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!