“Love Never Dies” had it’s opening night in Minneapolis on June 26, 2018, something I was very excited about. Being a fan of “Phantom of the Opera” since I was quite young, I had been going back and forth on seeing “Love Never Dies”, as I didn’t want it to possibly destroy the original with a sequel. That’s exactly what “Love Never Dies” does. It messes with success, that success being one of the most beloved musicals in Broadway’s history. I’m not being picky with this either. “Phantom of the Opera” should have been left alone.
This musical played out like fan fiction. I still don’t feel that these are the same characters that I loved from the original because the storyline is so abysmal. It begins with the Phantom pining for Christine a decade after we last saw him, hiding out in Coney Island, New York. One thing I was worried about initially was the change of setting, but I rather enjoyed the idea of the Phantom mixed in with the Coney Island freakshow. It seemed fitting and the stage design of Coney Island was really fun. They did a fantastic job with that. It couldn’t be further than the opera house of Paris, but still worked as a wonderful setting. In this setting, the Phantom is the creator of Phantasma, a Coney Island amusement park. This is another aspect that I enjoyed as well. Meg and Madame Giry are a part of the opening, working at Phantasma, seemingly content until they realize that Christine is coming from Paris, someone they view as a threat.
Now husband and wife, Christine and Raoul and their son, Gustave, reach the shores of America. Upon their arrival, they are bombarded by reporters and photographers, and the audience soon finds that Raoul has created a large amount of debt due to drinking and gambling debts. Their relationship is rocky to the audience from the second they step on stage, which is a little disheartening, as they were so in love in “Phantom of the Opera”. Gustave lets his voice known immediately (and can sing quite well), but the moment he opened his mouth, I wished that he wasn’t in the story. He fell into that trap that so many child characters do when introduced where the audience wishes the story had not brought a child into the mix because they just know it is going to destroy what could possibly be a good story.
The Phantom visits Christine shortly thereafter in a scene that goes on far too long, but is interesting. Everything goes well until Christine refuses to sing for the Phantom again. He threatens her child’s life in so many words, so she feels trapped again, much like in Paris. What she finds out the next day is that the lead he wants her to play originally belonged to Meg. This doesn’t go well. Meg and Madame Giry are not pleased and feel Christine is back to take everything from them. That’s when Gustave is taken away by the Phantom, is charmed with the sights of Phantasma, and everything goes so far off the rails that they can’t bring it back. After singing, the Phantom realizes that Gustave is his son, not Raoul’s. Yep, that’s the twist. After all these years, it all comes down to a kid and who the father of said kid is.
That’s the end of the first act and people were not impressed. The two people next to me left and never came back after vocalizing their disdain for the show. At this point, I was just hoping that the second act would redeem the show, but it actually got worse. Laughably worse. I’m not going to bother to break this down as much as I did the first act because the story doesn’t even need it. So here we go:
The Phantom and Raoul agree that if Christine sings, Raoul will leave her to the Phantom. Christine sings and picks the Phantom. Meg, in a rage that is so unlike her character, kidnaps Gustave and threatens to kill him at the pier. After being talked down a bit, she lets him go, but puts her gun to her head. The Phantom talks her down, but she shoots Christine. Meg and Madame Giry completely bail, leaving her to die with the Phantom and Gustave. Before she dies, she tells Gustave that the Phantom is his father, which is just as ridiculous as it sounds. Gustave runs away to get Raoul as Christine dies. She dies in the Phantom’s arms, which is not as well done as one would like to think. Due to the surrounding storyline, it just seems stupid. Raoul arrives and the Phantom sits at the end of the pier. Gustave approaches and hugs him, closing out the show.
So now that you know the source of my aggravation, I’ll throw in some positives. The set design was amazing. It really was. The lights and colors of the Coney Island performances were so fun. The acting and singing was fantastic, which I find sad because the cast was obviously very talented, but some may not realize this because they are buried under the awful story. The whole thing was so ludicrous that it had me biting my lip to keep from laughing during what was meant to be a sad death scene. The writing did such a disservice to the characters, to the point where none of us really card about them. As far as I’m concerned, the story ended when the Phantom was killed in Paris.
Review Tracy Hansen photo from Love Never Dies production