Oh my. As a guy who all-but worshipped Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera in high school, I have to say that the idea of a follow-up musical to that unprecedented worldwide hit sounds about as appealing as a sequel my other favorite musical from my teenage years, Brain De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise. In fact, I would have much rather watched a continuation to De Palma’s 1974 cult classic as opposed to having the overwhelming urge to repeatedly insert various pointed objects into my aural and visual organs by bearing witness to the god-awful tragedy that is Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies — his 2010 massacring of his previous 1986 triumph.
Most of the continuity between the two musicals is nonexistent. Webber himself has stated that Love Never Dies is a standalone piece, set in its own universe, to wit we must infer any dissimilarities are intentional. I, however, am of the opinion that Andrew Lloyd Webber was drunk off his little troll heinder when he sat down to scribble out the storyline for this one; I am also convinced he phoned it in when it came time to composing the musical’s numbers. If I were to use one word to describe the tunes here, I would pick “appalling.” Possibly even “atrocious.” But more on that later — let’s talk about how terrible the story itself is first.
With a title ripped directly from the advertising campaign of Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, this filmed performance of Love Never Dies (as enacted at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia) tells us the continuing story of Christine Daaé (Anna O’Byrne) — the naïve young protagonist of the original Phantom who is now the naïve mother of one with a rocky marriage to Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Simon Gleeson), who has descended into gambling and alcohol since their escape from the clutches of The Phantom in the previous outing. Speaking of Le Fantôme, Ben Lewis assumes the role of the masked madman here, who has somehow found his way to Coney Island, where he has opened a musical extravaganza entitled “Phantasma” (ha-ha, funny).
Since our lead freak is now surrounded by many other circus and carnival freaks, he fits in perfectly. Rarely does he murder anyone anymore, though he is having a really hard time writing music — a form of writer’s block that Webber himself surely was suffering from at the time. Meg and Madame Giry (Sharon Millerchip and Maria Mercedes, respectively) — have followed him from Paris only to become his faithful employees, with Meg having grown a strong, strange sense of affection for The Phantom himself. Alas, he only wants Christine — and when she arrives in New York to perform at a real theatre, The Phantom sends his minions out to retrieve her and her family to his carnival, soon enticing her into singing for him one more time (thus giving him the will to go on writing), with the polite threat of death for her family should she decline.
Ah, yes: her family. Well, while Raoul’s descent into various vices is to be expected in any relationship after a good ten years or so, the addition of their son — Gustave (Jack Lyall) — a ten-year-old lad with a flair for music and all things dark-like. No, it’s not a coincidence: Gustave is actually the illegitimate son of Christine and The Phantom — proving once and for all that he is not an apparition. In fact, once he learns he has a son (Raoul knows not the truth, of course), we even get to see a glimpse of humanity from the mysterious individual — as he starts to feel for the child, showing him all the wonders of his dark and demented world during a rockin’ track between father and son called “The Beauty Underneath,” which is strangely akin to the show stopping “The Phantom of the Opera.”
There is little doubt whatsoever that “The Beauty Underneath” was surely intended to be Love Never Dies‘ own show stopping hit. Well, it certainly does stop the show, I’ll give it that — though for all the wrong reasons. It’s worse than all of the other numbers in the production put together — and there are some real dizzy ditties in here, too! But that’s only providing you can make it that far, kids. Blinded by their own pretentious arrogance, Webber, the artistes who praise him, and his backers alike must have been the only people in the world to have realized this whole idea was a bad one — most who enter or attempt to view this two-hour-plus atrocity will probably find themselves wondering how they got duped into it.
Personally, I wouldn’t see this one live even if the tickets were free, the booze was copious and complimentary, and the entire cast consisted of obese nude quadriplegics. Although that actually sounds far-more interesting.
Following up with their dynamic The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, Universal Studios has brought us a superb transfer of a subpar spectacle on Blu-ray, with a lovely MPEG-4/AVC 1080p video presentation accompanied by a rich 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio English track. A Dolby Digital 2.0 mix is also available, as are optional subtitles in English (SDH), Spanish, and French Canadian. The only bonus item is the fifteen-minute featurette “The Making of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies.”