in order to be able to use Coney Island as the setting for this show; the action begins a decade after the events of the first show, putting it in around 1905 when Coney Island was a famously eccentric vacation destination in New York, but had he stuck with the movie's timeline, it would only be 1880 and most of the major carnival attractions and parks would still be years away from being built.

ANYWAY. The text also informs us that only the Phantom's mask was found after the disaster of the previous musical, which is also a clear reference to the 2004 film, in which one of the last shots shows us Meg Giry entering the Phantom's lair with a mob of angry theatre personnel and discovering his discarded mask.


Prologue:


This piece is included only on the concept recording, and had been cut by the time the Australian production was filmed to come live on my Phantom DVD Wall of Fame (or Shame, as the case may often be). It involves Madame Giry returning to the site of Love Never Dies' events to reminisce about them years later, similar to opening the previous show with the older versions of the characters years later visiting the site of the opera house's dramatic goings-on. She is joined by Fleck, Gangle, and Squelch, three of the performers from the Phantom's Coney Island shows, who are not particularly pleased to see her and appear to blame her for whatever it was that happened that they haven't told us about yet.

I need to pause and address Fleck, Gangle, and Squelch really quickly, because they read as very problematic to me over the course of this show, and I'm not sure that it succeeds (or even tries) in making them characters rather than caricatures. The three characters are referred to as "freaks" (offensive but period-accurate) several times during the show, both by themselves and others, and are obviously intended to evoke the sideshow performers that were a staple of Coney Island attractions and various other carnival-style shows in the United States at this time, many of whom had illnesses or physical conditions (dwarfism, for example, or hirsutism) that could be exhibited and that made performance preferable to being treated poorly in other areas of employment. All three of them perform - Squelch as a strongman, Gangle as a barker, and Fleck as an aerial gymnast.

These characters are used as a sort of Greek chorus for the show; they are around the action all the time but not actually part of it, and occasionally comment upon what's going on or give the main characters important information to act on. They're not actually really characters in their own right at all, but rather treated as part of the setting, existing to play up the "strangeness" of carnival culture viewed from the mainstream and to act as the Phantom's henchmen, and although they often appear to announce upcoming attractions or mention shows to come, we don't ever actually see them perform much or do anything other than run the occasional errand for the Phantom.

My problem with all of this is that these characters literally aren't treated as people; they have no lines or interaction or development or purpose beyond supporting the Phantom as the main character and providing exotic window-dressing to enhance the setting. The only place in the show where they really had anything interesting to say was here in the prologue, in which Fleck scornfully tells Madame Giry that of course the three of them are still at Coney Island years later - they aren't accepted in mainstream society, so they could hardly have gone anywhere else, making a very pointed remark about the fact that the main characters could simply leave and begin a new life elsewhere after the musical's events, but the trio was stuck dealing with the fallout when they did. It's a nice moment that reminds Giry that she has privileges that the people who work at these shows often don't, and that her actions (and everyone else's) have consequences.

However, that's the only moment these characters get, and it was cut for the actual production of the show, leaving them in limbo as mere decorations rather than getting to be people. Considering that this is a show about the Phantom, who represents the people that society has rejected often for reasons they can't control, and that it implies that he's here among them because like them he isn't accepted by society at large due to its prejudices, you would think that it would do better with not reducing characters dealing with the same issues to stereotypes and assuming they're just part of the weirdness around them instead of people with motivations and feelings of their own. There are occasional lines throughout the text that mention the unfairness of a society that rejects the Phantom based on his appearance, but they are never applied to anyone else, and the show as a whole skates blithely on by without ever addressing the same issues in a setting where they're much more widespread and far from confined to the single main character.

In other words, the show unconsciously does to these secondary characters, who represent people who have been historically treated very badly by society at large, what it is always complaining about people doing to the Phantom himself, which is both ironic and severely undercuts any moral about not being dicks to those with differences from yourself that might have been trying to struggle its way toward the surface.

The prologue itself is largely creepy, but in a good way - Giry's obviously sad and guilty about something while Fleck, Squelch, and Gangle are clearly resentful of her, all of which sets up that there's something bad about to go down in this show without giving us any clues about what it might be. Another reason I wish some of this prologue's content could have made it to the show is that it does a very good job of setting up a mysterious feel for the story ahead of time, especially when it places the obvious sadness and fear of the characters alongside the light-hearted Coney-Island-style fun and allows their dissonance to make the listener feel uneasy as well. The show in its final form has a serious problem with trying to be mysterious and menacing and totally failing because of lack of context, and this would have been helped by some of the prologue's foreshadowing elements being kept.

Madame Giry here mentions the Phantom "disappearing with the child", which is an obvious connection to the end of Forsyth's novel in which the Phantom and his son vanished and took on new names in order to influence American business. She also mentions a "fire that consumed everything", apparently in reference to what happened to the Coney Island theatre that the Phantom owns for most of this show, which makes me think that our masked friend really needs to learn a different way to make a dramatic exit. One with less burning.


'Til I Hear You Sing/The Aerie:


This song is basically the opener for the Australian stage production (and all current productions of the show, as far as I can tell), in spite of the fact that it appears considerably later on the concept album. It's your standard "I wish" song, in which the tried-and-true formula of "here's a main character, and here's their motivation" is played out to bring the audience up to speed; the Phantom sings about how much he misses Christine and wants to hear her sing again and intends to make that happen, while moping about in his room (presumably the aforementioned Aerie, although the staging didn't give me as much of a feeling of grandeur and lofty heights as I would have liked).

There's a lot going on here, because Lloyd Webber dives directly into the Phantom's mental processes and assumes the rest of us are already wetsuited and ready to follow, and as a result there's a good chance that audiences are not nearly as invested in this song as the material intends. Because this is a sequel, it's assumed that the audience already knows who this character is and what he's talking about, but there's such a complete lack of context that it's totally inaccessible to anyone who hasn't already seen Llord Webber's first show, and even for those who have, it's a little like being thrown bodily into a cold swimming pool rather than taking a minute to test the waters with toes and feet. We are given no background on who the Phantom is, what his motivations or origins might be, or how he personally made his journey to be here - and even if we assume we already know all that from the last show, this character is ten years in the future from that one and in a vastly different place and situation. We have no idea what he's like now, what he's been doing (except in the most broad general strokes of "building a theatre and rides"), how he might have changed or grown as a result of the last show's events or anything that's happened since, or anything else that might tell us who he is, and furthermore we won't get those things at any point in the show.

Essentially, it assumes not only that the audience already knows exactly who this character is and what he's about, but also that there has been literally no change whatsoever in his life or personality over the past decade, and that we should pick up exactly where we left off. This makes it extremely hard to identify with him closely, because we literally don't even know who he is - and aside for his obvious fixation on Christine and later her son Gustave, we won't ever know anything more about him. He's an empty vehicle for histrionic romantic feelings, and has lost any shreds of complexity or mystery the character might once have had.

A lot of this show - most of it, in fact - feels like the composer and characters screaming FEEL DAMN YOU FEEL, YOU WILL FEEL SO MANY FEELINGS at the audience, but since we are given no context or characterization to back those feels up, they're fleeting at best and totally impossible to dredge up at worst.

All of this, unfortunately, means that I just can't like this Phantom enough to forgive him for the synthesizers and electric guitars that begin running unnecessarily amok under his singing here. Lloyd Webber seems to be shooting for a rock opera rather than the more classical style of his previous show, but he fails badly to reconcile and blend the two different styles in a way that allows them to enhance one another or avoid giving the audience whiplash, resulting in a confusing and choppy bounce effect from one style to the other, and a general feeling of irritation whenever the rock elements, which seem much more pasted-on than the other way around, intrude on an otherwise pretty nice piece of music. Also, as I pointed out when I reviewed the 2004 film (and it was true then and that was six YEARS before this came out), Lloyd Webber's taste in rock music seems to have grounded in the early 1980s, resulting in synth abuse and 80s-style riffs that are unpalatably dated for modern audiences, especially when they match neither the time period of the show's setting nor the one in which people are watching it.

It is a notable difference that at the very beginning of the show the Phantom refers to our leading lady as "my Christine", and will repeat that phrase pretty much incessantly until the end. In fact, it was such a major difference that it jerked me out of the show completely for a minute there; the Phantom of the original musical never once referred to her as "his Christine" (although he did say some nastily possessive things about her voice and career), and this character has within a few lines of the opening bars let us know that he is both completely different from his previous incarnation and that the end of that musical has been totally forgotten. We were seeing some of this trend already in the 2004 film - in that, his line "You will sing for me!" was changed to "You belong to me!", so it's clear that Lloyd Webber has been slowly altering the Phantom to become more possessive as time goes by.

The final turning point of the previous musical happened when, after the Phantom kidnapped Christine and threaten to murder her fiancé if she didn't marry him instead, she showed him compassion and selflessness, forcing him to realize that what he was doing was not an act of love, and therefore motivating him to let both her and Raoul go in order to be happy together. He realized that she didn't belong to him and that assuming that she did or trying to force her behavior was wrong, and his reversion here tells us up front at the door that Lloyd Webber has completely disregarded the redemption the character achieved at the end of the first show. Of course, that's going to become painfully obvious as the plot progresses, but I wasn't expecting it to be so... bald? Noticeable? Romanticized while being terrible?

It also lets us know within a few lines of the beginning of the show that the Phantom feels possessiveness for Christine and considers her "his", and unfortunately the rest of the plot will follow up on that by making her a possession in contention rather than a person with choices.

The lyrics to this song are mostly concerned with the idea that the Phantom's musical composition talents have become inaccessible to him; without Christine, he is no longer creative enough to produce anything new or important. This is interesting as an inverted form of the idea from the original novel and first musical that Christine's voice (or at least its emotional capacity in performance) was created by the Phantom or in some way emanated from him, and that without him she would not have been able to achieve true greatness; here, it's the Phantom who can't achieve musical success without Christine's voice to inspire him, casting her in the role of muse that he himself originally inhabited.

As part of his complaints about his inability to compose without Christine, the Phantom delivers some offhanded scorn when it comes to his current projects and surroundings that feels both unwarranted and unattractive, and which will become a theme throughout the entire show. The idea that the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island, and by extension all of its shows and attractions and everyone who performs in them, is "lesser" or "unworthy" is often repeated, as here when the Phantom laments that he's wasted his time on "smoke and noise" rather than creating true art. This is extremely dissonant with the show's attempts to make Coney Island a safe haven for the Phantom, whose deformity makes him more at home among people with similar challenges than among the rest of humanity, and to represent him as being in love with its quirky beauty; it says these things, but at the same time continually implies that the Coney Island environment and its performers are not really worthy of consideration or importance, and are inferior in some way when compared with the grand opera background that Erik came from. Such snootiness doesn't seem appropriate from a character who has spent his whole life being discriminated against in the same way, and the fact that it feels unconscious and is repeated as a continuing motif makes me think that it's the biases of the composer and writers that are bleeding through into the words and actions of the characters.

This song sets up what is obviously a vastly different tenor (ha) of storytelling than in the previous show. In the first musical, the action was largely carried by Christine, and occasionally others including Raoul and the managers; its story treated the Phantom as the frightening unknown and in spite of his status as one of the main characters seldom dipped into his internal thoughts or demonstrated his feelings except through his actions toward others. It effectively allowed the audience to see him as the dangerous outsider that all the other characters saw him as, but allowed him to become sympathetic as his actions and revelations of his character revealed that he was multi-dimensional and not fully villanous in spite of his behavior. Love Never Dies, on the other hand, treats the Phantom as the focal point character, and tells the story from his point of view, looking at everyone else as the intruders into his world and telling us about his emotional state to the point of oversaturation. This isn't a terrible idea, since it gives us the interesting contrast of the "other side of the story" convention, but because of the Phantom's total lack of characterization or growth, he's not enough of a person for us to become invested in. He yells a lot, and stomps around, and cries, but I don't know who he is, and without knowing who he is, I can't care about him very much.

It's also notable that in the first musical, which was largely from Christine's perspective, she was the heroine of the piece who overcame terrible odds and managed to triumph in spite of being kidnapped and threatened, eventually going to her happy ending. In this musical, things are told mostly from the Phantom's perspective, and not only is he unquestionably the intended hero, Christine is reduced to almost a non-entity in order to accomplish this. It's not a very flattering comparison - when looking through her eyes, the audience saw the Phantom as a flawed and dangerous but sympathetic and compelling man. When looking through his eyes, all the audience gets to see Christine as in this show is a thing to be coveted.

It's way obvious by this point that this is a romantic drama, and that all overtones of the first stage show's suspense and mystery elements are gone. Weirdly, it doesn't seem to be that obvious to Lloyd Webber, though; the Phantom in particular frequently behaves as if he's still a figure of unplumbed mystery and dangerous exoticism, when really he's a dude who has been telling us about his feelings for fifty straight minutes and no one is in the slightest mystified or awed by him.

Ben Lewis, however, is fabulous in this role, so hats off to him (although man, he does do some crazy eyes - it's like he resents the mask covering them up and is trying to pop them through its eyeholes). Ramin Karimloo on the concept album is also an excellent singer, but I found that he sounded less suited to the role - his more emotional tendency of growling and howling worked for the rock numbers better than Lewis' more restrained performance, but unfortunately those are not exactly the highlights of the show for me.


The Coney Island Waltz:


This is actually the second track on the concept recording, and occurs during the framing device of Madame Giry and Fleck discussing events long gone; in the current stage show, it's part of the action, and is here to set the scene after the Phantom's big number and give the audience a window into Coney Island's workings and flavor as a setting.

We start out with a musical callback to the "Stranger than You Dreamt It" theme from the previous musical, which begins a trend of reuse of musical phrases from the old show, repurposed for inclusion here. Honestly, I can't tell if this is a good idea or not, although of course the music in the first show is undeniably gorgeous and iconically popular, so there's no problem with the music itself not holding up. Rather, I'm not sure it adds to anything; sure, we enjoyed the use of repeated motifs during the previous show because it was based on opera and that's a common and time-honored operatic convention, but what exactly is it doing for us here? Reminding us that this is related to the first show? Believe me, man, we know that one. Trying to tie the music of the previous show to this one? Why do we need that, when it's not really enhancing things or changing the music all that much? The only times I was really pleased to see the device was when it was a theme that was actually reworked to fit into the new musical's scheme - for example, by changing it from major to minor mode or otherwise weaving it into the current compositional setup, so that it was recognizable but still part of something new.

Honestly, it feels like Lloyd Webber wanted to continually remind the audience that this show is a continuation of the previous one, in effect trading on the first show's popularity to carry the second one, and not only does that not work, it robs us of getting to enjoy any new music that could have been there instead. It might even have worked if it had just been a few phrases sprinkled into the show once in a while, but it's done far too often and in too prolonged a fashion to succeed.

It's now 1905 in the stage show (only one year off from the Forsyth novel's date of 1906), although we have some more prelude to get through still on the cast recording, a year that was during the height of Coney Island's popularity and booming growth period in New York. This is the first place we'll see Fleck, Squelch, and Gangle in the current version of the show since there was no prologue for them to appear in previously, and I'm forcefully reminded of Mr. and Mrs. Midnight from the 1995 Danova production of the story on ice, in which very similar characters were used as sidekicks for the Phantom and appeared as weird, mysterious people whose motivations or origins were never explained. And I mean forcefully. As in I'm kind of wondering how much ice-skating action Lloyd Webber was enjoying kind of forcefully.

I am very glad that I chose to watch the Melbourne stage version of the show here, though, because the sets and costumes are gorgeous and evocative, and I would have been seriously missing out if I had only listened to the concept recording. They are surreal and colorful, often much darker and more suggestive of hypnotism and sleight of hand than I might otherwise have expected, and do an excellent job of both representing Coney Island's unique brand of entertainment and mystery and suggesting the dangerous depths of the Phantom's presence and potential violence. The designs also contain myriad callbacks to the previous show, including a giant monkey with cymbals referencing the Phantom's music box and some suspiciously familiar-looking lady robots, but these I am not upset about; they are fun shout-outs to the last musical without being intrusive, and suggest a sense of humor in the Phantom that I wish we could have seen more of.

The show/park/theatre/whatever we're not going to explain it very much that the Phantom owns is called "Phantasma", and he is referred to by the pseudonym "Mister Y" throughout the show. Apparently he is also the Phantom of Puntown.

While we jump straight into the old-timey performance of this piece in the stage show, the concept recording has some sumptuous orchestral versions of its theme that I really enjoyed.


That's the Place That You Ruined, You Fool!:


This is another piece that is only on the concept recording, and it takes place still in the prelude before the events of the musical unfold, with Fleck blaming Madame Giry for whatever disaster is still going to befall everyone later in the show. It's here that she most strongly discusses Coney Island as once being a sort of haven for her that has now been destroyed, and again her lines here would have gone a long way toward helping her be a more fleshed-out and important character had they been kept in.

The piece is nice enough, but it's just expositional recitative, nothing particularly interesting. The only notable thing about it is that Madame Giry, in both the stage show and the concept album, is still sporting an intensely thick French accent, which is most likely a follow-up of Miranda Richardson's accent in the 2004 film. While this made very little sense in that movie's context, since all the characters including her were speaking French anyway, in this show she is most likely speaking English to primarily American conversational partners, so having an accent - particularly a heavy one to contrast her from the younger and more adaptable Meg - is no longer outside the realm of possibility.


Heaven by the Sea:


This concept-recording-only piece is in the general style of the Coney Island-inspired pieces of the musical, meant to give us a portrait of American vacationers of the time period and the vision of Coney Island that they would have been familiar with. The happiness and excitement of the attraction-goers actually makes the Phantom, who they frequently praise or speculate about as the creator of all this fun, seem more redeemed and relatable; he has brought a lot of people a lot of joy, and this song tells us that in their own words, which is a million times more useful than hearing him say it. (Well, and also he doesn't say it. He feels like he wasted his time, remember.)

It's also a very helpful establishing piece because it mentions that the Phantom has constructed and owns, among other things, a midway, promenade, games, fountains, museum, and various other attractions that let us know it's really more likely that he owns an entire amusement park to compete with other famous Coney Island parks such as Steeplechase or Luna. Since without these mentions I had no earthly idea what the Phantom actually owned or had built in the stage show, it's an important piece of information, both because it prevents the audience from being confused and because it establishes him as a major power in this area, not just one of many smaller show-runners.

The singers mention that his work "must've cost him millions", which is both another lost foreshadowing to some later financially-motivated problems for other characters, and probably a relic left over from Forsyth's novel, in which the Phantom's jerkitude was equalled only by his piles of tear-stained money.


Only for You:


The trio of Coney Island performers introduce Meg Giry here, and we learn that she is the lead performer in the Phantom's dancing girl acts. There are a lot of questions to be asked about this, not least why she and her mother are even here. If we're following the events established in the previous show (or possibly more accurately the 2004 film version of it), why on earth are they hanging out with the Phantom? By the end of that movie, even Madame Giry, who had rescued him when he was a child and protected him for years, had realized that he was out of control and intentionally told Raoul and the authorities how to find him, something that she was pretty justified in doing considering that he was kidnapping and murdering people left and right. Why on earth would she do that, and then turn around and run away with him? Why would he let her after she had done that? Why would Meg and her mother decide to move to the Americas to dance in the sideshow instead of seeking another ballet? It's a mystery this musical refuses to answer; like many other sequels, it wants the original cast of characters together for no particularly good reason, so it's going to do that regardless of whether or not it makes any sense.

Meg's character has undergone a truly radical transformation from the first musical to this one - odd, when you consider that literally no one else besides herself and Raoul has changed at all. It's not coincidence that the two of them will become the "villains" of the piece, or that the only time any character advancement is ever demonstrated in this show is when it's required to explain why the plot demands that characters do things that make no sense whatsoever for their original incarnations. Meg, who was in the previous stage show and movie versions an innocent if curious young woman who was mostly around to be Christine's best friend and to breathlessly repeat stories about the Phantom while practicing to become a ballerina, has here become a frank-talking and visibly depressed sideshow performer.

Not that new Meg is really bad - actually, she's a lot more interesting than old Meg. It's just a pity that she was only developed in order to antagonize the Phantom and make her into yet another tragic female figure, which is the only kind of female figure allowed in this musical. By the end of it, of the four female characters we meet, one's dead, one's suicidal, one has lost everything she's worked for for the past decade, and one is left to deal with the aftermath of all this bullshit alone and unsupported, all of which are states that are inflicted upon them, directly or indirectly, by the male characters who actually control the plot. Bad stuff happens to the dudes, too, but with the exception of Raoul they are also rewarded with good stuff, something we can't say for these ladies; and almost all the bad stuff that happens to the male characters is a result of their own choices, not something someone else does to them.

The fact that the other characters frequently mention Mister Y but that he never appears parallel the whispered legends of the Phantom among the performers of the previous show's opera house, but here he's the positive and spine-tinglingly mysterious master of the show, not a figure of fear or menace. Like many of the things in the Coney Island shows, he's a play-acted version of a danger, not a real one.

The concept album's version of this number ("Only for Him, Only For You") is substantially different; instead of being sung by the trio as they introduce her, it's sung first by Meg, who uses it to give us some insight into her motivations and character, things we sorely need from her (so, as usual, it's a pity they were cut because the Meg in the final version of the show is sort of a big confusing question mark that does things without a lot of clear cause). Summer Strallen's voice is strong, frank and enjoyable, and while Sharon Millerchip, who plays her in the Australian production, has a lovely voice as well, it's a little more delicate and wistful, and Strallen's more powerful tones help Meg's character shine a little bit more.

Another very important bit of foreshadowing and character-building comes here when Madame Giry mentions a "Mr. Thompson", an admirer that wants to meet Meg. We don't ever meet him, but he's there to hint at Meg's relationships with men and to help give some background to her eventual meltdown over it, and again it sucks that it is no longer present in the final version of the show, leaving her big reveal at the end coming substantially more out of left field than is digestable by the audience.

The contrast between the soaring musical themes that represent the story's tragedy and grandeur and the rinky-dink musical tunes of the Coney Island shows works pretty well, but I wish there had been more interweaving of the two, especially since it worked so well in the "Coney Island Waltz" version on the recording.


Ten Long Years:


Madame Giry's big number has arrived... and oh boy, so has she. In a plot dump that justifies a lot of recitative but unfortunately doesn't prevent the lyrics from being clunky and ungraceful, she informs us that Christine is coming to New York after being invited by Oscar Hammerstein to sing at the opening of his Manhattan Opera House; this is directly borrowed from Forsyth's novel, right down to Hammerstein's offstage involvement.

The previous show's repeated motif of the Phantom (and very occasionally Raoul) calling Christine's name in a series of descending notes is used here for Meg and Madame Giry to talk about her; like other places where music is recycled from the last show, I'm not sure it's justifying its existence, especially since it was largely used in that show for ghostly effect, and there's none of that going on here.

Giry's here to answer my questions about what the two of them are doing hanging out on Coney Island, but unfortunately not to any degree of satisfaction. According to her continuing infodump for the benefit of an audience who really has no clue what the hell is going on, she and Meg rescued the Phantom from the mob after outing him to them, and then smuggled him across the ocean and worked and slaved to help him set up a new empire here, leading to them feeling very proprietary about his success and cranky that he isn't respecting them more. While being cranky about the Phantom's general inability to respect anyone is legitimate in this show, Giry also bewilderingly directs a lot of her anger at Christine, ranting that it wasn't Christine who helped him when he was in trouble and Christine wasn't faithful, and straight-up saying that Christine "betrayed" him.

Leaving aside the general grossness of saying that anyone "betrayed" a guy when you really mean that they decided to call the police on him after he started stalking and murdering people - because really? - this again doesn't jibe with Giry's behavior in the previous musical. While she was definitely against the plot to trap the Phantom - in the stage show because she was afraid it would just piss him off, and in the movie version possibly because the added motherly background made her concerned for his welfare as well - she intentionally gave away his position to Raoul in order to make sure that Christine could be rescued and taken away from him, which I can only assume she did because she realized that he had become a dangerous motherfucker who needed to be stopped. She directly and willingly collaborated in making sure Christine could escape the Phantom's custody and go be with the person she loved, so what exactly is her beef with the fact that that actually happened? Is this some weird underhanded antagonism where she helped Christine not because she wanted to aid her struggle but because she wanted to set up a "betrayal" in order to make herself and Meg better choices for investment on the Phantom's part? That would be truly bizarre and twisted, but I literally can't come up with any other explanation for her total 180 on the situation.

Seriously, Madame, your past-life self as Miranda Richardson would be having none of this. Also, the lyrics have her say that she and Meg "idolize" the Phantom, which seems hyperbolic at best, not to mention questionable in terms of sense. I hesitate to say that the writers of the show simply wanted him idolized because that's what they're doing themselves... but apparently I just did.

Like me, Meg is mostly just confused by her mother's angry shouting in this song, and doesn't seem inclined to participate in it much; unlike Giry, who takes the news of Christine's imminent arrival in the States as a dire event that will threaten their security as... I don't even know, the Phantom's favorite minions?, she is dreamily excited to get to see her friend of so many years ago and wistful about the good times they once had.

Man, how long is Madame Giry going to complain about Christine and how she's an evil assbutt for leaving the Phantom? She's now complaining about how Christine chose "beauty and youth over genius and art". Yeah, that's totally what I remember happening. She clearly had no good reason whatsoever not to want to stick around with her kidnapper other than that she was a shallow and selfish jerk who just wanted to bang the hot guy.

Also, I have news for you, fictitious Giry and the dudes who wrote her dialogue: fuck all y'all. Even if Christine did decide she just wanted to bang the hot guy, that was her decision to make. She didn't owe anyone her allegiance or love or physical presence unless she wanted to give it, because that is how free will works. Writers really need to stop implying that women (especially in the Phantom story where this problem is freaking rampant in derivative works) don't get to make choices and instead somehow "owe" their love to whomever is the "best man" because they're just prizes for male achievement or suffering, and that if they don't do what they're "supposed" to do they're heartless and deserve righteous scorn. Unfortunately, this problem is going to be ongoing throughout this musical; La Giry may be the first character to imply that Christine is a reward for a man's happiness who isn't entitled to decide what she wants on her own, but she's going to be joined by most of the other principal characters soon enough.

Madame Giry, along with Meg and the trio of performers, refer to the Phantom as "the Master" pretty frequently (insert your own sinister Doctor Who reference!). This is a pretty clear change in his power over them from the first show, in which they were occasional accomplices but certainly didn't work for him directly, and is even odder when contrasted with the 2004 film's backstory, which made Madame Giry his surrogate mother figure.

At the end of this song, we can see the Phantom lurking in the rafters, from whence he hears Madame Giry's ranting about Christine and thus learns that she's coming to town and gets excited. I found it somewhat amusing that he owns this place and employs all kinds of performers that look a lot more strange by society's standards at this time than he does (we'll be seeing them later), but still feels the need to hide in his own goddamn building. In other versions of the Phantom, I could maybe ascribe this to his lifelong ostracization making him uncomfortable presuming to be around other people even in his own territory, but this Phantom has hardly any of those psychological vulnerabilities left, and after his iron grip of terror over the opera house in the last show and rampaging cojones in this one, I expected him to be less timid. Part of the charm of Coney Island, for him, is assumedly the fact that it's a neverending carnival and masquerade atmosphere; just as in the masquerade ball of various versions of the story, he is able to move around there without anyone knowing that he doesn't "belong". Honestly, I think that the staging here is just relying on the general mythology of the Phantom as a lurker rather than putting thought into why that would be.


Giry Confronts the Phantom:


Okay, so this is the concept album's version of the previous number, and it is WAY cooler and does a much better job of getting the plot across to everyone. For one thing, it takes place between the Giry's and the Phantom himself; rather than the final form of the show, in which the women discuss the issue among themselves and the Phantom simply overhears them, in this one they confront him head-on and directly converse with him. It's a much more dynamic and interesting choice, especially since this Phantom has no particular mysterious barrier between them and himself anymore, and allows both ladies to become more active and important as characters as well as giving us more insight into the relationship between all three people.

To begin with, Meg, who in the final show only begs her mother for information about whether or not the Phantom was watching her numbers after the fact and daydreams on her own about whether or not he might have noticed her, in this piece directly appeals to him, seeking his approval and interacting with him instead of hoping he'll look at her from afar. It makes her attachment to him much more real and immediate since we can see it in action, and further makes his curt dismissal of her when she does it an example of the painful relationship dynamic between them.

Madame Giry's savage curtailment of her daughter's attempts to get the Phantom to talk to her paints a fairly ugly picture of her, but it's hard to tell if it's her also running over Meg's wants and needs, or if she's attempting to protect her daughter from any further fixation on a guy who is clearly not returning her affection. Either way, Madame Giry also directly confronts the Phantom (who in this version already discovered that Christine was on her way, rather than being accidentally clued in by overhearing them talking about it) about Christine's impending arrival, making her a much stronger and more solidly angry character than the one that in the final show has been reduced to passive-aggressive whining backstage instead of ever talking to him about it. She reads as much more of a layered character - while her motivations for getting here and staying here are still pretty much a mystery, she makes her feelings that she's given too much and is too angry to step back from the situation known, and directly calls on the Phantom to acknowledge her and Meg's contributions to his success rather than passively hoping he'll do so on his own.

What is she pissed off about, exactly? Well, as far as I can tell, she and Meg have been instrumental in helping him build his Coney Island empire, although they're vague about what exactly they did (apparently they helped "grease wheels" and spread publicity, and there's heavy implication that they gave him the financial help he needed to get started), and she's concerned that he won't be paying them back or acknowledging that they built this park as much as he did. She's afraid - quite rightly so, unfortunately - that when Christine reappears in his life he'll immediately stop paying attention to anyone or anything else and probably give her the entire place on a platter if he thinks she'd like it, and she doesn't want herself and Meg to get shafted after a decade of work supporting him.

This is all pretty reasonable of her, although her apparent need to blame Christine for existing instead of the Phantom for being a dick to them is not. And be a dick he does - he snaps at them that he promised to repay them at some point (letting us know that he hasn't yet) and that they need to leave him alone, making him sound like an irritable gambling debtor dealing with a justifiably upset family. Madame Giry and Meg basically function as his family in this musical, so the dynamics of their interaction here feel more real and give everyone more dimension than the flat, inexplicable master/disgruntled servants thing going on in the final cut of the show.

It's mentioned here that the Phantom was originally exhibited as an attraction in the Coney Island shows before managing to become the owner and proprietor of some of them; this not only lets us know that he was apparently in extremely destitute condition when he arrived here, but also that his story has literally been reset to the beginning of the previous story's (in the 2004 film version, anyway). Once again, he has been mocked and dehumanized for the entertainment of others, and once again he has been rescued by Madame Giry who gives him the resources and opportunities to make himself a power in his environment.

Oh, lord, there's a bit of a "Til I Hear You Sing" reprise here, but it's spoiled by way too much synthesized bass. This is not a successful experiment.

The Phantom himself rounds the piece out by being totally oblivious of his own previous characterization; he acknowledges that Christine left him by her own choice, but then turns right around and says he's just going to somehow "fix" that. So her own choice be damned, apparently. This character exists in a vacuum uninhabited by any knowledge whatsoever of the previous show it's the sequel to, in which he realized that forcing Christine's choices was not in fact a good way to show his love; he's right back where he started, just in a new setting.


Christine Disembarks:


In this particular scene, the de Chagnys arrive in New York and are immediately mobbed by reporters, another convention mostly borrowed from Forsyth's work. Raoul is characterized from the moment he gets off the boat as snobbish, elitist, and overly combative with the reporters, but the lyrics' attempts to do this are spotty; for example, while his line when he corrects a reporter who calls Christine by her old last name - "Her name is de Chagny!" is meant to make him sound like an overly possessive asshole, it is actually perfectly accurate, since surnames do not include retention of maiden names at this time except in specific nobility cases that don't apply to Christine, and is something worth correcting someone about. I'm also not sure why exactly all the reporters insist on calling her Daaé anyway; she's never been to the States before so she's hardly a celebrity over here, she hasn't been using her maiden name in a decade, and no one ever mentions the events of the previous show so even the implausible idea that they know her name from those long-ago stories doesn't quite fly. I can't come up with a single good reason that they would be doing that, except perhaps that Lloyd Webber didn't want her being called Christine de Chagny the entire show because that would keep reminding the audience of her relationship with Raoul, which he is out to undermine as thoroughly as possible.

Also, apparently either everyone from France is 100% fluent in American English, or all American reporters are 100% fluent in French. No one ever acknowledges the fact that these characters don't natively speak the same language.

The de Chagnys appear to be far more famous in the Americas than I would have suspected, judging from the fact that the reporters are not only all in a tizzy over Christine's arrival (not too much of a stretch, since she is apparently a famous singer and she's connected to Hammerstein who is something of an eccentric celebrity at this time) but also all privy to the fact that Raoul is apparently severely in debt thanks to having a gambling problem (much more of a stretch, both in it happening and in it becoming public enough knowledge for random American journalists to know about it). This is the first sally in this show's somewhat bewildering campaign to utterly decimate the characterization of Raoul that was established in the first Lloyd Webber musical; although I can't complain that at least he does show signs of having changed or evolved as a character over time (albeit into a jerk) when apparently no one else except for Meg has done the same, it's nevertheless a transparent device used to suggest to the audience that Christine's choice to leave with him was incorrect and that her relationship with the Phantom is far more important and valuable by painting Raoul as a drunken gambler who mistreats his family.

This is also where we are first introduced to Gustave de Chagny, Christine's son, who is a dead ringer for Forsyth's Pierre de Chagny, with whom he shares the majority of his scenes and background. Gustave (most likely named after Christine's father, who was called Gustave in the 2004 film and played by Karimloo in a cameo role) is in Lloyd Webber's musical a little younger, looking somewhere around nine or ten years old as opposed to Pierre's twelve, and more starry-eyed and excited about being on Coney Island than his predecessor was, but other than that very little attempt has been made to distinguish him as a new character.

A car drives up at this point, prompting much consternation and awe among the reporters, who remark on this "carriage with no horses" and then ecstatically laud Mister Y for pulling off yet another feat of mysterious magic. Unfortunately, thanks to the decision to set this show in 1905, this makes no sense; automobiles have existed for decades and are beginning to explode into the private domain in the United States at this time. People, especially journalists, know what they are.

Because he has clearly learned absolutely nothing from how disastrously things went the last time he tried this tactic, the Phantom then proceeds to kidnap the entire de Chagny family by sending Fleck, Squelch, and Gangle in the car to pretend to be from Hammerstein and take them off to be installed at Phantasma instead of the accommodations they were actually supposed to be destined for. While Forsyth's novel was able to pull this off a little better thanks to the fact that it was actually the Phantom himself who had invited Christine (although she didn't know it) and therefore ended up hosting her and her family, Lloyd Webber's decision to take that invitation out of his hands means that it's something of a plot hole that no one ever notices that Christine doesn't make it to the people who were expecting her, and no outcry is ever heard over the fact that she's apparently gone missing and the Manhattan Opera House is without its much-publicized inaugural act. Incidentally, the concept recording appears to be working with an earlier draft of the script in which it's implied that the Phantom did have a hand in bringing Christine to the Americas, most obviously because she already has the score for "Love Never Dies" and knows she'll be singing it, so this may be yet another part of the plot dropped in the transition to the show's final form, leaving it less coherent.

The Phantom sings several of his lines from the previous show's "Angel of Music" here, with no attempt made whatsoever to weave them into the current musical's pieces; they're purely there to inform us that he's returned completely to his role in that show. Another unfortunate consequence of doing this so much is the fact that sometimes the first musical's pieces make the second one's look bad; especially when contrasted with the forgettable incidental and recitative music in this scene, "Angel of Music's" slightly ominous beauty only serves to remind the audience that they could be watching that show instead of this one.

On the concept recording version of this, a throwaway line by a reporter tells us that the ship Christine has arrived upon is called The Persephone, which is an excellent moment of symbolic intent that I wish had been carried over. It seems clear that the intent here is to contrast Christine with the Greek mythological figure of Persephone, goddess of springtime and life, and to suggest that, like that goddess' descent into the underworld every winter to keep company with her death god husband Hades, Christine's return to the Phantom's orbit is both inescapable and darkly romantic.

Are You Ready to Begin?


This is an extended version of the lines sung by Fleck, Squelch, and Gangle when they come to collect the de Chagnys that appears only on the concept recording. In this case, it's fortunate that it was cut; although I can appreciate the musical value of foreshadowing the later "The Beauty Underneath" by using its theme, I can't appreciate the overpowering electric guiter accompanying it that did not at all mesh with (or provide interesting contrast to, either) the scene unfolding.

A funhouse of distorting mirrors is mentioned here, which is another relic left over from Forsyth's version of this story, in which it was in a house of mirrors that Christine and the Phantom confronted one another for the first time in many years and confirmed the existence of Pierre as the Phantom's son. We don't get any strong use of mirrors in the staging for the Australian production, which is a shame, but that scene has been totally discarded in Lloyd Webber's show anyway, as it involved Christine rejecting the Phantom's romantic overtures and restating her love for Raoul, and he will be having none of that in this show.

Several reporters speculate that Christine may not be any good as a singer anymore, and say that they bet she's "pitch-perfect but empty inside." This is another good cut - these lines are not subtle, and while Lloyd Webber's certainly advancing an idea of the Phantom and Christine as one anothers' respective musical spirits, it's much less groan-inducing to have that play out in their interactions.


What a Dreadful Town!:


The dreadful town in question is New York in general and Coney Island in particular, which Raoul commences complaining stridently about as soon as the family gets settled in their rooms (which they are still unaware belong to the Phantom and not Hammerstein). As before, Raoul's diatribes are meant to paint him unflatteringly and are a mixed bag when it comes to success; his ignoring and shutting down of Gustave asking him to play with him, and his referring to the performers as "freaks", are definitely negative behaviors that paint him as self-absorbed and insensitive, but his anger over Hammerstein snubbing them and refusing to meet them and the crass way that his wife and son were treated by the reporters are legitimate grievances that suggest pride but also genuine concern for his family's well-being. Raoul's snarling dislike of bieng "on display" for the entertainment of the American press is also a good line, which puts into contrast the fact that he's never had to experience that kind of demeaning attention, as opposed to the Phantom who has found it frequently the only response he gets from other people.

Christine and Raoul have one of the most complex and interesting relationships in the show - unintentionally, I suspect, because while there is far more implied backstory and context to their interactions than there is for most other characters, it's presented for the purpose of drawing Raoul as a failed spouse and their marriage as a relationship on the brink of collapse. A great deal of their interaction involves implications and side mentions of context that we don't directly see; we know that they've been having financial troubles from the reporters and Christine's peacemaking lines that "that's why things haven't been right" lately, and that Raoul blames himself for those problems (and assumes Christine blames him for as well with his line "why doesn't it surprise me that I get the blame here," although she doesn't show any signs of being angry with him). Both Anna O'Byrne and Simon Gleeson project real and convincing emotion in this scene, and despite Raoul's obvious self-blaming and withdrawal from what he sees as his failures, the resulting portrait is a convincing one of a family undergoing tough times but still feeling genuine love and desire to help one another.

Gustave is present in this scene for two purposes: first, to establish that he's unusually bright and musically inclined, which is none-too-subtle foreshadowing to the revelation of his true parentage later in the show, and second to highlight Raoul's irritable state by continually asking for his attention and being rejected. The parallel to Meg's attempts to get the Phantom's attention and his brusque brush-offs is, I think, unintentional, especially since those attempts from the concept album were totally removed in the final show, but the coincidence of the two will become very relevant when later Raoul's behavior is used as an example of his unworthiness to remain in his family, while the Phantom's will be excused because the person doing the attention-seeking is apparently asking too much.

It's interesting that it's constantly Gustave who is intruding on Raoul's thoughts, bothering him or interrupting him, and that it's never Christine that he snaps at; although Raoul is not aware that Gustave isn't actually his son, the narrative presents him as treating the child as the fly in the ointment of his family life anyway, suggesting that he might have an unconscious or unspoken suspicious to that effect.

I've been mentioning a lot that Gustave is not Raoul's son, which is a spoiler for a part of the musical we haven't gotten to yet, but trust me, it is not a secret. Even if the audience hasn't read Forsyth's book, which was also painfully obvious about the fact that Raoul wasn't the father of Christine's son even before telling us that he was impotent (and speaking of: is the Raoul of this show impotent, too? We never hear as much, but it's been a decade and he and Christine have never had children of their own, making him symbolically infertile even if this is never explicitly said), the boy is consistently and gratuitously characterized in this musical as extremely interested in music, mysteries, and his own genius mind, all intended to compare him with an entirely different parent figure. Early in the show, in fact, this "secret" is so blatant that I actually thought that perhaps Lloyd Webber wasn't trying to pretend that the audience didn't realize it immediately, but when there was an inordinately dramatic reveal later, I was forced to concede that subtlety just isn't in this show's wheelhouse.

While Lloyd Webber does not include the part of Forsyth's backstory for the characters in which Raoul suffers an injury that renders him impotent, he nevertheless has no children with Christine despite being married to her for the past ten years. Whether his infertility is literal or symbolic, it's being used either way as a method for the show to make him a removable character; he has no other children to tie him to Christine as a family, and subtextually is designed to be unable to compete with the Phantom, who represents sexual allure and fertility.

 

Look With Your Heart:


This piece's ostensible purpose is for Christine to reassure Gustave that although Raoul's behavior doesn't always seem inviting, his father still loves him; however, it is a very thinly-veiled vehicle for Christine to sing about her own failure to realize the Phantom's love many years ago, and to suggest that regardless of how someone acts, you can always tell if they really love you based upon the "language of the heart." She makes it clear through several lines, including her telling Gustave to "take it from one who knows" and the repeated line "love isn't always beautiful", that she's personally referring to the Phantom in spite of on the surface talking about Raoul, and that she regrets not "understanding" the Phantom's feelings when she could have so long ago.

While the music of the piece is nice - it's flowing, lyrical and sleepy, making frequent use of half-steps to give it extra seamlessness - its message is less than laudable, especially in the context of the character delivering it. The idea that the heart somehow "knows" love and therefore you can understand how much someone loves you even when they treat you badly is an insidiously unpleasant one, suggesting as it does that mistreatment against a person is excusable and understandable as long as the abuser loves them, and that outside behavior should always be disregarded when it comes to emotions, which are a much better indicator of whether or not to pursue love. I was unpleasantly reminded of the end of the Rogers & Hammerstein musical Carousel, which, written in the 1940s, likewise moralized that abuse between lovers was excusable because of the fact that they cared about one another; while this isn't quite to the blatant "he hit me and it felt like a kiss" level of that much older musical, it still suggests to the listener that disrespect, mistreatment, or outright abuse from a loved one is not only something that shouldn't be dwelt upon but that it's even normal, and that if you love that person, you'll recognize that they love you back and put up with it. This is no accident, either; the song is intended largely to exonerate the Phantom's behavior in the last show, and to allow Christine a platform to tell us that while what he did upset her then, she was wrong to not understand how much he loved her and therefore forgive him for it. "Forget what you think," she says, and it is clear that she has done so.

Oddly enough, the song is a contradiction in and of itself as well. Christine is singing it in regards to Raoul, who has been combative with his family and unfairly dismissive of his son in the few scenes we've seen him, but while the musical advances the idea that the Phantom's transgressions should be forgiven because of the power of his love, no similar moral is ever presented in regards to Raoul. In fact, just the opposite; Raoul's snappishness and misbehavior (drinking, gambling, yelling at people) are used as proof that his marriage to Christine is unhappy and should be ended, and while Christine tells Gustave to overlook his faults here, it is clear that Lloyd Webber does not want us to follow suit. This is an example of what in literature is referred to as "protagonist-centered morality" - the show does not take a moral stands on issues themselves, but rather on its protagonist, in this case the Phantom, and therefore characters are "in the wrong" not when they do things that are objectively wrong but when they oppose or inconvenience the Phantom, who is by virtue of being the protagonist completely exempt from any such moral judgment.

It seems likely that this piece is trying to extend the look-beyond-appearances moral so often applied to the Phantom and his story; we are meant to look beyond his ugly physicality to realize that he is capable of inner beauty, so by extension the song suggests that we should also look beyond his ugly actions to realize that there may be love underlying them. Unfortunately, this is a metaphor that cannot stretch that far; the Phantom's physical deformity is hurting no one except himself, but his actions can and do very concretely bring fear, pain, and even death to others, placing handwaving their effects away in an entirely different ballpark from being accepting of his appearance.


Beneath a Moonless Sky:


The music box given to Christine's son that plays a familiar and haunting tune is another borrowing from Forsyth's novel; in this particular case, it plays a snatch of the introductory music from the first Lloyd Webber musical's "The Point of No Return" on the concept recording, and that theme is also used in the stage show as an underlying menace while Christine is alone and presumably troubled about where the box came from and what it means.

And then the Phantom just, you know, walks into the room, like this is a normal everyday occurrance. I think most of us would be pretty thoroughly startled if an old lover we hadn't seen for a decade did that even under normal circumstances, let alone one that is a confirmed murderer, but Christine has an iron constitution, because she does not faint, run or start screaming.

Instead, she gets very, very angry, which is a reasonable response to the Phantom turning up again, confirming her fears that something is wrong here and dredging up a lot of very bad memories. She is angry with him for lying to her (AGAIN because he apparently doesn't know how not to), this time about his presumed death, and O'Byrne does a great job of physical acting here, flinching and running here and there around the room to avoid his touch while he attempts over and over again to reach out to her. Her lines, especially "how dare you invade our lives", are the cries of a person who is emotionally devastated by something she expected never to encounter again, and give us a nice portrait of her response to his attempted nonchalance.

Alas, the Phantom is not very good at noticing this response; his reply to her is "If you knew the pain I've known, you would know I had no choice." As just told to us by Christine herself in the previous song, his emotions justify whatever he wants to do and are impossible to struggle against, and, as will continue for the rest of the show, Christine will therefore just have to deal with him doing things that cause her major problems, because he can't help himself. For a show so invested in giving the Phantom a near-supernatural level of power and control over his environment and employees, he plays the helpless victim card an awful lot.

Christine is the first to mention "that one night", which does not surprise anyone who has seen Gustave onstage, but it is somewhat surprising that she notes that she came to him and not the other way around; in Lloyd Webber's rewritten backstory for this musical, Christine came to find the Phantom after the disaster but before her marriage to Raoul (although how she found him is a totally unaddressed mystery), and the two of them had a single night of passion before parting ways again. I have to say that I am intensely relieved that Forsyth's version of events, in which Pierre was the result of rape, was not carried over into this show; instead, we are left to speculate as to why exactly Christine, having just escaped the peril of being kidnapped and surrounded by murder, would leave her fiancé to go have sex with her kidnapper instead, and what she might have been hopingt to accomplish. Considering that the original character of the Phantom in Leroux's novel was very much a representation of forbidden sexuality, as opposed to Raoul as the safe and comforting world where such things were not spoken of, it isn't a stretch in a literary sense that she might have been drawn to his sexuality for a last equally forbidden fling before settling into her marriage (and, to get Freudian for a moment, there might be more than a little of that regression toward seeing him as a parental figure on the figurative eve of her graduation via marriage to adulthood); however, as far as her character goes, we are never given any kind of indication as to what she was thinking, whether she went there for romance or was just seeking a blessing or reassurance from her old teacher, or how she reconciled with his violent and frightening behavior. Lloyd Webber's plot assumes that the audience already knows that Christine was clearly in love with the Phantom, more deeply and importantly than she was with Raoul, so that therefore no extra motivation is needed; again, this is revisionism that doesn't match up to the events of the first musical, and leaves us wondering what exactly is going on in both the characters' and the writers' heads.

The Phantom's major lines in this song are all about confirming himself as a legitimate part of humanity; among other things, he states that he is a human man, confirms that his liaison with Christine was that of a man and a woman, and through their intimate contact clings to the idea that he has been vindicated in spite of a lifetime wondering if he was truly human. Or, rather, being treated as other than human; as most of the rest of his personality is missing, so too does this Phantom lack most of his previous incarnations' concerns about his own humanity and dismay over the idea that perhaps he might be as monstrous as people say. He is not conflicted about this, as far as we can tell; in this show, he resents those who treat him that way, but has no internal struggle accompanying those feelings.

This song is one of the few places I did not feel that the Australian production did as excellent a job as we could have hoped; the constantly rising and falling melody line and the quick interchange between both singers' sentences means that they need to complement and enhance one another, and Lewis' voice overpowered O'Byrne's too often, preventing the duet from feeling like a conversation between two equal participants. I couldn't help feeling that this particular piece actually works much better as an instrumental, partly because of the technical demands of its execution and partly because the lyrics are repetitive and eventually begin to parody themselves, after about the thousandth time they both say something along the lines of "And I touched you!" "And I felt you!" to one another.

It is, however, probably the best piece of music in the show; the repetitive descending melody evokes urgency and emotion from the characters, and the minor doldrums of the supporting chords beneath it ably suggests the sadness of a long-ago love and the likelihood that it could never exist again.

While I was perfectly willing to support Christine being pissed off at the Phantom already, near the end of this piece we also discover that, contrary to her departure with Raoul in the previous show, in actuality he left her, when after their night together he left before she woke up, never to return. He gives no particular justification for this, other than the line "we both knew why", which does not appear to actually be true since Christine was certainly hurt and confused. This serves to alter the story in several key ways: firstly, it allows the Phantom to receive his "reward" of sleeping with Christine but then to be the one who rejects her, taking away her power over the situation from the first show, and secondly, it sets Raoul up as Christine's "consolation prize", since it becomes obvious from her lines that she would have preferred to stay with the Phantom had he given her the option, thus allowing the musical to easily assert that she never wanted to choose him in the first place.

 

Probably unintended is the third and unattractive result that everyone is being even more unreasonably antagonistic toward Christine than we thought they were before; the sin they're punishing her for isn't even one she committed, since according to this narrative she wasn't the one who refused to "give" the Phantom his happiness, and therefore we're left with the only possible things they could be yelling at her for being her complicity in the plot to capture him (when he had already murdered someone and threatened her and her fiancé; yeah, how could she?) and her refusing to be the Phantom's romantic partner when he asked her to, instead returning on her own terms later. Neither is helping the show's already heavy tendency to blame Christine for any unfortunate situation she finds herself in or any pathos experienced by the other characters.

On the concept recording of this piece, Boggess' and Karimloo's voices mesh better than do Lewis' and O'Byrne's, although it still lacks the gelling that would really have made it pop. In particular, I am not a fan of Karimloo's scoopy, pop-flavored style in contrast with Boggess' operatic and technical beauty; I suspect that the two of them (who have also played these roles in the first Lloyd Webber musical, although previous to this not opposite one another) were specifically chosen for the contrast of Boggess' "pure" musical style versus Karimloo's more rock-flavored take on the character, but as with most of the places that this musical tries to fuse the two styles, it comes out more jarring than interesting.

Christine has several lines in here about how, on this fateful night, she saw into the Phantom's soul and beheld that he was "pure and whole", which is a direct refutation of her line at the end of the previous musical in which she said that his face wasn't the problem, but that it was in his soul that he was truly distorted. This is yet another place where I doubt the writers made much effort to reconcile the first show with the second, instead asking the audience to just run with the idea that these two characters have always been madly in love and never had any misgivings about one another; and through the rest of the song, most of her lines are evocative of love, romance, and tenderness, while in contrast the Phantom's are more violent and focus on themes of possession and domination. It's clear that the Phantom considers ownership of Christine a prerequisite to love of her, and the song itself suggests that the lyricist was leaning heavily on outdated tropes of feminine love as accommodating and sweet and masculine love as possessive and powerful, even without the foibles of these particular characters involved.

In spite of the completely ham-handed way this scene was handled, the idea of Christine having a single night with the Phantom is not an unworkable one; especially if it had been presented as a continuation of his response to her kiss in either the Leroux novel or the first Lloyd Webber musical, after which he was contented and ready to allow her to seek her own happiness, it could have functioned as an updated version of the same idea. Unfortunately, that would have required him to not then go off to mope over her for the next decade before starting his cycle of kidnapping and threats all over again.

I would like to point something out here: at no point in all of this song about their once-upon-a-time romance or their feelings does anyone mention the Phantom's name. As in the previous Lloyd Webber musical, he apparently doesn't have one, because it will never be revealed at any point in the show and everyone will go on calling him by his title to the bitter end. While this worked perfectly in the previous show, in which he was a shadowy, dangerous and semi-supernatural force that no one really understood or had close relationships with, it makes no sense whatsoever here; he never gave Christine his name (or a name, even), even though they were lovers? He never gave Meg or Madame Giry his name, even though they've spent a decade working side by side and struggling as a family unit? It doesn't even have to be Erik, his name in Leroux's novel; it could be anything out of Lloyd Webber's imagination, but it needs to be something. This show has chosen to make the Phantom no longer a shadowy antagonist but a fully personified, constantly emotion-dripping and painfully human protagonist of his own show, and its failure to give him a name is an unintentional but very appropriate mirroring of its failure to actually make him into a viable and well-fleshed character. Just as we have no idea what his actual personality or self might be like because the show never tells us, we also don't even know his name, one of the most fundamental things common to human beings. He's not a character so much as a representation; and since he has lost all the things he was representing in the first show, he has become an empty suit of romantic cliches, still strutting in the hopes of trading on audiences' memories of his emotional impact in the first show while bringing nothing new to the table for this one.

It's also somewhat surprising to realize that no one ever refers to the character as "the Phantom", either, in spite of the fact that the original promo materials all put the word Phantom at the beginning of the title. Similar to the previous musical, the character is referred to only by title, in this case Mister Y, but the problems of his characterization still exist.


Once Upon Another Time:


The Phantom seems surprised that Christine doesn't immediately fall back into his arms, which tells us that he has no real concept of human relationships or emotions outside of his own; he one-night-standed this woman a decade ago, but seems to be having a hard time understanding that she isn't interested in picking back up where they left off. Her low rejoinder of "There is no now," when he asks her about their relationship now is a moment that forces him to realize that she is not necessarily under his control, no matter how they may have interacted in the past.

Christine's lines are contradictory to this spirit, however; she frequently implies that she has been forced or trapped into her current life, which suggests that she would run back to the Phantom if she could but simply isn't able to. As she began to do back in "Look With Your Heart", she also frequently blames herself for this situation in her lyrics, which is frustrating since we have just been informed that she isn't the one that broke their relationship off, and makes it seem like this libretto was written by a team of people who were not communicating very well in regards to the plot.

This is another love duet, coming full-steam on the heels of the first; while both are beautiful musically, they have the effect of overloading the audience, who have by now gotten the idea that these characters have unresolved yearning for one another and could really stand to see the plot move on. One of this show's major problems is that the unresolved relationship between these characters is obviously treated as its most important and compelling element, leading to the actual plot being sidelined and blitzed through with little in the way of justification or connective tissue, and the result is that the audience is alternately sprinting through the actual plot of the story with only half an idea what's supposed to be going on, and slogging through endless maudlin interludes in which the characters talk about their feelings but nothing actually happens.

I've been complaining a lot about the Phantom and his inconsistent characterization (or lack thereof), but in this song, where he is once again playing the role of wistful long-ago lover hoping to regain his lady's affection, the central problem with his character becomes apparent. It's not only that he doesn't sound like the Phantom, although it's true that he doesn't - he retains none of that character's neuroses, hits none of his themes, seems to suffer from none of his problems, and has retained none of his growth. It's also that he could literally be anyone; his reconstructed relationship with Christine and the emotions he relates could belong to any couple in a similar situation, and therefore his being the Phantom is completely and totally irrelevant to this musical's plot. What is his being the Phantom adding to this show? How does this story need to follow that one, when neither is contributing to the other and Lloyd Webber had to in fact rewrite the previous show's events substantially just to make the idea make sense?

The answer is that nothing is added, and the two stories don't need to go together - that they are in fact constantly fighting with one another as a result of Lloyd Webber's attempt to mash them together. This show would have been a much better and more honest endeavor if it had been about completely new characters, because that's really what it is, just with old characters' names pasted on. The character of the Phantom is the most egregious example of Love Never Dies' complete failure to actually act as a sequel to the previous show, but the entire piece suffers from it, as various characters and elements are introduced for the express purpose of mimicking the first musical but have no gravity or purpose of their own and eventually fall flat. Lloyd Webber's attempt to reproduce the previous musical's emotional content and aura instead falls utterly flat; he's borrowing material from himself and it's no wonder that nothing new or interesting is produced from it.

Along those same lines, the Phantom's deformity is never revealed in the Australian production of the show (although he is unmasked in one scene, we don't see his face). This is because his "accursed ugliness" doesn't actually matter in this show; like so many other things, it has to be addressed in order to justify the character's presence, but it isn't actually dwelt upon. The audience knows perfectly well that he's disfigured and has seen it before, so a dramatic reveal would be meaningless to them, and the mask is just a trapping of a character that conceals nothing of import; it's just there to tie this show to the one that preceded it.

Can I say that I love O'Byrne's high notes, though? That is some beautiful goddamn pianissimo vibrato.


Ten Long Years of Yearning:


We revisit music from Lloyd Webber's first musical again here, with a full retread of the "Stranger Than You Dreamt It" melody by the Phantom. In spite of it feeling out of place, it does seem appropriate in that it hearkens back to a more mysterious and menacing Phantom, and this one has just realized that Christine is not inclined to do what he wants and is therefore about to resort to his comfortable old threats and intimidation routine. He wants Christine to sing at his show rather than the opera house, and when she refuses, he promises to double Hammerstein's offer, which is an unfortunate choice since after all the reminiscing about sex they just had and how she shot his requests to resume a relationship down, it sounds more than a little bit like he's proposing simply buying her affection.

Christine's speech in response is applaudable; she points out that she doesn't owe him anything and made her choices a long time ago, for which I cheered her and raised a glass of midori in respect. It would have been stronger if she had actually mentioned any of the most important reasons she has to not owe him anything (although really, "I am a human being and not a romance-dispensing ATM" is the only one she needs), such as the fact that he stalked and kidnapped her and tried to kill her husband and did kill other people, but curiously she only cites his ten-year absence; again, their romance is more important than any pesky plot in either show, and she joins all the other characters in having apparent amnesia about everything that happened in the previous show. Which is yet another reason that this show really doesn't need to be a sequel to a show it refuses to acknowledge.


Mother Please, I'm Scared:


Now that he's confirmed that Christine is refusing to give in to his demands, the Phantom takes the most direct route to forcing her hand: he starts threatening her child. When Gustave arrives (interestingly, because he had a nightmare that will later turn out to be prophetic about someone trying to drown him, making him more supernatural than any other character in this show), the Phantom holds him off the balcony; the kid seems unaware of his possible peril and thinks it's a game, but both Lewis' obvious menace and O'Byrne's panicking and attempts to pull him back make it clear that it's a very unsubtle intimidation tactic to remind her that he has the power to utterly destroy her life if she won't do what he wants.

The following scene is more than a little skin-crawling after that; the Phantom makes a point of making friends with Gustave while his mother hovers helplessly nearby, unable to physically prevail over him or confront him without endangering her son. Oddly enough, I think that this is partly meant to illustrate the fact that Gustave and the Phantom are kindred spirits and presage the reveal of Gustave's parentage, but when the unspoken subtext of every action is that the Phantom is interacting with Christine's son with the express intention of terrifying her, any such attempt is completely unsuccessful. The Phantom's promises to Gustave to show him all the wonders of Coney Island and bond with him over their interest in the strange and obscure is an obvious and intentional parallel to his "induction" of Christine into the world of mystery and magic in the previous show, but its execution is vastly different; where the Phantom came to young Christine in disguise, hypnotized her and hid behind her memories of her father, his interaction with Gustave is up-front, exciting and enthusiastic, undertaken with the easy and automatic knowledge that the boy will respond to it positively. The unspoken subtext is that the induction of the two characters is different because of its purpose - the Phantom wanted something from Christine and therefore did everything in his power to stack the deck in his favor, while he has no particular ulterior motive with Gustave and instead shares with him forthrightly. There's also more than a little bit of a nasty gendered double standard here; the underlying feel is that the forbidden and dangerous is natural and normal for boys, who experience it as an adventure, but bad and dirty for girls, who can only be seduced by it.

Gustave sings some more bars of "I Remember" from the previous show here, in case we had momentarily forgotten that this was a sequel to that. Which, considering its content, I think we could all have been forgiven for.

The Phantom's insistence on personally accompanying Gustave around Coney Island and showing him various things is disturbing even without his current situation with Christine; we have no context for his interaction with children, and his menacing behavior leaves us with little choice but to assume that he plans to do something terrible to the boy. By the end of the scene, once Gustave has left again, he has outright threatened Christine that he will kidnap her son if she doesn't cooperate, again illustrating his complete lack of retention of his redemption in the previous show or any comprehension of how to treat this woman that he ostensibly loves. Like the managers in the first musical, Christine is the target of the Phantom's ire for her refusal to cooperate, and he not only threatens her son but also physically manhandles her and threatens to take everything she loves away if she doesn't, and closes out by claiming that he needs her, thus attempting to place the burden back on her for being the party at fault if she doesn't comply.

Eventually, Christine agrees - she doesn't have very much choice, unfortunately - and the main theme of the previous musical plays to underscore the Phantom's fearmongering and power over her. And then it's bewilderingly succeeded by the first appearance of the title song from this show, which appears when Christine sees the music she's supposed to sing for the first time and inexplicably gets all butterfly-fluttery over it in spite of her trauma of two seconds ago.

Dear Old Friend:


This song brings us back to the main plot of the musical, such as it is, when Meg, Madame Giry, Christine, and Raoul all meet up during show preparations and reminisce, and the earlier conflict of the Girys being afraid the Phantom will discard them is furthered by the realization that he has scheduled Christine to sing on the same night Meg was supposed to have her big main debut (and also failed to mention that fact to the Girys). Meg and Christine are genuinely glad to see one another, at least in the Australian production, although the concept recording seems to suggest more reticence and dislike on both of their parts. Meg's and Madame Giry's motivation for being cranky is their aforementioned fear of being replaced, while Raoul is upset that Hammerstein still hasn't made an appearance and they may be being given a brush-off after coming all the way to the States, and Christine is responding to the hostility being leveled at her none-too-subtly by her former colleagues (and considering the circumstances under which they last saw each other, Raoul and Christine may also be somewhat stressed out by the Girys as reminders of the traumatic events of the last show).

The piece is meant to be light-hearted and entertaining in the same way the "Notes" interludes from the previous Lloyd Webber show were - in fact, the version on the concept recording includes snatches of the "Notes" melody line transposed to a minor key, and the entire piece's chord progression and melody share marked similarities with the first show's "Prima Donna" as well. Raoul and Madame Giry aren't kidding when they say, disgruntled, that meeting this way is "the same, just rearranged." Alas, it doesn't succeed at being as charming as it's shooting for; because it's largely based on the idea that these "old friends" actually hate each other and are intentionally and viperishly backbiting each other throughout it, there is a distinct tone of meanness that makes it difficult to like or even laugh at any of the characters involved, and the fact that their conflict is so contrived and poorly presented makes them seem even more unreasonable.

Madame Giry's apparent game plan is to offend the de Chagnys into leaving, and she starts by implying that Raoul is stupid for not realizing that the Phantom is behind their current predicament, which he finds understandably confusing since that guy is supposed to have been dead for a decade and I don't know why he would realize that. She does not help with her follow-up of, "It's him!", followed by Raoul asking "Him?" and her responding, "That's what I said," because it's apparently beyond her comprehension that he wouldn't immediately lay the blame on a deceased stalker who once harassed himself and his wife ten years ago in a different country. Considering that Madame Giry and Meg have apparently built their entire life around the Phantom and can't conceive of being without him, maybe it really doesn't occur to her that that isn't where other peoples' minds will probably go first. Raoul still picks it up faster than is realistic, because this show doesn't like wasting time on the plot instead of on soaring songs full of manufactured feelings, and Madame Giry further stirs the pot by implying that Christine might have willingly colluded with the Phantom to bring them here.

Raoul then stomps offstage to brood over it, ignoring Christine's cries to wait and talk to her about it; this is one of those terrible manufactured drama moments that happens in this show as it happens in a lot of bad romantic comedies, in which the entire situation could be resolved with thirty seconds of conversation but the writers inexplicably refuse to let the characters do that, because otherwise the entire house of cards would come tumbling down. It's especially confusing for Christine and Raoul; in the previous show, Christine was able to set the wheels in motion to save herself from the Phantom's menace by confiding in Raoul and getting his help, and it seems only natural that she would do the same here, especially since he is now her husband of ten years and despite their current marital difficulties she has been shown to be ostensibly in love with him. Had she simply grabbed Raoul's arm and said some variation on, "It's the Phantom, I don't know how he's alive but he's threatening to kidnap Gustave if I don't sing," Raoul would not only be in the loop and in her corner, but would most likely take the logical next steps and get authorities and help involved, which is what he did the last time.

But that would pretty thoroughly collapse the very flimsy plot structure, and also remind the audience that threatening to kidnap someone's child is the kind of thing that you call the police over rather than a romantic prelude to undying devotion, so the show glosses on by and instead sends Raoul off on his own. It feels like the show's writing is uneven and uncommitted here; clearly, Lloyd Webber realized that Christine needed some kind of motivation to give in to the Phantom's demands and stick around here, but he also has the entire show completely forget about that motivation and pretend that she's actually here because she's faithfully in love with the Phantom and can't betray him again, leading to characters who take actions that don't make very much sense. And even though Raoul has now been kicked out until the beginning of the next act and he now knows that the Phantom, who was behind some serious acts of terrorism and death ten years ago, is the motivating force that got them here (whether he thinks Christine was involved or not), he still doesn't go to the police on his own, nor try to get in touch with Hammerstein, nor try to safeguard his son. He goes to a bar and drinks for eight straight hours instead, pretty much entirely because the shaky plot couldn't survive him doing any one of the millions of other more reasonable things he could have chosen instead.

In addition to the dissonance between Christine's apparent reason for cooperating and her actual actions, the show also has a general problem with treating the Phantom's reappearance in the other characters' lives as a semi-ordinary occurrence; everyone, including Raoul and Christine who were the most victimized by his past crimes, acts as if this were dramatic and unsettling in the way that an ex-lover who might stir up tension showing up is unsettling, not the way that a dangerous criminal who once threatened them would be unsettling. Again, the Phantom could be anyone - certainly the other characters treat him that way, and the disorienting mismatch between his past treatment of them and their responses to him could have been completely avoided if he had been an original character rather than a continuation of one that doesn't make sense for this story.

At the end of this scene, Christine is left utterly alone; Raoul has left her in a fury (which is foreshadowing for him leaving her entirely later), Madame Giry has been nasty and departed, Meg started happy but abruptly severed their friendly contact when she learned that Christine was about to upstage her, and as we're about to see in the next number, Gustave has been kidnapped by Fleck, Squelch, and Gangle on the Phantom's orders. It's not a coincidence that this show systematically destroys all of Christine's positive relationships with others; it does so on purpose, so that the only relationships left to her are with the Phantom and Gustave, who is treated as an extension of him.

As for the Girys, their frustration and disappointment over the Phantom's apparent failure to come through for them gains some momentum here, although their lines about how much they dislike everything that's going on are pretty much identical to those they say earlier and later in the show. Now that Christine is actually physically present, she represents everything they've been hoping for in the flesh; from their perspective, the Phantom took a nobody peasant performing girl, Christine, made her a celebrity and a star and gave her a talent she could trade on her whole life, and set her up so that she is now successful, wealthy, and apparently happy. He raised her up out of poverty and sadness, and the Girys, ironically seeing him still as the saving angel Christine eventually discovered that he wasn't, want him to do the same for Meg, who in their estimation "deserves" it more since she's put in the time and effort to "earn" his attention. In Madame Giry's case, this is actually an unintentional call all the way back to Leroux's novel, in which she ran the Phantom's errands because he had promised to support and elevate Meg in the future to reward her; I don't think Lloyd Webber pulled from that version of the character intentionally here, but the idea of the mother who does dastardly things to secure her daughter's future has somehow survived nonetheless.

Madame Giry also refers in this song to the "cheap vaudeville trash" that the rest of Coney Island (including Meg) performs, which makes her opinion and that of the show's writers on the collective worth of all performers here that aren't the Phantom blatantly clear.


Beautiful:


It hardly seems fair that Gustave has been kidnapped even though Christine is already cooperating, but that's the Phantom for you. Actually, I find myself confused about exactly why the Phantom does this; are we supposed to understand that he is really into hanging out with kids and we've just never known it before, or that he was taking that intimidating promise to personally escort the boy around Coney Island seriously even though he probably has a million other more important things to do including keeping tabs on Raoul and Christine? He has no idea that Gustave is actually his son at this point, so he has no reason to be invested in him, or to spend the time that he does here in winning the child's trust and molding his mind. The boy returns to Christine at the end of the act, so unless this was just another scare tactic to keep her in line by demonstrating that he could take the kid any time he likes, or possibly a manipulation gambit to convince Gustave to trust him if he ever needs him to, I'm not sure of his motivation here. And please, writers of every stripe, you need to give characters motivations when they lure children into their creepy basements. When you don't, we have to draw our own conclusions and they are never flattering, especially when dealing with a character whom we already know had a questionable fixation on this boy's mother when she was a child.

And speaking of creepiness, the opening bars of "The Point of No Return", the most sexually charged duet in the previous Lloyd Webber show, are not a good choice here for obvious reasons. That song's lyrics and staging (including in the 2004 film that is forming a lot of the basis for this show) were not subtle about suggesting it as a metaphor for sex and passion, and it does not translate well when applied to a young boy and an older male stranger.

At any rate, after Gustave demonstrates that he is a piano prodigy - using stage show shorthand, so don't expect him to actually bust out any Chopin or anything - the Phantom gets hit by the lightning bolt of realization and finally figures out that the kid must be his son. This is both frustrating because the audience knows that of course that's his son, the show has been blindingly obvious about that fact from the minute he arrived, and because the Phantom is deciding that must be true from nothing more than the kid's age and ability to play piano, which is not a lot to go on, especially when he knows Christine was engaged to another man during the same time period (and it's worth noting that here, as in many derivative Phantom works, the child's musical talent is automatically assumed to descend from the Phantom rather than from Christine, in spite of the fact that she is also a talented musician; musicality is one of the Phantom's hallmarks, but in their haste to use it as shorthand to indicate this relationship to a child, authors often erase Christine's musical accomplishments as a matter of course). Of course, nowhere else in this show's plot does Lloyd Webber try too strenuously to justify his choices with normal logic, so the same is true here - it's ultimate laziness to make a plot twist so obvious that no one can argue with how unsupported it is.

I find it kind of odd that they wouldn't revisit the "Beneath a Moonless Sky" theme for this big reveal, considering that it's the story of Gustave's conception, but nobody asked me.


The Beauty Underneath:


And then BAM, ELECTRIC GUITARS! This song makes a full departure from the rest of the musical's score; other pieces occasionally try to incorporate rock music elements, usually without much success in making them work, but this piece is completely rock from start to finish. It walks a line between being fine - its melody and the rock orchestration are perfectly acceptable, although nothing I'm going to spend a lot of time humming in the shower - and being a mess, thanks to its laughably poor lyrics. I can't reproduce them all here, but suffice it to say that while we get the overall message, which is that there's beauty in dark and weird things and both Gustave and the Phantom feel it, we get it with a lot of overdramatic wording, unnecessary repetition of ideas and general masturbation on the part of a lyricist who is going to say the exact same thing for eleven couplets plus bridge and coda, and damn the consequences.

There are myriad problems with this song, its symbolism and its use in this show, starting with the fact that while it's meant to be final confirmation of the Phantom's blood relation to Gustave as he brings his son to see all the dark, hidden beauty of the underbelly of his domain, it doesn't really do a particularly good job of that. The idea here is that Gustave instinctively feels the call of these dangerous and forbidden beauties associated with his true father... but why is that? Are we meant to believe that liking a certain aesthetic or having certain interests is genetic? Certainly children often follow in their parents' footsteps or develop similar interests, but that's because they grow up with them, and these two have never met before the previous night, giving the Phantom no chance to demonstrate his interests or encourage Gustave to pursue them. Furthermore, the Phantom's own interest in this, it is implied, is largely because of his unfortunate circumstances; thanks to his deformity, he's been forced to avoid normal society for most of his life and instead inhabit shadows and fringe areas, which has naturally led to him having an investment in finding the beauty in those places and thus reaffirming his own existence as a result. Gustave, on the other hand, has lived a stable life with two parents in the upper-crust French aristocracy; how much fringe culture can he ever have even encountered, let alone fallen in love with, and what about his family and/or background could have given him a similar perspective to the Phantom's?

This is a common issue in versions of the Phantom story that endow him with offspring (almost uniformly male offspring identical to himself); creators paint his children, even ones that have little to nothing in common with him, as automatically springing into being as tiny copies of him, as if he'd simply downloaded his personality into Christine's womb along with his genetic material. Often this occurs out of a desire to create a "perfected" version of the Phantom, one who has all his talents and gifts but none of his physical uglinesses or mental complications, and it's often used as a plot device to clue audiences in that the child is his in those sequels that make his birth ambiguous or surprising; but in neither case does it ever make much sense. It also makes the Phantom's children more often than not bland non-characters that are simply present to give him validation as a creative force and grant him the satisfaction and happiness of having a family in spite of his previous behavior; Gustave is no exception, and like Christine, his only real purpose in this musical is to revise the events of the previous stage show in the Phantom's favor and reward him for being the protagonist.

Is there something interesting to be said for examining issues of nature versus nurture, especially in regards to the Phantom himself? Indeed there is; the original Erik of Leroux's novel was plagued by the question of whether he was evil because his deformity and society's backlash against it had made him so, or whether he was deformed because the evil of his soul corrupted his body. The presence of children of the Phantom with the exact same personality and proclivities in spite of wildly differing backgrounds suggests that the creator of a work believes that it is part of their essential nature, something passed down to them from birth and unaffected by the circumstances of their lives; but this implies that the original Phantom's fears were justified and that it was simply his own nature to be evil, and ironically this device is most often used in sequels in which the author is trying very hard to paint the Phantom's violent acts as not his fault and caused solely by the abuse directed at him by others.

Probably the most immediately striking thing about this song is that it's almost completely identical to the title song of the previous show, "The Phantom of the Opera". It boasts different lyrics and melody line, of course, but both pieces are rock-influenced departures from the more operatic style of the rest of their show, in which the Phantom lures a young person who doesn't yet know who he is from the safety of the upper world down into a lower world full of surreality and darkness, all the while exhorting them to surrender to his control and embrace his domain. In all technicality, the entire string of scenes from the first musical, from "The Phantom of the Opera" (in which the Phantom lures the unsuspecting kidnapping victim down to his lair) through "Music of the Night" (in which he encourages them to abandon the world of light and embrace the treasures of darkness) and "Stranger Than You Dreamt It" (in which the Phantom is unmasked and has an emotional breakdown before allowing the kidnapee to return to the upper world) is actually almost perfectly retraced here, just condensed down to occurring in a single song. Gustave fills the same role that his mother Christine once did, as the wide-eyed and innocently trusting child who listens to the Phantom's call, is seduced by the dark majesty of his domain, and then eventually realizes that he's far more frightening than he at first appeared and flees back to safety. Practically the only difference is that Christine was in some way under the Phantom's influence - often played as hypnotized or confused - when she was brought underground, while Gustave goes eagerly and with excitement, again giving us that unconscious subtextual difference between the author's treatment of a female (who should be guarding her virtue and is therefore seduced in order to force her down there) and a male (who has no such strictures and can approach it as an adventure) who are put in the same situation.

The problem with this should be immediately apparent to most viewers (and, unfortunately, to the audience which I can only assume is squirming in their seats the way I was): this descent into the metaphorical underworld and subsequent indoctrination of the Phantom's victim into his world is a seduction scene, and it has massively different overtones and context when the object of his interest is a child instead of an adult (although we were already having problems with that in the 2004 film version, in which Christine was re-cast as only seventeen years old). To extend the Greek mythology metaphor Lloyd Webber himself introduced earlier in this show, in both musicals this is the moment that the Phantom, as Hades, kidnaps his Persephone to become his unwilling bride. The previous stage show was already on shaky ground in terms of scary undercurrent with its version of this scene (especially in the 2004 film version, in which it was revealed that the Phantom had been stalking Christine since early childhood), but it still involved a technically adult Christine and, through its use of the Phantom as a dangerous antagonist, avoided implying that the scene's questionable moments were defensible. In this show, however, Gustave is a ten-year-old child, being lured into an underground cellar by a man he has never met before in a strange place, and the Phantom is unquestionably the hero of the piece, leaving us in a very, very uncomfortable place when it comes to exactly what it looks like might be going on here.

And worse, the song's lyrics are intensely sexual, so much so that it seems impossible for the lyricist to possibly have included that subtext accidentally. The Phantom, who in the staged version is frequently touching, leading, and heavily breathing all over the boy he's brought down into a dark and indistinct area filled with other performers that seem to be unconcerned about this behavior, sings a number of incredibly sexually-charged lines to Gustave, including "Have you felt your senses surge and surrendered to the urge?", "Might you hunger to possess hunger that you can't repress?", "Don't you feel amazing things? Things you know you can't confess, things you thirst for nonetheless," and "Does it fill your every sense? Is it terribly intense? Tell me you need it, too!", all of which are none too subtle and extremely inappropriate in context of a grown man singing to a child. He also directly sings, in an internal-monologue aside using the "Beautiful" theme, that Gustave is "so beautiful, perhaps too beautiful," which does not help his incredibly creepy vibe any. And as if all of that did not paint the Phantom as a terrifying pedophiliac predator enough - and trust me, it really, really does - someone made the choice to have Gustave begin screaming "Yes!" over and over again throughout the song. I am very grateful for the fact that I watched the final staged version of this show before listening to the cast recording, because without being able to visually see the Phantom not molesting Gustave, I would quite seriously have believed I was listening to a horrifying scene of sexual assault of a minor. At the end of the song, its climax (and I am not using that word coincidentally) comes after a long ramp-up of the Phantom shouting more sexually-charged commands at Gustave while the boy shrieks "YES!" over and over: "You can feel it!" "YES!" "Come closer!" "YES!" "You can face it!" "YES!" "You can take it!" "YES!" "You'll accept it!" "YES!" "You'll embrace it!" "YES!"

This is the place in the show in which I am genuinely utterly at a loss as to how no one ever stopped Lloyd Webber. This piece makes his hero, even when I can see him not actually touching Gustave onstage, sound like a massively creepy and inexcusable sexual predator, and the revelation mere moments before that Gustave is also his son adds an even more disturbing element of incest to the situation (all too believable, considering the Phantom's eternal fixation on Christine, which could be extended to her son). How did no one notice that this was horrifyingly problematic, or ever call him out on it? How on earth did this make it from the concept recording - on which, by the way, Gustave's shouts of "YES" are even more enthusiastic and therefore disturbing - through all the edits to still end up in the final cut of the show, horrible lyrics, seriously icky subtext, and orgasmically screaming children all still included without change? How did this open in London without an outcry? It's so bad that it's seriously difficult to believe that no one involved intended this subtext to be there, let alone to believe that subsequently no one ever noticed.

The sexual undertones of the previous musical's version of this scene worked because of the context of the story and its characters; the Phantom embodied the Gothic villain who suggests the forbidden dangers of sexuality, while Christine, as an adult with a previously-established (if totally fucked-up) relationship with him, was given more depth in her attraction to him, her struggle against his allure, and the power dynamics that were established between them. Somehow, Lloyd Webber thought it would be a good idea to directly copy and paste this scene into the sequel, but to both continue to use his former-villain-now-hero a representative of dangerous repressed sexuality while changing the focus of his attentions from an adult struggling with her desires to a child with no idea what is even happening to him.

So, yeah, I would not be surprised if this is the moment that a lot of people stop listening to this show, especially if they're only experiencing it via the concept album and don't have the comfort of being able to watch the Phantom keep his hands to himself. Its themes and storytelling are already problematic at the best of moments, but listening to what sounds an awful lot like a rape scene involving a ten-year-old boy is going to wig even the most stout-hearted musical-lovers out at least a little bit.

Because this song is the moment where the show commits entirely to rock music, and because rock music only really intrudes on the rest of the show when the Phantom is busy being emotional at someone, the rock elements themselves begin to be sinister suggestions of the Phantom's possible depravity whenever they appear. Which is in fact actually kind of neat in comparison to the 1987 Barberini/Argento film Opera, which also used surprising intrusions from heavy rock music to herald its scenes of violence and danger, but I have little faith that any intentional homage was being paid.

At the end of the scene, the Phantom intentionally unmasks for Gustave, shouting, "Let me show you the beauty underneath!" as the final lyrics of the song. Considering the terrifying buildup we're coming from, this gives us an uncomfortable parallel suggestion to him exposing himself or in some way becoming nude, which isn't helped by Gustave's ensuing scream of fear. It's interesting that the Phantom does this for Gustave, as opposed to Christine doing it herself in the previous show; the Phantom appears to have graduated from trying to hide his face from everyone to trying to find people who will accept it, since he performs this act in the hopes of finding that Gustave will be unaffected and positive toward him. This is a believable step forward for a character who is a decade away from the revelations he suffered at the end of the previous show and who has been living with various people, including the Girys, who probably don't care a lot about his face, but he fails to ever show any signs of that in any other part of the show, so it's only at this moment that he chooses to seek acceptance (probably, from the sketchy clues in the show's lines, because Gustave is his son so his approval matters more, although Christine appears to still be in the no-touching-the-mask club).

Gustave's few lines in this song are about seeking kinship with an adult who understands his inner world; this is another example of him filling Christine's role from the first show, taking the place of her fairytales and religious devotion to a fictitious angel with his yearnings for mysteries that he feels he can't share with his parents. Or, at least, it's implied heavily that he can't share these things with Raoul, but Christine herself is completely glossed over; in a show that hits the idea that Gustave and Christine are practically the same person this heavily, it's a confusing falter that they don't appear to be able to connect on any important level. The subtextual message is that this is something that requires a father's input, completely cutting Christine and any parenting prowess she might possess out of the equation based on her gender.


The Phantom Confronts Christine:


After Gustave flees in terror from the revelation of the Phantom's face - which, by the way, we do not see in the Australian production, which chooses to have the Phantom face away from the audience when unmasking in order to prevent anyone from seeing his deformity, which makes me question how much that production even bothers giving him one, since it's already clear that the deformity from the previous stage show has been severely reduced and no longer affects his lips or any part of his face visible outside the mask - the Phantom returns upstairs to seek Christine out and angrily castigate her for never telling him that he had a son. Of course, he vanished and was presumed dead for a decade, so how he can possibly blame her for that is difficult to swallow, but apparently he's angry that she didn't mention it the moment he popped up in her room yesterday. Much ado occurs over the Phantom's angst and misery over his lack of bonding opportunities, but, as Christine herself says, she could hardly have done differently; he disappeared the night after Gustave was conceived, she was marrying some other guy, and she wanted what was best for her child above all other things. She does not also point out that he is terrifying, dangerous, and might decide not to let her leave with her son after this performance if she told him so it would also have been a pretty bad choice for her to do so... but I feel you, Christine.

This leaves the Phantom looking even more unsympathetic than usual, which is unfortunate for his position as hero of the piece; Christine ends up having to not only apologize for never telling him about her child, but also for Gustave's fear of his face, tying together the familiar themes from the previous story of the Phantom's family fearing his face, but also giving him an unattractive air of bullying and frightening the very people he claims to love most.

In one of his major departures from Forsyth's book, Lloyd Webber's Phantom asks Christine not to tell Gustave about his true parentage and to take him away immediately after the performance; he is destitute over Gustave's perceived rejection of him and wants the boy to grow up happy and in a well-adjusted family, which is a surprisingly selfless attitude out of a character who has been pretty much nothing but unadultered selfishness since the beginning of this show. His histrionic reaction to Gustave's fear of his face is out of proportion, considering that the kid is ten and he whipped off his mask as a surprise reveal while he had him in a dark unknown area of a strange place surrounded by people he didn't know, but this is not necessarily out of character for a man who has always been very sensitive about others' reactions to his disfigurement.

The Phantom makes it clear in this scene that he considers Gustave's existence his "redemption", just as Pierre was used as a device to claim redemption for the character in Forsyth's novel; he says that Gustave "makes him right", implying that his existence balances the Phantom's own and cancels out any negativity he might have created in the world, and calls him his "saving grace". The idea plays upon the Phantom's traditional role as a genitive, creating force, and allows him to feel that he has created something (i.e., Gustave) that finally justifies his existence and will leave a lasting and positive legacy behind him. Whether this counts as redemption, especially in a character who is both clearly morally bankrupt and who has completely reversed his redemption in the previous stage show, is debatable, however.

Christine isn't given much to do in this scene (or, well, any scene the Phantom is busy dominating), but O'Byrne does an excellent job of continuing to be pensive over his possessive and unstable behavior; a particularly genius moment is when, after he sings a short reprise of "Til I Hear You Sing", she pulls her hands away from him and takes the last line to emphasize "once more." No matter what fond hopes he may have of her, it's clear that she is not about to dump Raoul and start planning her Phantasma repertoire any time soon.

This is the last song of the act, so it needs some conflict to hook the audience for the second half of the show, and that conflict arrives in the form of Madame Giry. Having just overheard the Phantom swearing to Christine that now that he knows Gustave is his son, he'll give him everything he owns, she takes this as confirmation that she and Meg will never be repaid for helping him and left to fend for themselves, and pitches an almighty fit. Her response is an incredibly melodramatic monologue that makes it hard to tell if she's a woman seeking recompense for services rendered and years of misery, or just a bananas-butt villain who wants to scream and cause problems for the protagonist. The scene is awkward and does not serve well as the end of the act; Giry appears seemingly out of the darkness to deliver her shrieking scenery-chewing condemnation of the Phantom, but her reason for doing so is tenuous at best and the audience doesn't really know whether to take her seriously or just go back to wondering what on earth is going on.

However much we aren't sure what's actually going on here, both actresses playing Giry are impressive in their delivery of lines that are very difficult to imbue with enough emotion and authenticity to come off as believable to an audience. Sally Dexter on the concept recording, in particular, sounds like the very personification of righteous fury.

Pacing-wise, this piece also highlights another major problem: the first act has ended, and we have only now actually arrived at the conflict that the plot is based on. This show does not have a coherent overarching story so much as it has a messy staggering from plot point to plot point.

 

Act 2:

Why Does She Love Me?:


Act two opens with Raoul drunk in a Coney Island bar, where, we are informed through the first few lines of dialogue, he's spent the entire night and had enough to drink that the bartender wants him cut off. He is presented as miserable and unhappy but unable to solve any of his problems, taking refuge in alcohol as a temporary escape; the extent of his drinking and its effect on his life and his family's life isn't thoroughly explored, but Boggess' Christine on the concept recording asks him not to drink anymore on his way out in a previous scene, so clearly it's an issue of some concern.

The song's content swings between self-excusing, with Raoul trying to articulate his feelings (apparently to no one) and excuse his own behavior which he knows to be poor, and poignant examination of his love for his wife and fears that he isn't adequate for her needs. Listing his faults makes him self-aware, but also highlights that these are faults that are within his power to change and that on some level he is simply not choosing to do so. He admits that he can't share or participate in Christine's musical pursuits with her, which makes him feel excluded and inadequate, and that her talents place her "above him", which he responds to by unconsciously trying to drag her back down to his level, something he is only able to admit while totally intoxicated. The effect is, as in the earlier "What a Dreadful Town" scene, that a character is struggling with believably complex emotions and evoking both sympathy and condemnation from the audience. While the intent in making Raoul a penniless drunken gambler is almost certainly to show him in an unflattering light next to the Phantom and suggest that Christine should never have chosen him, something it does in a fairly lazy shorthand manner, it also has the side effect of making him the character with the most believable and compelling character growth over the past decade in the entire show. It's a pity that he wasn't explored any further.

In the Australian production, Gleeson's physicality in this scene is excellent. He sits with his feet up on the rungs of his barstool, suggesting a childishness that only comes out while he's unguardedly drunk, and dangles with his knees wide apart, making him far more undignified than at any other point in the show. The portrayal tells the audience without any words that while Raoul may be drunk at the moment, he is also at his most honest and vulnerable.

We have a reversed symbol in Raoul's lines about wearing a mask, beneath which he says there is nothing; he feels that there is no substance to him beyond the visible surface and physical comforts he can provide, and is terrified that his wife might someday realize it and cease to love him. Of course, the very act of questioning his own substance tells us that he is not truly shallow or empty, but rather still afflicted by the sense of inferiority that makes him question whether or not he's worthy of his family. The obvious comparison the lyrics are trying to draw is with the Phantom, suggesting that Raoul has a pretty façade with nothing worthwhile beneath, while the Phantom has an ugly façade but is filled with important emotional depths, but ironically it is Raoul in this show who has demonstrated emotional depth and growth, while the Phantom has shown off a whole lot of flash but has apparently no motivation or complexity beyond his desire for Christine (and later the extension of that desire to include Gustave).

Interestingly, this is the only song in the entire show that examines Christine's current emotions and considers her choices and motivations. "Beneath a Moonless Sky" revisits her emotional state of a decade ago, but it's telling that she isn't given any real opportunity to express her feelings now or let the audience know where she's gone from there - as far as the show is concerned, the last time her feelings were important was when the Phantom was involved, ten years ago, and therefore nothing in between really needs to be addressed. In asking why Christine loves him and chooses to stay with him, Raoul is the only character who ever acknowledges the years of her life and her possible emotional struggles in the intervening time, even if he only does so through the lens of his own assessment of himself. Unfortunately, the song is not really intended to give us a true examination of Raoul's and Christine's relationship; it functions as a way to illustrate that their marriage isn't happy and suggest that Christine shouldn't love him anymore, thus clearing the field romantically for the Phantom to sweep back in, and therefore precious few lyrics are wasted on what kind of connection Raoul and Christine have had for all the years of their marriage. Most of the song's time is devoted to listing Raoul's faults and all the reasons their marriage should fail, but it does not actually tell us what that marriage was like, since the goal is to present it as flawed and therefore discardable, not to actually spend much time with the emotions of these two characters.

As the sun rises, Meg arrives to round out the piece by having a drink before going for her morning swim, a ritual she describes to Raoul as something she does every day to wash the dirtiness of life on Coney Island away. This is again foreshadowing to the big reveal of her misery that will come at the end of the show, but we are given no context for trying to guess what her secret hurts are, so while the audience gets the sense that Meg is tormented over something, we don't know what and the moment passes quickly when she doesn't sustain it. The dual presence of the only two characters who have truly evolved over the time between the previous Lloyd Webber musical and this one is meaningful, however, serving as a reminder of the changes time can inspire in people for better or for worse; and again, this works so well that it's ironic that the show spends so much time focusing on the pain of the Phantom after being separated from Christine, but somehow fails to show him living or changing as a result of that pain in any way.

Both characters refer to their methods of escapism with the phrase "leave the hurt behind", both letting us know that they are genuinely emotionally affected and that they are aware that their "solutions" are temporary ones. In Raoul's case especially, it also seems possible that he is referring to the events of the previous show; they were certainly traumatic for him and could well have left a permanent stamp on his life, and this would be especially relevant after he has just realized the Phantom's re-involvement in his life after the past ten years of supposed freedom from him.

When Meg is leaving, Raoul calls crankily after her that the Phantom isn't Mephistopheles; while he's referring to the fact that he doesn't believe the Phantom is a supernatural force, it's also a cute nod to the Faust story, which lent much of its symbolism to the original Phantom.

Devil Take the Hindmost:


For those wondering, "devil take the hindmost" is an old English phrase, probably dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth century, that means that whomever ends up in last place in a competition or race is on their own. It's similar to the "every man for himself" phrase, just with the included implication that whoever doesn't make the cut is going to be in trouble and will have no one left to save them.

In keeping with his M.O. in this show of just sort of showing up places anticlimactically instead of finding ways to be impressive - is this a comment on the different environment of Coney Island compared to the Paris Opera House, or just poor segueing? - the Phantom surprises Raoul alone in the bar now, with the intention of forcing him to leave Christine and stop ruining all his plans by existing. Considering that it has been a decade since the events of the previous show, not to mention that it appears to be following the 2004 film in which the two men were almost the same age, I could really do without the Phantom referring to Raoul as "insolent boy", which feels like it's purely there to try to call back the first musical again. He is way an adult. You both are. You could act like it at any time.

The ensuing duet should have delighted me, because I love male duets in musical theatre (if you play "Lily's Eyes" from The Secret Garden or the "Confrontation" scene from Les Miserables, which I suspect Lloyd Webber is intentionally trying to evoke here, I will seriously just stop whatever else I am doing), but unfortunately it completely lacks charm and interest enough to make it worthwhile. Their simultaneous recitative with different lyrics near the end is interesting and snappy, with a dramatic sense of two different characters with opposing motives that was missing in the earlier "Dear Old Friend", but it can't quite save the piece from being unmemorable for most of its duration. The music does a lot of menacing eighth notes tripping along to give things a feel of movement and a lot of major-key posturing, but unfortunately it falls short of the musical heights other parts of the show manage to reach, ending up sounding like the musical equivalent of two superb birds-of-paradise jumping around shaking their mating plumage angrily at one another.

Which is basically what they're doing in the scene, anyway; the Phantom wants Raoul to leave and give up Christine to him and Raoul is pretty pissed off about that suggestion and wants the Phantom to get away from his family, but unfortunately the lyrics boil everything down to two men fighting over a prize again, with the unfortunate result that neither one of them is sounding like a great contender for Christine's love (which apparently isn't involved anyway, since she's not even here during their supposed decision-making). Christine is referred to with explicitly objectified language and implications of ownership, such as when the Phantom barks at Raoul, "You think you own more of her soul than I?", and though Raoul occasionally tries to give her back some agency with his lines (his response of "Her heart will always follow me" is arrogant, but at least it acknowledges her choice), for the most part she is a non-entity, a thing to be fought over. Eventually the two men make a bet to decide who Christine belongs to (not even lying, that is the language they use): they determine that if Christine sings for the Phantom tonight at his show, she's staying with him, and if Raoul can persuade her not to, she's staying with him.

I'm sure I hardly have to point out the asinine assy assery of this convention: Raoul and the Phantom are deciding what Christine will decide without telling her. They are placing the burden of choice on her by basing their decision on her actions, but because she has no idea they're up to any of this, she's not really "choosing" anything, and can't be giving meaning to those actions with a choice she doesn't know she's making. Lloyd Webber has taken Christine's all-important choice between these two men in the first show, thrown it away, and then told us she's going to choose again and get it right this time, but even that's a sham, since she isn't deciding anything and these two men have already chosen the possible outcomes for her behind the scenes. In a sad way, it's interesting that even in a musical that has worked so hard to try to establish that Christine really wanted to stay with the Phantom and never should have gone with Raoul, the story still feels the need to take that choice away from her this time around; is it because unconsciously the writers still don't "trust her" to make the choice they would prefer, or because they have completely given up pretending that her choices matter in any way except as lip service?

Just as dissonant and distressing is the unspoken implication that Christine will be forced to honor this "choice" she's making; no one acknowledges that she could do anything else, simply assuming that she will have to live with the consequences of these men deciding on the course of the rest of her life without her even being present. What, I wonder, are they planning to do if she doesn't want to do that? If the Phantom wins, is he going to lock her in the basement if she refuses to stay with him once she finds out what's going on and tries to go home to Raoul? If Raoul wins, is he going to bodily drag her onto a boat and across the Atlantic even if she decides she wants to stay in New York after all? The attitude not only of the characters but the writers of this show is telling in the utter lack of examination of these possibilities: they don't matter because it is assumed that Christine has no power and no ability to make decisions or disagree with the men in her life, making the idea of forcing her to "choose" between the men without any knowledge of the situation even more ludicrous.

In an entirely too sobering moment, I realized here that I actually miss Forsyth's Christine. All other problems of that book aside, she at least stuck to her guns, told the Phantom she was happy with her choice and wasn't about to change it for him, and didn't end up being passed back and forth like a bingo night prize.

They wrap it up by shouting, "Now Christine shall choose at last!", which may make those who have seen the first show wonder if they both have amnesia and can't remember the fact that she already did that. It was kind of a big deal.

Although the scene's content is beyond salvageability, the power dynamics between the Phantom and Raoul, ably acted by Lewis and Gleeson in the Australian production, are illustrative of their attitudes and provide the audience with an understanding that a lot of their relationship remains unchanged from the previous show. Raoul's lines mostly have to do with being angry about this attack on his family, and the fact that he both realizes that the Phantom probably intends to cheat in this bet somehow but still has too much pride to back down or refuse to participate, while the Phantom repeatedly attempts to assert dominance over a defiant Raoul and reiterates his impending foregone victory several times, relying on smug assurance based on knowledge he knows Raoul doesn't have. Alas, while a lot of this is very similar to their interactions in the first show, Raoul is no longer trying to protect Christine, just claim her as his own, and the whole exercise becomes a sad scene of two aging men having near-identical crises and responding by trying to out-machismo one another for the affections of a woman who isn't even here.

The Phantom also makes sure to imply that Gustave might be his son instead of Raoul's, mostly to rattle his opponent's faith in Christine by suggesting that she's unfaithful and his family is a sham; and just as Christine is just a prize for these two men to tussle over, so Gustave is likewise demoted to the level of trinket, with the argument never about what the child might need or want and always about who the biological father is, on the theory that whomever supplied the semen has a greater "claim" to him. To his credit, unlike some other Raouls we could name, this one doesn't go off the deep end or run off to confront Christine; he simply doesn't believe it, which is reasonable considering that the Phantom is not exactly known for either truthfulness or avoiding playing dirty. And speaking of playing dirty, the Phantom half chokes Raoul out in the Australian production's staging, which seems like poor form for a gentlemens' bet but is hardly surprising to anyone who has seen him in action before.

Also to Raoul's credit, once the Phantom leaves, he is very quickly horrifed when he realizes the bet he's made and his own poor judgment, but mostly because he is afraid of losing Christine, which again demonstrates failure on the part of both character and writer to understand that bargaining with women as if they were objects is not appropriate and that Christine should have all the free will she needs to tell them where to stick their bet if and when it comes to light.


Heaven By the Sea (Reprise):


This is a piece only found on the concept recording, and it takes the same familiar role as "Masquerade" did in the first Lloyd Webber musical; it's a scene-setter, in which excited patrons of Phantasma discuss the upcoming performance, describe events and the surroundings and lay the groundwork to help immerse the audience in the time period and place before the final drama unfolds. It does its job well - I can see why it was cut for the final version of the show since it is possible for the story to get by without it, but it gives some more entertaining Coney Island flavor to help break up the dramatic shouting, which was helpful.


Bathing Beauty:


This is a cute number to let Meg show off her adorable chops, and was to be her big headlining number, although it has been preempted by Christine's performance, which is supposed to follow it. It's intended to be the "low" entertainment before Christine's high-brow act comes on, which is reflected in its simpler musical structure and the vaudeville-style orchestration and performance, which should not prevent anyone from enjoying either Summer Strallen or Sharon Millerchip, both of whom are excellent in it.

Meg's discontent after her act is with the fact that Christine is stealing her spotlight and chances for the Phantom to notice her, but the show - both the Phantasma performance and Love Never Dies itself - makes it clear that this is not only supposed to happen, but inevitable thanks to the nature of the performers. Christine, it is implied, deserves both the spotlight and the Phantom's attention more than Meg does, because what Christine does is art and Meg's show is, as Fleck says, "for those of you whose taste is a little more earthbound." We're looking at a classic virgin/whore dichotomy in which Christine is placed upon a pedestal and Meg is barred from ever being perceived in the same way. Christine is "pure", "beautiful", and "innocent", descriptors partly carried over from the first Lloyd Webber show and partly reiterated by characters in this one, so she is considered worthy of adoration and respect as an artist. Meg, on the other hand, is "earthy", performing shows in bathing suits with sex jokes as opposed to Christine's always primly-clothed classical arias, which the show uses as shorthand to show that she's "fallen" or unworthy and therefore just can't aspire to be in Christine's league. As the audience, the show encourages us to understand Meg's disgruntlement at being rejected and overridden, but also to support its source by reminding us that Christine is deserving and beautiful, and Meg, for no reason except that being sexual is shorthand for being lesser when applied to female characters, can only be jealous of her. As if all that weren't enough, there's also a strong element of classism involved, with the Coney Island shows and performers again considered lesser as performers and caricatures as people when compared with the High Art of Christine, the opera-singing aristocrat.

Alas, poor Meg still thinks of the Phantom, somehow, as Christine's old Angel of Music; she thinks he will save her from her circumstances if only she believes in him hard enough. But, as Christine discovered to her own severe disappointment and distress, that's never what he's been about; he did those things for Christine out of self-interest and a desire to win her love. Philanthropy had nothing to do with it.


Mother, Did You See?


As she did earlier in the show, Meg descends from the high she's riding after her performance to excitedly ask her mother for approval of her performance as well as ply her for details on whether or not the Phantom has finally been impressed enough to take her under his wing. Unfortunately for her, that excitement is totally destroyed when Giry, still in the same hostile funk she entered at the end of the first act, not only tells her that the Phantom doesn't give a damn about her performances but also informs her that everything she's ever done to impress him was a waste and he's going to replace them with Christine now, so she might as well stop getting her hopes up. It's a brutal takedown of Meg's optimism, and it's hard to swallow as coming from her mother; we must assume that Giry herself is so devastated by the end of her own hopes that she isn't aware of how much she's hurting her daughter when she lashes out about it.

The lines here make it seem like whatever it was Meg was doing to support the Phantom was largely motivated by Madame Giry herself; she implies that she sent Meg out to do these things and told her that it would eventually pay off, but once things go south, it's Meg whose efforts are said to be not "good enough". Madame Giry's marked ambition in this show makes her read as the mastermind who forced her daughter to comply, especially when contrasted with Meg's general naiveté and hopefulness.


Before the Performance:


Playing out his part in the bet, Raoul arrives in Christine's dressing room before she's due to go on to ask her not to sing tonight. He approaches by trading on nostalgia; he dresses up in his handsomest tuxedo and compliments Christine on her beauty, and reminisces with her about their long-ago meeting and courtship in the opera house. Some of this is manipulation, to be sure, but after the brief glimpses into Raoul's character we've gotten over the course of the show, it also seems possible that, having realized that he very well might lose his wife, Raoul is also finding himself remembering all the ways he appreciates her and realizing how much of a blow it would be to no longer be with her.

During their nostalgic conversation, Christine mentions that Raoul always threw her a single red rose after performance. This threw me for something of a loop, because the red rose given to Christine after performances is normally something proferred by the Phantom, starting with the 1983 Markowitz/Schell film. It's a confusing assertion considering that the 2004 film version of Lloyd Webber's previous show used this convention itself several times; it might be that the line is attempting to subtly imply that Raoul took credit for some of the Phantom's gestures while courting Christine, but it's never revisited and I'm not sure I have that much faith in this script's command of subtlety.

Unfortunately, Raoul can't quite be the sweet and loving husband he's trying to be here, because we in the audience are aware of how truly manipulative he is being. He is sincere in his protestations of love and pledges to do better, and most likely he really means them, but he still fails to tell Christine about the bet (again, in the same vein as earlier, a three-line conversation amounting to "the Phantom made a bet that you have to stay with him forever if you sing tonight, don't do it" would have halted this shambler of a plot in its tracks) and allows her to continue blithely on without any knowledge that he and the Phantom are deciding her fate without her input, and further uses some very emotionally charged language by telling her that she has to refuse to sing if she truly loves him.

Still, we can feel sympathy for Raoul, who has been painted as a man with a lot of faults who is trying to do better, and who has realized that he's made a terrible mistake, particularly when he kisses her before going offstage with believable passion out of Gleeson that suggests he is all too aware that he might never get to do so again. Poor Christine still doesn't know what's going on, other than apparently something is up, and it's impossible not to feel a lot of sympathy for her, too, caught in a dick-measuring contest between two men who won't even tell her what they're doing.

Once Raoul leaves, it's the Phantom's turn to show up and tell Christine what she wants and needs as well as "whose she should be", and to inform her that she's "made of finer stuff" than Raoul can appreciate, once again implying that the Phantom deserves her more than Raoul does and neatly undercutting any opinion she might have on the matter herself. This Phantom is obviously a continuation of Lloyd Webber's take on the character, but even so his possessive and entitled behavior is startling in a descendent of the character who was terrified that Christine would die if she touched him and broke down crying when she kissed his forehead.  He also gives her a monstrosity of a necklace, which is a very real visual symbol of ownership (e.g., a collar), and which also gives him a hilarious parallel to the dastardly duke of the most recent film incarnation of Moulin Rouge!, who also tried to buy a resisting performing lady's affections with a giant necklace but who was definitely not anyone's idea of the hero of the story.

Frustratingly, Christine is not allowed to respond to any of the Phantom's shenanigans, as she has almost no lines in this part of the scene. Even when she is actually physically present, she doesn't get any input into her own choice or future; the scene is about the two men airing their feelings and presenting their case for why each deserves her more, and has nothing to do with what she might want.


Devil Take the Hindmost (Reprise):


Gustave sings a sweet boy-soprano background melody without words to set this song to, which reminds me a bit of Lily's distant soprano wails in Norman's and Simon's 1991 musical The Secret Garden.

Seemingly without realizing the irony of doing so, Christine here sings almost the entirety of the "Twisted Every Way" piece from the previous musical, which was her musical comment on the difficulty of making the choice between helping the authorities catch the Phantom or remaining loyal to her teacher. She is making no such decision here - certainly she knows Raoul doesn't want her to sing and the Phantom does, but she doesn't know of any significance beyond one of them getting their feelings hurt and has no way of knowing that any life-changing decisions are being made. Lloyd Webber has chosen to keep the entire "Twisted Every Way" interlude but to simply replace the lines that refer to Christine being afraid, risking her life, or reaching for her own freedom with a solo violin; this makes the text make more sense, but unfortunately also only highlights how much Christine has lost in terms of being able to act as a protagonist in her own right.

And, of course, Christine really has no choice here at all, which we are perfectly well aware of as members of the audience but which Lloyd Webber and the rest of the show's creators seem to have forgotten again. She can't disobey the Phantom, because he has threatened to kidnap or harm her son if she does so. That's the entire reason she's singing tonight in the first place - she wanted to go home ages ago, but was prevented by his threats. She's therefore caught between her husband's love and her child's safety, but since she has no idea Raoul has arbitrarily decided to plan his whole future based around what she does in the next ten minutes, to her there is only one clear choice: perform in order to keep Gustave safe and hope that the Phantom honors his promise to let them leave afterward, and hope to smooth over Raoul's hurt feelings and explain to him what was going on later. Even the non-choice she has been given over her destiny here isn't really a choice at all; it's a foregone conclusion, and one that for some reason this show seems determined to consider the fulfillment of romantic fate instead of a situation born of coercion and manipulation to tear a woman away from her family of ten years.

This does not prevent Raoul and the Phantom from singing dramatically backstage about how Christine is "choosing" one of them now, however, because they are apparently utterly unaware of the fact that their setting an arbitrary criterion they don't even tell her about is the exact opposite of letting her make a choice.

Madame Giry joins this final quartet in order to hope along with Raoul that Christine won't go on, thus rejecting the Phantom and leaving the playing field clear for Meg again, although after living with him for years upon years I'm not sure why she thinks that would be a safe option for the singer or that the Phantom wouldn't go off the deep end soon after. Even her final parting shot to the Phantom, however, is about him and Christine's function as a reward for him instead of as a person; she says "I hope Christine's worthy of you," implying that in spite of his reprehensible behavior and the impossible position he's put the woman he claims to love in, it's Christine that must reach to deserve the Phantom, not the other way around.

Meg is not involved in the piece proper, but she sings the final "Devil take the hindmost" line, which signals her finally accepting that the Phantom has chosen Christine over her and letting go of the last of her optimism in favor of bitterness and anger.


Love Never Dies:


This is the title piece of the entire show, and the third (or fourth, if you count "Look With Your Heart") love song dedicated to the Phantom and Christine. The song is supposedly written by the Phantom about his love of Christine, but considering that it was written specifically for her to sing, it's more than a little bit implied that it's actually the feelings he would like her to be revealing to him, which he forces by literally putting the words in her mouth. The song has a long and checkered history; it was written for the first attempt Lloyd Webber made at a Phantom sequel musical in the early 1990s but scrapped when that musical failed to materialize, and then repurposed for the 2000 musical The Boys in the Photograph, where it was called "Our Kind of Love" and featured different lyrics. It was subsequently cut from that show, and finally given new lyrics and included here, where as the title song of the musical we can probably assume it will stay.

The song's melody line, especially the chorus, is recognizable and lovely enough to be one that audiences will be humming afterward; however, as always seems to be the case with Lloyd Webber musicals, various critics have pointed out that it bears a startling resemblance to other pieces of music that were not written by him, most notably the love theme ("Jealous Lover") from the 1960 Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine romance film The Apartment. As always, listeners will have to compare them and make their own judgments.

The staging and acting of this scene in the Australian production is pretty outstanding even before any singing begins; O'Byrne does an excellent job of appearing conflicted, unhappy and even afraid over the fact that she's being forced to sing and will be deeply upsetting her husband and encouraging an unstable kidnapper, and she does an excellent job of giving Christine, who has no lines outside of those given to her by the Phantom himself, some emotional range and appearance of decision-making. She sings, thus giving the Phantom the "victory", but she does so for the majority of the song by singing directly to Raoul, who is standing in the wings, giving us the effect that she is apologizing and telling her husband that she loves him without either breaking her word or endangering her child. The plot may hang everything on Christine's head as far as who made the decision and whose fault the eventual turnout will be, but O'Byrne refuses to let it lie there, and her performance here is haunting. Raoul ends up leaving before the end of the piece in defeat, a choice that is made all the more heartbreaking by her delivery; Christine is desperately trying to tell him that she loves him, but he's more interested in honoring his bet with some dude than in listening to her or fighting to remain with the family he says he loves. Also, whomever designed the peacock backdrop and dress in the Australian show deserves major props.

The themes of the lyrics themselves are mostly ones of struggle and control; the Phantom wrote this for Christine to sing, so it's no surprise that they are characteristic of the way he has always treated her and have her telling the audience about how love "possesses", "invades", "forces", and "owns" her, lyrics which are not nearly as romantic when put together as either the Phantom or Lloyd Webber probably fondly hope. The song makes it clear that it expects her to submit to love, rather than being an active and equal participant in it.

This song's central message - that love is eternal and never ends, and that once you love someone you're stuck loving them for life - is problematic in context of the show. If love is truly eternal, why isn't her love for Raoul just as important, especially since it endured for many years as opposed to the very short time she spent being romantically involved with the Phantom? The implication is that it's not "real" love and that's why it's impermanent, but while Raoul is making some highly questionable choices, Christine has never once given us any indication that she doesn't love him or that she wants him to be gone. As with the rest of the show, it presumes that the Phantom's love is the most powerful and important bond to be had among the characters, and that Christine will return that love whether she wants to or not, because he's the protagonist and that's how it works.


Ah, Christine!:


Once Christine has finished singing, Lewis' Phantom in the Australian production all but tackles her, touching her repeatedly, calling her "my Christine" over and over, and obviously assuming she's planning to stay and live with him forever. This is not particularly attractive considering that O'Byrne plays her as obviously uncomfortable, and moreover, since he promised she and her family could go if she performed for him, more than a little worrisome from her perspective since it sounds like he's reneging on that promise. She's still unaware of his bet with Raoul, so while we in the audience know why he thinks her living with him as his wife is a done deal, he could really have had some more self-awareness when it comes to the fact that she still has no idea. The ensuing makeouts with the Phantom are meant to be an emotional denouement for those of us longing to get these two kids back together, but there seems to be no motivation for such on Christine's end, and the Phantom is once again all roaring emotions with no personality underlying them. It seems possible that the show is trying to suggest that Christine has been won over by the soaring beauty of the piece the Phantom wrote for her, singing his music again, or the realization of the depths of his feeling in its lyrics, but all of this is conjecture, and flimsy without something (like the implied hypnotism device of the previous show, for example) to help explain it.

Upon returning to her dressing room, Christine finds a farewell note from Raoul, who has apparently left for France without speaking another word to her, ever. It's intensely frustrating for the audience, who are aware that apparently honoring this malconceived bet is more important than giving the wife he's abandoning even the emotional closure of telling her what's going on, and although he evokes some fond memories of their long-ago relationship by singing some of it in the melody line of "Little Lotte" from the first musical, he follows that up by handing her off to her "Angel of Music", once again transferring ownership of her rather than speaking to her as a person. This is surprisingly similar to the 2007 de Mendes novel - although that Raoul was dying rather than leaving, he, too, felt the need to spend wordcount in his farewell to his wife on establishing that he was "giving" her to the Phantom. He tells her that "our choices [are] made", which again completely ignores the fact that Christine has made no choice at all here, and is only suffering the consequences of others' choices.

Christine is understandably shocked, because she had no idea that her deciding to sing a performance in order to make the money to pay off his debts would cause Raoul to dump her. And, alas, she will never have any idea why that happened. No one ever tells her about the bet or lets her in on her so-called "choice", which means that she has no idea why this was the hill her husband chose to die on or how thoroughly she was manipulated by these men who purport to love her. Much to my dismay, we won't even get to find out what Christine really feels about Raoul's departure or how it might affect her life going forward, or even whether or not she really wants to be here; the narrative immediately moves on to the fact that Gustave is missing and will go full steam until the end of the show, leaving us with no examination whatsoever of her emotions. This is a cowardly choice on the part of the show - again, Christine having feelings or responses here might make it clear that she is a person rather than a doll to be traded, or suggest that the perfect romance between herself and the Phantom is anything but, so it sidesteps the issue completely by refusing to give her even a moment to own the grief of this life-changing event.


Gustave! Gustave!:


When it's discovered that Gustave is missing, everyone immediately assumes that Raoul took him with him, which touches off a tornado of rage from the Phantom, who begins stalking around the stage bellowing. To be honest, I also assumed this, because why would Raoul not do that? He believes Gustave is his son, apparently cares about him in spite of his snappishness earlier in the show, and he never bet that he would leave Christine and his child and heir behind when talking to the Phantom. The Phantom is a pretty solidly dangerous and unpredictable person, so it would seem that taking Gustave as far away from him as possible is the safest thing to do for him, and we saw earlier that he didn't believe the Phantom's claims to be the biological father (and even if he did, Raoul is still the only father Gustave has ever known). The only reason I can think of for him to leave Gustave behind is because he didn't want to separate him from Christine, but this is the sort of concern that I'm not very willing to assume was in the mind of a guy who makes bets about whether or not to abandon family members at the drop of a hat.

But, it is established pretty quickly, Raoul did not in fact take Gustave with him, as told to us by Squelch, who saw him leave the theatre alone. After that, the Phantom decides that Madame Giry must be the culprit, based on her angry confrontations of him, and roars that he'll "tear her limb from limb", highlighting that this is a Phantom very much more physical and earthy in his violence than the disconnected traps-and-nooses violence of his earlier incarnations. He refers to Giry as an "ungrateful backbiting snake", which is somewhat surprising considering that as far as either the 2004 film's backstory or this one's go, Giry has been the one supporting him his entire life and not the other way around, so we must assume he believes she's ungrateful for not appreciating his majesty or something. As the concept recording has informed us, he certainly hasn't gotten around to giving her anything in return yet.

At any rate, Giry is also a dead end - after the Phantom locates and threatens her, they realize that she also doesn't have the boy. Fleck emerges to tell them that she saw that Meg was gone from her dressing room and that the mirror in there was smashed, which is another reference to the 2004 film, in which the Phantom also smashed all the mirrors in his domain in a similar symbolic gesture of severing his ties with his previous life and relationships, and finally they get around to searching everywhere for the last missing piece of this puzzle.

The following chase sequence is disjointed, which is partly because of staging issues that make it seem like not only Christine, who has never been here before, but also the Phantom who built the place can't seem to navigate their way around. Various Coney Island performers are questioned and unmasked in the search for Meg; on the concept recording, sound effects of roller coasters and screaming riders are used, which reminded me of previous film versions that did the same including the incomparable KISS Meets the Phantom, and which help blur the line between the entertainment of the place and the fear and danger underlying it.


Please Miss Giry, I Want to Go Back:


Weirdly, even though he has no lines or things to do for the rest of the show and has ostensibly already gotten on a boat to France, the Australian production has Raoul turn back up here to participate in the chase and witness the final events of the plot. I think this was to include him in the emotional gravity of the things about to happen, but since he doesn't speak or in any way interact with them, it feels more like a continuity error than a real choice, even though I know it's not.

The final drama in question here is that Meg is ostensibly planning to drown both herself and Gustave in the ocean, partly to escape her own pain and partly to hurt Christine, who she blames for stealing the Phantom's attention, in the same way she feels she has been hurt. When everyone catches up with her, she holds Gustave hostage while she reveals that she has been forced (the implication is by her mother) to sell sexual favors and perform sex acts for various people in order to get along in Coney Island show business and secure important patronage and breaks for the Phantom's shows to succeed, which again is provided to sympathize her character but also to subtextually imply to the audience that she is "damaged" and fundamentally unable to compete for anyone's affections on the same level with Christine. She reiterates the fact that she was desperate for not just the Phantom's attention but also his help, and her understanding, now that Christine's here, that she wasn't "worth" helping and therefore he ignored her and her suffering.

In the greatest irony of the show, the lyrics here take care to present Meg as unreasonable and unstable in her demands and reactions, and to let us know that the Phantom didn't owe her anything and that the description of her as lacking in comparison to Christine is apt. No one realizes that she's a victim or that their own actions might have been partly responsible for her responses; Madame Giry's only lines are "Meg, my poor Meg!" with no further information, and the Phantom's are focused on explaining that he never noticed what was going on so this really isn't his fault. Meg is here a recreation of the Phantom himself, a dispossessed and abused person who has resorted to terrorism and kidnapping in order to force people to acknowledge her suffering and provide her some kind of relief, but the show itself glosses past this, instead focusing on the threat she poses to the main characters' happy family.

Like the Phantom in the previous show, Meg lets her hostage go after baring her soul, at which point she produces a gun and threatens to commit suicide now that she has made her point. Even at this juncture, she's still all but begging the Phantom to help her; there is surely genuine pain and desire to end the life that inflicts it on her in her actions here, but also a desire for the Phantom to in this final moment save her from the brink. And when he finally steps up to the plate to do so here, the show experiences a rare moment of self-awareness as he bonds with her over their shared experience of being an outcast from "normal society" and feeling ugly without being able to do anything about it, although it doesn't last very long thanks to the fact that both Karimloo and Lewis play it as things said to calm down an unstable person, not actual recognition of a shared history. And finally, at the last moment, he drops the ball as he has been dropping every ball handed to him for this entire show, and tells Meg that it's not her fault she's become something ugly; "We can't all be like Christine."

This is among the most telling of moments in the show; he has confirmed outright for us that Christine represents a standard of beauty and purity that Meg can't aspire to no matter what she does (which, not surprisingly, she does not react well to), and reinforces the idea that Meg is worth less as a person because of her experiences, regardless of who she is or what she does about them. It's no wonder that she responds with misery and backlash, because the Phantom isn't offering her any reassurance that she's worthwhile or that he will help her, only reinforcing her assumption that she automatically fails such tests simply by virtue of who she is. Where in the final scene of the previous show, Christine responded to the Phantom's self-loathing and violent lashing out against them with empathy, forgiveness, and compassion, allowing him to finally see himself through her eyes as a person who could have a redemptive spark in spite of his past, the Phantom responds here to the same situation with Meg by merely reconfirming her darkest despair and telling her there's nothing she can do about it.

So she responds in much the same way the Phantom might have if he had been met with nothing but agreement with the self-loathing he was always battling with, and she shoots Christine.

Both the concept recording and the live show play the gunshot as an accident; Meg's voice is heard saying, "I didn't mean to--!" on the recording, and in the Australian staging the gunshot happens in the confusion as the Phantom physically tries to wrest the gun from her and it goes off while pointed in an unfortunate direction. I actually truly wish that this show had had the courage to allow Meg to take that shot intentionally; it doesn't because it wants to preserve the audience's sympathy for her, but it would have allowed her so much more agency and ability to make her own choices. Meg's turn for the worse doesn't make a lot of sense in this show, but since it's here, I would have liked Lloyd Webber to commit to it, and it would have been a completely dramatically important response for Meg, full of self-hatred and misery and told that she could never hope to be worthwhile like Christine, to respond by shooting her once-friend in an act of defiance, removing the person who by comparison makes her so unworthy and causing pain to all involved in her downfall as a result. It would also have been the only time any woman in this show got to make a choice entirely on her own; it would have been a hurtful choice, but a choice nonetheless. In the Australian show, even the fact that she shot anyone is put down to the Phantom's choice to jump her, making her once again just a moving, talking prop for other peoples' story.

While Forsyth's story also shot Christine at the end of the book, and did it for basically the same reason - in order to give all the dudes in the story buckets of sad feelings instead of bothering with character development, since in both that book and this show it is extremely clear that they're far more important as characters than is Christine herself - it instead placed the gun in the hands of its incredibly weird and random antagonist, Darius, and made the shot an intentional one (although it was meant for Christine's son, not for her, and hit her through the miracle of dramatically-mandated poor aim). Darius' role as an antagonist-for-hire whose presence doesn't make a whole lot of sense has obviously been taken over by Meg, who transforms into the same kind of character here at the end of the show with little warning ahead of time that she was going to do so; I assume that Lloyd Webber wanted to keep the characters of his first musical as much as possible, leading to the Girys' involvement, and that he probably rightfully judged that the character of Darius was a racism fiasco waiting to happen and wisely left him out of things.

The concept recording concludes the show all on this same track, which has been broken up into the following extra pieces for the final version of the show.


Finale:


As in Forsyth's book, Christine uses her dying breaths to inform her already traumatized and panicking ten-year-old son that the Phantom is his real father; this was a bad idea in that book, but it's even worse here, with Raoul already having departed and the cringe-worthy spectre of "The Beauty Underneath" hanging over us. She reprises "Look With Your Heart" in order to convince him that it's true, since he understandably doesn't want to accept it, and then dies gracefully in the Phantom's arms. Gustave shrieks "No!" on the concept recording, which was dramatic but also emotionally cathartic for a scene with a child losing his mother, and doubles as a suggestion that he may be equally rejecting the revelation of a new parent he's afraid of as he loses one that he adores; in the Australian production, the Phantom is instead the one who bellows the word, which is still acceptable as an example of a character inchoate with grief but which works less well for the overall feel of the scene. In that same staging, Raoul, who is still silent but inexplicably present, is allowed to then come and cradle his wife's body after she has died, but it feels hollow and pointless - like Christine herself, he is not allowed to express his grief, and the scene continues to focus on the Phantom to such an extent that they didn't need to bother him being there at all, except perhaps to function as an opposite "choice" so it looks like Gustave went with the Phantom willingly rather than having no other options available.

Christine's death, like her life in this musical, is meaningless. She is killed in order to cause all three principal men - Raoul, Gustave, and the Phantom - emotional pain and to force them to examine their lives, an extension of the way that she was treated as an inessential prop piece for most of the show while they talked around and about her. Her death does not come because of any action on her part or choice that she makes, nor is it in service of a greater narrative point about chance, destiny, or accidents; it's used because it's quick, easy, and represents nothing that the musical was considering valuable being lost. Poor Christine. She deserved so much better.

Gustave is hardly treated any better. Christine tells the Phantom as she dies to "take the love that you deserve," referring to Gutsave, who has now become the new person to become merely an object used to reward the Phantom for his sadness, and she chooses to kiss the Phantom as her last living act, totally ignoring her poor son who is standing right beside her and desperately needs his mother. Like Christine herself, this show has never really considered Gustave a person, and therefore he is easily ignored and relegated to the role of furniture whenever is it not convenient for him to be in the scene.


Love Never Dies (Reprise):


According to the waterlogged messages in glass bottles that I receive from the internet every day, this reprise was not originally part of the show, and indeed it does not appear on the concept recording - it was supposedly improvised by Karimloo for the final performance of his London run, after which Lloyd Webber liked it so much that he included it in future versions.

As in the Forsyth novel, the final important moment of the show is when Gustave chooses to extend his sympathy to the Phantom and accept him as his father, which he does by unmasking him and touching his face (again, we don't see the deformity when he does this). As in that book, this makes very little sense; Gustave has just been through a great deal of trauma and is only ten years old, yet the audience is supposed to believe that he would prefer to walk away from the only father he's ever known and the still-warm body of his beloved mother who has died mere moments ago in order to go soothe the hurt feelings of the mysterious stranger who completely terrified him a few scenes ago. As Lloyd Webber has been doing the entire time, he uses Gustave the exact same way here that he used Christine in the final scene of the previous show, as a vehicle for the Phantom's "salvation" that accepts him for who he is in spite of his faults; but as has been happening throughout the show, Gustave's different background, character, and probable motivations make it less believable, and since we've seen all this before, it lacks the emotional punch that seeing it the first time had. Like Christine, Gustave is not allowed to have, express, or explore emotions that would get in the way of making the Phantom feel better, and just as she was meant to function as a plot device to bring the Phantom happiness, so Gustave is slotted into that same role once she has died.

We are left, after the lights go down, to ponder how this show is supposed to fit into Lloyd Webber's "canon"; Christine's grave is shown to us at the end of the 2004 film that this show clearly borrows many elements and backstory plot points from, but its headstone claims that she died in 1917, over a decade later than this moment, and thanks to the fudging of dates this show also renders her age of death given there (63) incorrect.


While I never expected this show to become one of my new favorites - as I said way back in the beginning of this review, in spite of my efforts I'd already learned a little too much about its plot to think it was going to be a chart-topper in the world of Phantom-related works - I'm still disappointed by how dismal it really turned out to be. There were precious few original ideas or interesting devices used, and the show spent hours recycling tired old derivative-work cliches, giving me the feeling of watching a staged version of any one of a number of awful self-published sequels I've read over the years. The plot is tissue-thin, improbable, and full of inconsistencies and unpleasant implications, the characters lack motivations for the things they do and seldom get any real development or emotional content to their lines or actions, and the fundamental concept of the show is yet another reward-the-underdog fantasy in which the Phantom has to be rewarded no matter how much doing so is inconsistent with his previous characterization. It's especially disappointing because this is Lloyd Webber's own sequel to his own show, which is among the best adaptations of Leroux's novel yet produced and certainly the most popular, and his apparent complete misunderstanding of the reasons his first show was so beloved is a letdown after all the positive feelings we brought with us from it.

The music of the show, despite fits and starts where it lacks a really compelling way of tying itself together or dips into boring recitative for a little too long, is lovely in its own right and responsible for the musical's avoidance of a lower grade; in particular, "Beneath a Moonless Sky" and parts of "Once Upon Another Time" are signature Lloyd Webber and as beautiful as anything his first show produced. But even they can't disguise this show as anything but what it is: trite, boring, offensive, and disappointing.

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