Love Never Dies…or Does It

In London Theatre on March 20, 2010 at 6:05 pm

“Phantaaaasma.” Uhh…huh. If the opening word of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies” is any indication of the calamity that ensues, lovers of the original “Phantom of the Opera” (or respectable theatre in general, for that matter), run for the hills now.  This musical soap-opera-on-steroids is melodrama reborn, thanks to the preposterous writing and histrionic “acting.”  First off I must say that this production sacrificed all acting talent for the singing and dancing, which were more or less commendable.  Set in early 20thcentury Coney Island, the carnivale setting warranted performers of all kinds—contortionists with the impressive flexibility of overcooked spaghetti, acrobats, and the main attraction, the Oo La La Girls.  It is now a decade after the original “Phantom,” and our main man is the producer of this summer extravaganza.  We are re-introduced to the Phantom (Ramin Karimloo) in the throes of his longstanding withdrawal from Christine (Sierra Boggess), whom he has not seen, or more importantly heard, in these ten years.  The tortured soul growled his opening solo with seismic vibrato (I swear Karimloo was even warbling on consonants), his dramatic behavior ranging from threateningly holding a gun to his jowl to groping a Christine mannequin that he keeps in a cage.

The real Christine first appears in an angelic halo of white light, stepping off the boat from England with her now-husband Raoul (Joseph Millson) and son Gustave (a multi-cast role).  She has been hired as Phantasma’s newest star, unaware of the Phantom’s influence behind the scenes. Conflict predictably unravels throughout the show as Christine supplants Phantasma’s previous (and comparably inferior) star Meg (Summer Strallen), resulting in an ever-consequential bout of jealousy, and as Raoul and the Phantom both vie for Christine’s, sigh, undying love.

I must say that despite the show’s many faults, its production values made it worth sitting through.  The costume, lighting, and set design all merged into a cohesive, symbiotic force, producing an exceptionally stimulating spectacle.  The special effects were also sensational, capturing a sense of illusion and wonder with swirling, sometimes cinematic projections layered on multiple scrims—from cityscapes of the Manhattan skyline to translucent animations of the Coney Island ferris wheel. However, it seemed to be a common theme throughout the show that the technical aspects far outweighed the musical’s actual substance.  In one visually dazzling (though psychologically puzzling) number in the Phantom’s chamber, the Phantom seems to be getting off on Gustave’s inherent musical talent, when in a fervent frenzy he commands his minions to break into an 80’s metal rock out.  Again, the spectacle is amazing, as a chandelier of Medusa-inspired singing heads descends from the ceiling while a creature that can best be described as a quadrapus bangs out chords on a futuristic organ.  However, despite these impressive technical elements, instead of compensating for the show’s emptiness, they only magnified it.  In all honesty, the show’s gaudy style seemed like a knock off of Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge!”; a “Spectacular, Spectacular” that comparatively amounted to all show and no substance.

But the most disappointing part of this show for me was undoubtedly the acting, which seems to have been taken directly from the gestural handbook of melodrama.  Every movement, particularly from Boggess, was stylized with affected grace—presenting, not emitting, the emotional action of the characters.  But to the performers’ credit, I don’t think that even great acting could have saved the show, with its laughable lyrics and cliche dialogue (though there were approximately three minutes of actual talking in the total two and a half hours—the rest was back to back song).  One thing that I feel is essential to a good musical is that each song has to be motivated—the music has be a vital component of the show, without which the characters’ needs, wants, and desires cannot be fully expressed.  This particular musical failed miserably at that, cutting from song to song with no purpose other than to flaunt the performers’ voices.

However, despite the multitude of problems I had with this show, I am surprised to find myself concluding that it was not a total waste of time.  It was actually quite amusing, though presumably not for its intended reasons, and the intermission snacks were admittedly delicious. “Love Never Dies” is scheduled to arrive on Broadway in fall 2010, and I would only recommend going to see it if you happen to be presented with a free ticket.  And though my love for this show was dead to begin with, I am honestly able to say that I learned some valuable lessons from this theatrical experience.  It confirmed for me that overly obsessive phantoms do not ideal lovers make, and that even the deepest creative rut is no excuse to mess with an already established masterpiece.


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