Wednesday, March 24, I had the privilege of seeing Love Never Dies in London. I know my readers have been anxious to hear what I have to say, so I thought I'd write my thoughts before my show, All Things Phantom, on April 3, 2010 on BlogTalkRadio.
Beware if you don't wish to know what happens, don't read.
Beware if you don't wish to know what happens, don't read.
So where do I start? Well, it was a Wednesday night at the Adelphi Theatre, a packed house, filled with an anxious audience who gobbled up the programs (that's "programme" for the British, by the way) and LND booklet, which was fabulous! Mine now contains Ramin Karimloo's autograph slightly smudged by the rain. Very nice guy, humble, kind, and unpretentious. Thanks to a friend showing me the way to the stage door after the performance, I met Ramin and Sierra Boggess.
The Scenes & Music
Okay, back to the nitty gritty. Packed house and the scene opens, somewhat reminiscent of how Phantom begins, with a look back in time through Madame Giry's eyes. I found the beginning a tad painful, somewhat difficult to hear the voice of the performer. Not sure why it made me feel uncomfortable. Perhaps I just wanted to get on with it! Then it goes into the Coney Island Waltz and you are transported back to heyday of the park. Terrific special effects keeps you entertained.
Let me talk about the CD versus the stage performance. I know many of you have been judging the show by the CD. All I can say is you are blind if you are judging Love Never Dies merely by the CD itself. The show is a visual experience and the songs are not sung like the professional recording. Take every number that Ramin and Sierra sings and add onto it the following: longing, heartache, agony, frustration, anger, regret, and love (plus many more emotions) and you have the music. That also includes Raoul's portrayal, which is quite good.
'Til I Hear You Sing was POWERFUL. The crowd cheered Ramin after the song. He puts such emotion into it that it grabs your heart. For all of you dying to know, Sierra plays the robotic mannequin but it's replaced by a real mannequin later on. It carries the same vein of the Phantom story. Look folks, the man is still obsessed with Christine...end of story. There are no sexual innuendos associated with the "robotic" look alike that was rumored beforehand. I want to squash that immediately. Somehow they do a quick switch and it's replaced with a real mannequin and Madame Giry pulls her arm off as she complains of the Phantom's obsession.
Well, one thing leads to another and he decides to lure Christine to Coney Island to sing for him and sends off a letter. Madame Giry doesn't quite understand why he can't get over her since she and Meg are the ones who took care of him the past 10 years causing roots of bitterness (it's a ploy for conflict in a plot - likable or not). The person who plays her is different than the CD. No heavy French accent. Voice is not so sharp and "mean" but rather laced with bitterness for having given her life in his service.
Three months later Raoul and Christine arrive. Let me say this, when Christine comes on stage, it takes your breath away! OMG the woman is gorgeous! I felt as obsessed as the Phantom seeing her again for the first time.
The next big memorable number is when the Phantom reveals himself to Christine. It surprised me, but she reacts with fear at first followed by anger. The song Beneath a Moonless Sky was emotionally charged. The audience around me was as mesmerized as I was by the two of them doing a choreograph of almost touching but never touching each other. It's a heartfelt passionate remorseful moment between the two.
Now, as far as the words in the song, here is where those who object to the storyline will not like it. I can only say if you never see the show, you'll miss an emotional, passionate reunion between Christine and the Phantom where finally she confesses her love and regret for her choice and he as well. How do I see it? When I re-read the verses of the Point of No Return, Beneath the Moonless Sky for me is the culmination of all their spoken desires finally expressed. The song Once Upon Another Time is quite good too, as Christine sings they must live with their choices.
Any comic relief? Not much in this heart-tugging, heart-wrenching musical. However, Dear Old Friend put smiles on the face of everyone around me. It was great!
Ah, The Beauty Underneath! A menagerie of the Phantom's domain. Eye-catching stage effects and watching the interaction between Gustav and the Phantom. (I want to shout symbolism here...you'll get it later folks.) Your foot taps along to this powerful number. The sad part? He thinks Gustav understands the beauty underneath, so the Phantom removes his wig and mask in front of him. Well, if you've listened to the CD, you know the child's reaction is one of horror where he sees no beauty. It's during this song, the Phantom realizes this could be his son.
Let's talk about Raoul. I know a lot of people say he's been made into a drunk and changed too drastically. Beneath it all lives a broken man. Joseph Millson was a brilliant Raoul. He really displays Raoul's frustrations well. His behavior sounds less harsh to me than portrayed on the CD, and his performance makes you pity him, rather than despise him as the drunk and gambler you think him to be. He's a man who drowns his pain in alcohol, as he realizes he is incapable of giving Christine everything she needs - music. (Gee, didn't we talk about that on All Things Phantom?)
Devil Take the Hindmost is the song the two of them sing together. The Phantom is menacing in this number and there is some physical altercation between the two. The two enemies have reunited. Two men out to win the heart of one woman. Interesting to note, the Phantom confronts him without a mask, but wig on. The end result, they make a bet between the two of them.
Beyond this point, emotions run high between these two men trying to influence Christine to sing or not to sing. And Christine? Fabulous! The torment of having to choose once again is powerfully portrayed by Sierra. Raoul makes his plea for her not to sing and return to Paris. He leaves, the Phantom enters, and he makes his plea for her to sing. It's here that he puts the necklace around her neck, and she reaches up and touches his mask (note: she did not do that the second time I saw it). She shivers and melts (if you can do two things at once), which reminded me of his powerful influence over her in the original.
There she is, on the stage, between two men, one on the right, the other on the left, both holding their hands out to poor conflicted Christine. She sings, unaware of the pack the two men have made. The anguish Sierra puts into Love Never Dies is amazing. The audience cheered and whistled after her performance.
Downhill from here? Well, it's different. Raoul leaves her because he's lost the bet, but also realizes it's the Phantom she really wants. Meg carries off Gustav to throw him in the ocean after her Bathing Beauty number throws her over the edge. They find her at the pier and she threatens suicide with a gun pointed at her head. The Phantom talks her out of it. In a fit of anger, after he speaks Christine's name, she shoots.
Christine lays dying in the Phantom's arms. Gustav is told the Phantom is his father. She begs for a last kiss, and he kisses her as she dies. The kiss is reminiscent of his reaction the first time - his body shuddering at the touch of her lips. The last kiss, the heartache, brings people to tears. However, the next part was what tore my heart to shreds.
A repentant Meg gathers Christine in her arms and hugs her. The Phantom stands distraught and broken over the loss and moves away from Christine's body to center stage.
Gustave approaches and looks at his father. Erik shrinks away as his hand comes toward his face wanting to remove his mask. At first, the Phantom resists, but then removes his mask and wig revealing his hideous appearance. He doesn't recoil, but looks at it and then takes his hand and lays it on top of his father's deformity, which once again brings Erik to that place you saw him at the end of Phantom of the Opera. The boy shows him acceptance and compassion, and in an emotional move embraces his father and buries his head in his chest as he sees the beauty underneath. The Phantom reacts by embracing his son in return and the curtain comes down.
Costumes & Sets
In a nutshell, the best costumes are on Christine. She's dressed in gorgeous period dresses. The others are simple period clothing.
The sets are simple, but effective. There is often use of a circular movement on stage of the set where it turns. The one used during Devil Take the Hindmost (Quartet) is quite effective. Raoul is at one end in the wings and the Phantom at the other, with Christine standing on stage in between agonizing over whether to sing or not. You'll see a lot of bare stage in this production. There are not lavish colorful sets like in the original Phantom of the Opera. However, there are special effects on screening that are unique and amazing.
Ramin is the Phantom incarnate, as far as I'm concerned. His portrayal of that character is wonderful. Sierra was breathtakingly beautiful. Her performance as Christine was perfection. It's her performance that really grabs your heart and won't let go. She really has the profoundest effect upon the audience, as you share her agony over being placed in that position once more of making a choice.
Joseph, who plays Raoul, does a phenomenal job of playing a character who has been changed. You genuinely feel his regrets. There are six different children that rotate playing Gustav. Charlie Manton played the first night and did very good. Liz Robertson, as Madame Giry, and Summer Strallen, as Meg, is the character that you'll find changed the most. Their performances were good.
It was a packed house, even midweek. What did I hear around me? At times I could have heard a pin drop in the audience. It was like every cough was suppressed and every breath held during some scenes. Women cried (can't vouch for any men though). The show ended, there were cheers and whistles and standing ovations. The Phantom comes out in his deformed state unmasked to take his bows. The lights came up, and some stood staring at the stage and didn't leave until the last note was played by the orchestra and then they cheered and clapped again. I spoke with the family next to me and they loved it. Made it to the stage door, and those I spoke with loved it too. I'm sure others don't, as Tuesday when I got there I met a British couple walking out the door during intermission and leaving early saying they hated the music.
What did I think as a show?
If you want me to "grade" it, I'll give it a "B" overall. Performances and music between the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul were fantastic. For those fans who vow never to see it based on the storyline, I can only say you'll miss the wonderful interaction between the characters torn with regret and motivated by love, jealousy, and obsession. It's worth the price of the ticket to watch the interaction between Christine, the Phantom, and Raoul.
The storyline is different, but it's a plot, formed with conflict, to move it to an end. The story of compassion and acceptance rests on Gustuv's shoulders this time. It is he that must look beyond the deformity to accept his father and find the beauty underneath. Though Christine dies at the end, I have to ask myself a hard question. Did either of them really deserve her? I guess you'll have to answer that for yourself too.
If you dislike the change in Madame Giry and Meg, then you'll not like the play. Madame Giry is very much like the stern sour-faced ballet mistress in the original. Same dress - same tone - only a woman turned bitter. It's the point of conflict of two people who have given their life to a man they love, who can't let go of his obsession with Christine. Do they have a right to be bitter? That's what you'll have to decided for yourself. Do people change in 10 years? Yes, of course, they do. Life circumstances changes all of us for the good or bad. Whether you'll allow that to happen to your favorite characters, is up to you as a fan.
The remaining scenes to me are "fillers" that push the story along. Most disappointing, of course, is Bathing Beauties and Meg's unveiling. Why does she do it? It's a ploy to get the Phantom to notice her, but when he's not at the performance, that very act is what pushes her over the edge of instability.
Necessary in the plot? Probably a poor choice that should be rewritten. Necessary on the stage? It was an uncomfortable moment that I wish I didn't have to watch. It's a staging where she takes off layers of bathing suits and in true burlesque style of the day comes out with two small umbrellas in front of her bare breasts while she sings. Then she turns around, removes the umbrellas, and you see her naked back. My seat was 4 rows back from the stage far left, and I had an angle of her chest but saw nothing. I do wish they'd rethink that portion of the show.
At this point, I can say I was entertained and enthralled by Ramin and Sierra. The story may not be your cup of tea, but I'm not as opposed to it as most. As a writer, plotting whether good or bad, needs conflict and something to move it along. The outcome is not perhaps what people would have liked to see, but I'll talk about that more in the future.
Is there a message still there? Absolutely! Still a powerful word that one must see the beauty underneath in each human and to look with your heart and not your eyes in judging others. It's Gustav this time that learns that lesson.
How will the show fair in the future? Well, if I go by the audience's reaction, I think it will do well worldwide, but it won't be the classic you fell in love with. For whatever reason Andrew Lloyd Webber felt motivated to do a sequel, he takes responsibility for its outcome. It's up to you now to decide what you wish to do with it. As for me, I'll see it two more times before I leave London and will take away what I learned from the story and share with my readers.
So did I embrace, enjoy, or reject? Put me in the enjoy category. I haven't embraced it as a classic like the original, but didn't reject it. The show is a visual, musical, emotional experience well worth seeing. If you shun it based on prejudice beforehand, then you'll miss the wonderful Phantom and Christine you've grown to love from the original.
One last warning, bring tissues if you do go. I tried very hard to suppress any tears, but they just poured out with a will of their own throughout the show here and there, not only during the emotional ending. Ramin is so powerful watching as the Phantom that it touches your soul - not just your mind. Each performance had the same effect upon me.
Join me on All Things Phantom April 3rd @ 5 p.m. PST for more information. I'll be there to answer any questions you have. It's hard to write about everything in a two hour show, so there is much more to share.
The Phantom's Student
NOTE: The picture of Ramin Karimloo was taken by me outside the stage door after the performance and the others the day before outside the theater.