Before diving headfirst into the many reasons that Love Never Dies is ridiculous (and it is very, very ridiculous), let’s take a moment to remember how The Phantom of the Opera ends. The Phantom forces Christine to choose: allow her lover Raoul to die and she can go free, or save Raoul but spend her life underground with the Phantom. Christine kisses the Phantom delicately on the deformed side of his face. The Phantom screams for them both to go and collapses in agony as Christine and Raoul reprise “All I Ask of You” while rowing away. The Phantom disappears behind a sheet, which is pulled away by the adorable Meg to reveal that the Phantom has disappeared.
The Phantom of the Opera might not be one of my favorite musicals, but one must admit—that’s quite a way to end a show.
What is most perplexing about Love Never Dies is that it exists to continue a story that is familiar to millions of theatergoers, yet it makes no effort to maintain continuity with its predecessor. Andrew Lloyd Weber and company found some inspiration from the novel The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth, but reading a quick synopsis of Forsyth’s novel reveals it was not intended as a sequel to Phantom of the Opera. It tells a new story with inspiration from the 1909 source material by Gaston Leroux’s—similar to what Gregory Maguire accomplished when he wrote Wicked.
Here is a list of the most problematic plot points of Love Never Dies:
- The setting is now Coney Island, where the Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes) is the proprietor of a sideshow which is simultaneously second-rate and the best in town (the musical never makes up its mind on this detail). Coney Island is the subject of several excruciating songs (“Coney Island Waltz,” “Streets of Coney Island,” and “What a Dreadful Town!”) and a trio of minor characters do some acrobatics, but nothing about Coney Island proves to be more than a means to add lights to the set and stretch the show to two-and-a-half hours.
- Raoul (Sean Thompson) is now an angry drunk with gambling debts who is willing to make a wager with the Phantom for Christine’s future. Clearly, book writer Ben Elton wanted to clear the path for the Phantom and Christine (Meghan Picerno), but this Raoul bears no semblance to the devoted lover who 10 years earlier serenaded Christine with the timeless “All I Ask of You.”
- The Phantom is now a ladies’ man, with both Christine and Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson) declaring their love for him at various times. That does not stop Mr. Cortes from performing most of Phantom’s lines with outstretched arms as a show of the Phantom’s constant emotional anguish. Notably, with the Phantom giving up his murderous ways, no one thought to establish a new antagonist for the sequel.
- Christine is now a jilted lover, who engaged in consensual intercourse with the Phantom in those dark caverns beneath the Opera House and now has a son Gustave (Jake Heston Miller). This major plot event never actually happened in the original, so clearly the audience is not supposed to ask questions.
Perhaps these plotting issues could be forgiven if the music was a little bit better, but the songs generally fall into three categories: Phantom and Christine’s ill-fated love; Coney Island the dark, sinful place; and Meg the not-so-erotic “ohh-la-la girl.” To be fair, the song “Love Never Dies,” which is sung by Christine as part of the Phantom’s sideshow, earned quite a response from the crowd for its impressive operatic range.
There was never much hope that this sequel, which was critically panned in London and has never made it to Broadway, would overcome low expectations—but one still believed it would deliver more than this. Maybe Lloyd Weber could complete a trilogy by having the Phantom join the Coney Island Cyclones as their new organist, eventually finding a happiness in minor-league baseball that he never experienced in show biz. At least that would provide a more fitting completion to his character than what we are left with from Love Never Dies.