Thursday, March 17, 2011

The changes to Love Never Dies

About a year ago, I saw the previews of "Love Never Dies". Last week I returned to London, and took the chance of seeing Love Never Dies again. I was curious to see the changes that had been made to the show after it had closed down for about a week last year and see how they compared to the original storyline. Here's what new and different:

1. The Prologue has been cut completely and replaced by The Aerie/TIHYS which now opens the show.
Like or Dislike? I'm on the fence about this. On one hand, I like the intensity the song gives to the opening scene, and the old prologue was kind of hard to follow. On the other hand, the old opening was darker, more mysterious, and we learnt wat happened to Erik and Gustave after the events of LND. Plus, I liked the fact that we get the "travelling back in time" effect, same as in the original Phantom, and the fact that we are first presented with the garish and loud atmosphere of Coney Island before it is replaced with the sadness and yearning of TIHYS.

2. The Coney Island Waltz is quite different now, more people dancing and "Only for him/Only for you" has been integrated into some big dancing scene, somewhat along the lines of "Masquerade".
Like or Dislike? Dislike, because I really liked "Only for him" and it gave a much clearer account of Meg's feelings for the Phantom. Now it just kinda appears that she wants to be famous and that's the reason why she's jealous. She's actually quite looking forward to seeing Christine again...

3. Madame Giry and Meg now sing the part of how they came to New York to each other in a backstage scene, no longer to the Phantom who's not present at this scene. Meg's admirer, Mr Thomas, has also been cut.
Like or Dislike? Not a good idea IMO. This really diminishes the tension between the Girys and the Phantom which is crucial to the show.

4. Christine is no longer invited by the mysterious Impresario "Mr. Y", but by famous american musical producer and songwriter Oscar Hammerstein to sing at the opening of his new Manhattan Opera house.
Like or Dislike? On the fence again here. Apart from the fact that bringing Oscar Hammerstein into the picture causes some chronological trouble (he was born in 1895, so even in 1907, the "official" LND date, he would have been only 12 years old), the opera house where Christine is supposed to sing at now no longer the Phantom's, which he supposedly built just for that purpose in the first version. It also doesn't make it clear why Oscar Hammerstein invited Christine (apart from the fact that she's "pitch perfect but empty"), whereas with Mr. Y, it was clear as glass. On the other hand, having Oscar Hammerstein be Christine's real host allows the Phantom to return to his former mischievous self, by first stealing away Christine and her family in the glass carriage and lead them to Phantasma instead of the Manhattan Opera House, and then by spiriting Raoul away from Christine's hotel room through leaving a note that Oscar Hammerstein is waiting for him at the bar.

5. The choreography of BAMS/OUAT has changed to better reflect the two songs.
Like or Dislike? Big LIKE! The scenes are now much more intense and emotional, with the Phantom and Christine having a much better chance at playing out the chemistry between them. During BAMS, she actually puts her hand on his heart and his face, they embrace and nearly kiss - and at the end of BAMS, their separation is just heartbreaking.Oh, and Christine now takes off her night coat before BAMS which works much better. Although OUAT now ends on a slightly different note, as you almost get the impression that those two are happily reunited, instead of the melancholy which was stronger in the first version.

6. When the Phantom sees Gustave, he threatens Christine that if she does not sing, he'll keep Gustave hostage to blackmail her.
Like or Dislike? Dislike this. It may be in line with what the original Phantom would be like, but this backflash seems now out of character for the Phantom 10 years later. Christine and Erik have just sung two passionate love duets to each other, and now he starts again with being her mentor and feels the need to force her to sing which she has already agreed to 10 seconds before? Doesn't make sense to me, you'd think they'd be past that stage by now. Or maybe he isn't, after all. A man this hideous is apparently capable of anything...

7. The puffy shirt disappeared.
Like or Dislike? I may be alone on this ship, but I LIKED the puffy shirt. Now, the Phantom wear some kind of dark grey suit which looks chic as well, but I liked the connotation of vulnerability that the shirt conveyed.

8. Celia Graham singing Love Never Dies.
Like or Dislike? I cannot put my finger on what it is, but her rendition of this song doesn't even come close to Sierra's. Sierra was totally captivating in this scene, Celia Graham doesn't radiate the same fascination. On the whole, she's pretty good and has a pretty voice too, but Sierra's Christine was a mix of serenity, sadness and loveliness that really made me understand why two men like Raoul and the Phantom would fall in love with this woman. Celia's Christine has more echoes of the fearful, shrinking Christine that appears in many versions of the original Phantom.

9. The Phantom no longer brings Christine a bouquet of white roses after the performance.
Like or Dislike? Good call, I hated the bouquet, and he never knew what to do with it anyway. While being at it, I still don't know why the single red rose is still associated with Raoul though.

10. During Christine's death scene, the Phantom and Christine are alone on stage, no loner surrounded by the Girys and Gustave.
Like or Dislike? One of the absolute best changes. The ending is now much more intimate and sad, it really brought tears to my eyes. Although Gustave runs away when Christine tells him who is father is - I don't think the shock could be that great that it would pry away a kid from his dying mother... Raoul returns and falls to his knees next to Christine's dead body, and Gustave brings himself to finally embrace the Phantom. I liked it better though when he still removed the Phantom's mask and thus showed him the acceptance he was yearning for.

On the whole, the new cast is pretty good, I especially liked the new Raoul and one of the Gustaves I saw. I also had the chance to see both Ramin Karimloo and Tam Mutu, and both were truly great, while Tam's Phantom is arguably a little darker than Ramin's. I went to see the show two times and would go again anytime, it's really gripping, emotional and beautiful to watch. I hope we'll be seeing it in other places soon too!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Love Never Dies - Original Cast Recording

Ok, so I finally got my CD. And I've been listening to it like 10 times in the past days already! The music really grows on you - I couldn't capture everything when I watched the show for the first time, because it takes time to sink in and also to get familiar with the tunes. But now I can't get it out of my head! Especially songs I didn't really appreciate the first time, like "Once Upon Another Time" and "The Beauty Underneath" keep sticking in my mind now. There is an underlying melancholy that pervades the whole musical and is interrupted from time to time by the contrast of the squeaky, cheery Vaudeville songs. If the Phantom of the Opera was about falling in love for the first time for all its 3 major characters, Love Never Dies is about lost opportunities and regretting chances not taken. Every character has screwed up and is facing the consequences. Kinda like Buffy's Season 6, but with less vampires and more singing.

Anyway, I just wanted to add to my former review that I really enjoy the music and there is a genuineness about it that is truly touching. But could someone please please rewrite some of the lyrics? Some rhymes sound a little silly and/or forced...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Love Never Dies - My review

*Please note that this review contains spoilers*

I went to see Love Never Dies in previews last monday in London and must say that my overall impression was better than I expected! If you want to hate it, you will probably find a lot of things in it that you can hate, and if you want to love it, there's a similar amount of things that you can love. So I'll go with my gut feeling and say I really enjoyed watching it! To get this straight: it will never be as good as the original musical, it has some serious weaknesses and the plot is quite close to "Phantom of Manhattan". I really hated PoM but LND has a lot of redeeming qualities which that dreadful book did not possess. I talked to the man sitting in front of me and he had enjoyed the show so much when he saw it first that this was already the second time he came to see it.

The musical score is, though not of equal grandeur as the original (show dancing just isnt opera!) is verz moving and passionate - especially whenever Erik and Christine have one of their scenes together. I didn't care much for the whole period music, but then it's meant to contrast with the "soul music" Erik can only write for Christine and it's explicitely stated by Mme Giry (I think) that the show music is crap. I felt that the weakest part were the lyrics, which were lacking both in subtlety and in wit. But then I'm not a native speaker, so I will have to read the again in full. Oh, and even though the audience loved him, I have to say that I found Gustave just a little annoying... Same as the organ-playing gorilla thingy and the Cinderella glass carriage!

The whole setup is visually extremely impressive, making abundant usage of a double curtain which is used as a screen to project images of coney island etc., and lovely stage furnishing in Christine's hotel/dressing room. There's also a rotating stage which facilitates changes of scene from indoors to outdoors or from stage to backstage. Theres also quite a few passages of
instrumental music, giving the overall impression that this might have been written for the screen just as well as for the stage (hey, there]s me hoping for the movie version :P). It is a pity that they were not yet selling the album so I could not really understand all the details, and I beg your pardon for any misinterpretation which might arise from my incomplete understanding of the plot.

The plot itself adheres quite closely to the Phantom of Manhattan, but without committing the major errors (in my view): neclecting the main characters and banning all emotion from the scene. To the contrary, LND is a verz emotional and intense musical which almost exclusively brings back the old characters from Phantom. Sierra Boggess is a lovely Christine, I also love the fact that her voice sounds a bit like Emmy Rossum's. Ramin Karimloo has an amazingly expressive voice as well and has proven before that he is a very good Phantom. The whole visual impression is closer to the movie version - which is not really surprising, as the original Phantom staging is more than 24 years old and the movie version also reflects Andrew Lloyd Webber's own vision which has oviously changed over time as well. "Phantom" musical purists will probably see this as a downside as well, but for me, who first heard and saw "Phantom" on the screen and not on stage, it is a plus.

The musical score, although as stated before does not have the same operatic grandeur as the original, is rather beautiful and I already got most of the tunes stuck in my head even after just hearing it once! "Till I hear you sing", "Look with your heart" and "Love Never Dies" are the first that come to my mind. I think I must listen to the score some more times over before I can actually pass a final judgement on it. The "in-between" songs are - from my first impression - not as memorable as the ones in "Phantom", but then I might still change my opinion on this, as it took me quite a few runs through "Phantom" to fall in love with "Prima Donna" or "Il Muto". What's missing is a show-stopper such as "Masquerade" though. But to be honest, no musical will probably ever come close to "Phantom" for me! "Jesus Christ Superstar" and "Evita" would come second and third for me, but they're still nowhere as freaking perfection.

The ending is reminiscent of the original musical, but under different auspices. Now, the desperate one is not the Phantom, but Meg. What Love Never Dies achieves again, is that you feel sorry for each character in their own way. There are no real villains in "Phantom". In the original, Erik kidnapped Christine and Raoul comes after her to save her. In LND, Meg kidnaps Gustave and then threatens to kill herself in a desperate cry for attention (we have already learned that she has some suicidal tendencies in the bar scene). She threatens to kill herself but then accidentally shoots Christine. Christine's death is rather drawn out and involves lots of singing, but then this is nothing unheard of in opera death scenes. The E/C shipper in me just wishes they had shared more in LND than this one last kiss...

*Character development: It has been argued that the character portrayals are one-dimensional and unrealistic compared to the original.I cannot really agree with this.Everyone has obviously changed in the past 10 years and also the end of the original musical had its protagonists undergo some major changes (especially for Christine, it's almost a coming of age moment). The Phantom, who experienced love and acceptance for the first time at the endof PotO, has clearly changed as well and has grown as a character. He is no longer borderline insane, but still retains some of the possessive, obsessive personality and Christine is still the only one for him. Christine is a mother now and and less innocent and fearful than in Phantom, but warm-hearted, fragile and still very much torn between the two men she loves in such different ways (especially in her reprise of "Twisted every way"). Raoul may have turned an alcoholic but we know it's because the woman he loves does not love him back in the same way. Meg has fallen in love with the Phantom, who is completely blind to the tragedy that her unrequited love will bring upon them.

The original show had some very powerful symbols, like the white mask, the single red rose, the mirror, the chandelier, the music box, the envelopes and last but not least, the Opera house itself. Part of the fascination of Phantom (at least for me) that you can actually go to the Opera Garnier and (if you're very lucky) you can even see the labyrinth beneath and wonder "What if the Phantom was really a living person? How much of the story is or might actually have happened?", and Love Never Dies just doesn't have this. Sure, Coney Island is a real place but there is no legend like the Phantom one connected with it.

*Random things I did not like:

The Phantom putting the necklace on Christine before she decided whether to sing or to leave. It reminds me too much of Cal putting the "heart of the ocean" on Rose, symbolizing the chains he's putting on her. And what's with saying that Raoul always gave her a single red rose? After Christine's performance, the Phantom hands her a bouquet of white roses. It would have been far more fitting to have him give her his signature red rose. Oh, and the whole completely messed-up dates!!

So, enough of my incoherent ramblings and impressions from the show :) Overall, if you have always thought that Erik and Christine really belong together and you wish to have some kind of closure for them, then I really recommend seeing this. If you think that Raoul and Christine were perfect, by all means listen to the music and see if you like it. It's not at if PotO will change because of Love Never Dies.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

5 Days to go until "Love Never Dies"!

That's right - I'll be flying to London on sunday and will be seeing Love Never Dies on monday night. Thank god Lufthansa stopped their strike in time (: I'll post a review of it once I get back for sure, but I guess you can expect some spoilers there - just a warning ;)!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Burning Questions: What's happening in LND?

It's seems that the tracklisting for LND which appeared earlier on has been removed. Well - if you've read it, you'll already know that we'renot much the wiser for having read it. The song titles are mostly inconclusive regarding the plot because we simply do not know who will be singing them, and to whom. Therefore, the wild plot guessing continues :)

One of the most burning questions is of course: who will die? Will anyone die at all? Now, SPOILER ALERT (if you haven't read the Phantom of Manhattan and you actually plan on doing that in the near future. I wouldn't, if I were you :) So - you've been warned! In PoM, Christine is the one who dies, while Erik and Raoul live. I have my doubts though that this will be the outcome of Love Never Dies. Actually, my money's on Erik dying(if anyone at all). Why? Several reasons:

1. There are three well-known versions of Phantom of the Opera (Leroux, Kay and Webber), and Erik dies in two of them while Christine and Raoul live. Now, you might argue that LND is more a spin-off, and the ending of the actual story taking place in Paris is no longer relevant. But the overall point is: Erik cannot live without his Christine (as he puts it himself in Leroux: he is dying of a broken heart) and therefore, the original PoM ending doesn't make much sense from a character point of view.

2. Raoul cannot possibly die - his old self is actually in both the musical and the movie's first scene. If he died, the Phantomverse would probably turn into a black hole and explode from sudden logic deprivation. Yet the love triangle somehow has to be resolved. Now, one might say that having Raoul and Christine survive while Erik dies wouldn't actually be significantly different from the original...

3.Christine, according to the movie, dies in 1917. Simply a typing error on her tombstone? Doubtful... But then dates are completely messed up already, so - it might be a possibility :)

As you can see, it's almost impossible to make more than simply guesses at the plot (and a portion of wishful thinking is involved as well :) What I'm not doubting is that this one is going to be about Erik and Christine. It was already clear in the movie that it was centered more around the relationship between those two. Less fear, more fascination. And that's actually what add some tragedy to the original story. If you think that Christine feels nothing more than a kind of admiration, fear and hate for Erik, then this whole story is kind of pointless (in my view). But, if Christine does indeed love Erik, but goes with Raoul instead, there's a whole different level of drama involved there. Note how at the end of PotO, she doesn't actually "choose" Raoul? She chooses to kiss Erik. Only then, Erik practially sends her away with Raoul. The movie script is also quite explicit in stating that Christine looks back at him until he disappears from view and seems to be singing for him actually. Poor Erik, poor Raoul, poor Christine. Everyone makes choices, but they do not make them happy. Erik pines for Christine, Christine pines for Erik, and Raoul is unhappy but loves Christine. Erik and Christine share something that Raould simply cannot be a part of, which is expressed through music. I just hope that LND will not ruin Raoul's character: he is supposed to be an alcoholic, but he cannot be turned into a bad person. One of the charms of the original story is that there is no real villain - I feel sorry for all of them and I cannot condemn any of the three for what they did. I'm not bitchslapping Christine, bashing Raoul or vilefying Erik. All three are essential to the story, and this must be carried over to LND.

Oh and please DON'T make Mme Giry a villain. It just doesn't fit!

So, enough of my random thoughts on LND. More to come!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Love Never Dies press release

I've eagerly been waiting to watch the press launch and hear the first song from Love Never Dies, and - what can I say? It's exceeding even my wildest expectations! When I listened to it for the first time, I couldn't quite catch the tune (same as with original "Phantom" when I first saw it), but the second time, it really got me and since then, I have been singing or hearing it in my head almost non-stop! Andrew Lloyd Webber really seems to have poured a lot into the creation of this musical, and it's not just a cheap attempt at just cashing in on the Phantom success. He could have done that way earlier. Instead, I get the impression that Love Never Dies truly is his love-child and indeed something that has been fostering in his mind for a long time. And he's a fellow E/C shipper, yay :) I can't wait to see the show actually! Even if the plot sounds a little crazy, what really matters is that this new musical must create its very own magic around its characters, setting and music. After seeing the preview, I definitely have high hopes that LND will succeed in that department! The sound is different and fitting for the new setting in Coney Island, but retains the deep passion and emotionality that has been a trademark of "Phantom" since its creation. I am really excited to hear the rest of the soundtrack, going to order the CD now!

Favorite Line from "Till I hear you sing: I'll always feel no more than half way real/until I hear you sing once more....

PS. Ramin's facial expressions remind me some much of James Marsters (Spike) in this video!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Phantom of Manhattan

Frederick Forsyth's "Phantom of Manhattan" was staring at me from the sales table of a local bookstore -so I couldn't pass up this invitation and bought it (at a reduced price, thank god!). So, what can I say? After reading the introduction, the author already had pissed me off, by bashing both Leroux original novel (which, according to him, is badly written and full of unnecessary cruelties) and the Persian (who, according to him, is evil and hates Erik and shouldn't have a place in the story anyway). I was wondering, "did he actually read the Leroux book?!" Anyone who's read it should remember that the Persian does not hate Erik, but is the closest thing he has to a friend. The Leroux novel is, supposedly, badly structured and told by irrelevant people (aka the Persian). Now,if you read this, you could assume that the author will tell his story in a different way? Well, you'd be wrong. His storytelling is IMHO MUCH worse than Leroux', and he has a friggin' newsreporter tell a large part of the actual story. Then he goes on about how ALW's version is the ONLY logical one, and that Leroux made grave mistakes, such as underestimating Madame Giry's intellect and importance by not realising that she was actually the much-respected ballet mistress of the opera house. Errrrr... yeah, because that's proven historical fact, while Leroux' Madame Giry is a gross distorsion of reality, or what? Did I miss something here?

And that was just the introduction (which is about 1/4 of the book already)... The story itself is not even that crazy, but the storytelling really sucks and the characters are so cardboard that you don't feel anything for them. Heck, it's even hard to say they're out of character, because they have so little character! And Frederick Forsyth is also quite at a loss about how to explain how Erik and Christine got to have a son - which is understandable because the stage show really doesn't give much room for interpretation here. I can only imagine that he liked the idea of the son in Kay, and then tried to cram it into his own book no matter what... As for things I liked in the book:

*Raoul doesn't show up much, and is rather nice when he does
*The monkey musical box shows up as well. I really like the monkey musical box. I want to have one for my bedside table.
*The final scene is quite dramatic
*The mirror maze was a nice touch

I think that's about it for the things I liked. Reading PoM hasn't affected my opinion about LND though, because in my view, the key is always in how you tell a story, and I still have some hopes for that!