Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday March Musical Madness: Love Never Dies

Basketball? Please. Unless those orange orbs are bouncing in rhythm a la High School Musical’s Keep Your Head In the Game or making Anne Ramsay’s face explode in Deadly Friend, there’s simply no room for that kind of game here at the Doll’s House. So while sports fans around the country fill out their brackets, we’re going in a different direction this month with Musical Mondays.

(But just in case you haven't seen it, here's the greatest non-musical basketball scene in cinema history)

Truthfully, I just happened to recently see two slightly-to-very horror-ish musicals, so why not make it a mini theme?

Remember when you were a thirteen year old girl with a locking diary and annoying confidence in your imagination? Maybe you saw a play or movie that awakened your inner romance novelist, inviting the muse in all her Delia’s clad glory to inspire your first draft of Romeo + Juliet 2: Heaven Can't Wait or Titanic Sails On: What If Rose Never Did Let Go? Such ramblings were harmless of course, because while your Twilight-like dreams of extending a fluffy love story were in hindsight fairly silly, they were your own.

Unless you're Andrew Lloyd Webber and your Twilight-like dreams of extending a fluffy love story could be realized with a multi-million dollar musical extravaganza, recently filmed and showing this Wednesday (March 7th) in movie theaters through Fathom Events.

Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera is a novel that has fascinated filmmakers since the birth of cinema. From Lon Chaney’s skeletal expressionism to Robert Englund’s teleporting patchface who made a crummy deal with Dwarf Satan, the story seems to have endless appeal to filmmakers, even luring Dario Argento to tackle it twice from different angles.

Yet for all the adaptations, it’s Webber’s juggernaut musical hit that has had the most global impact, influencing for better and worse (really more worse) the musical theater scene for decades to come. Having seen the Broadway production ten years ago, I suppose I understand the appeal: pretty sets, big dresses, overwrought love triangles, duet after duet, slow-moving chandeliers. To my more Sondheimian sensibilities, it doesn’t quite warrant its place as the longest running Broadway musical but more importantly, the idea of making a generically titled sequel even tackier than the original just seems…

Pretty effin’ amazing.

Not, mind you, for the right reasons. Love Never Dies—yes, that’s its title because that’s the kind of title a thirteen year old girl gives to a poem she writes during math class—is entertaining in being quite terrible. Heck, it’s even entertaining in its dullness, if that makes sense. Of course, those of you with an allergic reaction to musical theater are already bored, so for those who aren’t, let’s recap:

Ten years after the ingénue Christine Dae left Paris with her dullard fiancée Raoul, the Phantom disappeared to leave only his mask and a curtain call. Then 15 years earlier, The Phantom of the Opera became extremely profitable and LORD Andrew Lloyd Webber teamed up with some lyricists allergic to thesauruses to continue to story, which now finds The Phantom running a freak and burlesque show of sorts on Coney Island—

Yes, that Coney Island—
But still obsessing over the whiny soprano who screamed at his scars a decade before. He solves this problem by luring Christine and her family (the now alcoholic vertically challenged gambling addict Raoul, because it’s important for the audience to know which side to take in this love triangle) and her TEN YEAR OLD son Gustav, a tragically useless child charged with singing the same lyrics over and over again, then being put in danger, then reprising his repetitive lyrics, then escaping danger, then finally standing firmly in tableau.

Oh, and in case you couldn’t guess it because you didn’t see Superman Returns or lost half your brain in a poker tournament, the Nine Years and Three Month Old Gustav is—SPOILER ALERT IF YOU CAN’T FIGURE OUT REALLY OBVIOUS SECRETS—actually the result of one passionate and dimly lit night between Christine and her former voice instructor.
Wait! You say, if you’re still reading or need me to hold an elevator. Christine and the Phantom…they…you mean…but…

Yes ladies, all those fan fiction entries you stumbled through are true: Christine and The Phantom got it on. 

And on. 

And on, or at least that’s what the 20 minute song  featuring lyrics like “And you touched me/And I touched you/And you held me/And I held you” would like us to believe. It doesn’t really make any chronological sense in terms of what we know about these character, but it makes PERFECT SENSE to legions of Rachel Berrrys who probably fantasized about that white mask at crucial times in their sexual development.

(Side note: remember when Glee was good? Side note sigh...)

Love Never Dies was a highly hyped show that never quite ignited th theater world, mostly because theater critics are generally a few brian cells wiser than 7th grade show choir members. The show fizzled in its London run and unlike the Phantom himself, never crossed over to New York. The production filmed for the DVD and film release was done at the Regent Theatre in Melbourne and in truth, it’s pretty grand. Set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova either had an unlimited budget or unlimited access to Tim Burton’s warehouse and uses it to give us arias in giant peacock style,

 glittering costume jewelry that never lets the mezzanine ticket holders feel left out,

and a wardrobe for the ringmaster...

that calls to mind Community’s Dean Pelton...

Which just reminds me how much I wish Community would return.

But hey, if I plopped down $100 or euros or kangaroo eggs or whatever Aussies use for currency, that’s exactly what I’d want! Throw in a little person being thrown--

(It happens a lot)
--And I can’t possibly complain!
Except I can, because the show’s terrible. Webber’s score is lavishly large, but when paired with lyrics a contestant on America’s Next Top Model could write for a viral video challenge (yes, that happened last season) the whole shebang just feels silly. So silly that a good half my packed movie theater treated the production as a comedy, openly guffawing because how could you not? The entire experience made me think that cinemas catering to this kind of film should segregate seating, positioning those who came for the humor in the front and letting those that want to get caught up in the overwrought and scarily chauvinistic love story sit back to absorb the emotion.

I say chauvinistic because my goodness is this an abusive relationship on every end. Upon being reunited with her long-lost (giggle giggle) lover, Christine immediately faints, then is served an ultimatum that she either sing the Phantom’s song or he will kidnap her child. And yet she’s now actively considering leaving her tiny husband for this man. Then again, said tiny husband gambles his own wife away when he makes a deal with The Phantom that Christine’s decision to take the stage will ultimately decide the fate of her life. Not that Christine needs to be consulted about this or anything. In case the Titanic-like costumes didn’t clue you in, this is the early 20th century and women--even the heroines of musical theater--apparently have very few decisions to make. Sure, they get to choose which chandelier-ish earrings to wear for big nights, but we can’t go about giving them any REAL responsibility now, can we?

If you're still reading and have nothing to do this Wednesday, sneak in a six-pack, grab a secluded seat, and enjoy the ridiculousness of a show that if standards shakily remain where they are, will never see the light of Broadway. Maybe I'm being a gloriously curled hair mean, but that's because I'm not a thirteen year old who goes to the theater expecting to see my fantasies (or PHANTasies, seewhatIdidthere?) laid out in the precise manner I would have written for extra credit in junior high English class. Love Never Dies can't be accused of laziness, but a hard-working musical does not a classic make. 

But a hilarious time at the movies? I'll buy that for fifteen dollars.


  1. Have you seen the reputedly terrible Phantom movie with Gerard Butler? I haven't, and I'm curious on whether or not Butler is good in it. He's awesome in everything else. He even made The Ugly Truth watchable!

    What's funny about Love Never Dies is Andrew Lloyd Webber's optimism about it! Before it was released, he boasted that it'd be a bigger hit than all his other works and that it'd definitely get more seats than even the huge Cats!

    What's weird about LND is that it was sorta based on a book, The Phantom of Manhattan that was written by Frederick Forsyth of all people! haha! I haven't read it though, so I don't know if the same guy who wrote Day of the Jackal is up to writing epistolary gothic romance! haha!

  2. Of COURSE I've seen Schumacher's Phantom! Honestly, it's not awful. It's a very close translation of the stage show to the screen, so most of the critics who hated it started by hating the show. I don't love the musical so I didn't love the film, but I don't think it's as bad as people wanted to think it was. That being said, Butler is pretty ridiculously miscast. He shouts through most of the music but the bigger crime is that it seems like Schumacher was too afraid to ACTUALLY make him look monstrous. When Christine pulls away his mask, Butler is mildly pink. I look weirder after a jog.

    On the Love Never Dies showing, they play a 10 minute interview with Webber where he basically says Love Never Dies is the best thing he's ever done. It's so not.

    Apparently, the original idea for the Phantom in this sequel was that he'd be a Wall Street millionaire. Is that in the book?

    1. Ok, so, I actually did read Phantom of Manhattan. While it is is *slightly* more plausible than Love Never Dies. It keeps Raoul somewhat sympathetic and gives a more plausible (if ridiculous) reason why the kid is the Phantom's. It's been YEARS since I read it, but I believe the Phantom starts out at Coney Island as part of the freak show (?!), moves to owning/running it, and eventually becomes a Wall Street millionaire.

      As for the 2004 film - visually stunning, but horribly mis-cast/mis- directed.

    2. Ha! I like to think the third book manages to make The Phantom the main reason for the current financial crisis. I almost want to read it now!

      And agreed on the film. Looks exactly as it should! Sounds exactly as it shouldn't...

  3. What some people like differs widely, as you are aware. Many people love Phantom in any of it's guises. 5.2 billion dollars worth thus far. Has anything you've done served so many people so well? Your service to people is measured by your monetary reward, so instead of cutting people down for free, why not charge (you are quite funny actually and deserve a fair go on a better platform)and see how you can be of service where people will pay you to be entertained, their way, according to their judgements? the film with Gerry Butler is awesome, so hot!

    1. Oh, I don't argue with Phantom's popularity. But The Jersey Shore is also wildly popular and that doesn't say anything for its quality, if you catch my drift.

    2. I sincerely don't believe that money means that you've done something right. WC Fields said there was a sucker born every minute, but in this day and age when Jersey anything is popular and vampires sparkle in the daylight, I really think he'd have to increase that average by a fair amount.

  4. Imagine this as a season-long story arc: McKinley High stages Love Never Dies with Rachel as Christine and, oh, I don't know, Artie as a handicapable Phantom. Oh, that would be transplendent. (I guess now is the time to point out that the show never did have Sebastian dress up in a cat costume and sing "Memories." Can you imagine that regionals episode?)

    Confession time: apart from the two songs everybody knows, I never thought the score to the original Phantom was particularly good. The show-within-a-show, purportedly an opera written by the Phantom himself, is especially dire. Why this story captured the imaginations of millions is beyond me. Give me Phantom of the Paradise any day.

    1. Wayne, you're KILLING me! I want all these things to happen. And I want Tina to sing Everything's All Right from JCSuperstar because she has a similar big head look to Yvonne Ellimon. And I want the finale to be Starlight Express, just so we get to see Mercedes on roller skates.

      Dreamworld, one day we will awaken inside of you...

      Oh, and I'm with you on Phantom. I think the well-known numbers are good for what they are, but the whole thing is painfully repetitive. I remember seeing it on Broadway and getting incredibly antsy when the chords for Music of the Night played for the 9th time. I've never heard the score for the OTHER Phantom, but I know many a music theater fan who says it's superior. And yes, Phantom of Paradise is simply beautiful on every possible level. I wanted to include Paul Williams as an honorary shorty, but I ran out of time. Expect it to come up next year...

  5. Speaking as someone who DID fantasize about that mask at crucial periods of her sexual development (yeah yeah, I know), LND STILL doesn't make any sense.

  6. Your honesty and good sense is appreciated!

  7. I am a massive Phantom of the Opera fan so it was only natural that I was a little scared when watching this musical for the first time, but I need'nt have been it was fantastic. ALW has created the second musical with the same magical formula that the original did, only this time he has managed to include parts of the original that actually help this one. In various points in LND you hear notes or lines from POTO which underscore the story he is trying to tell without altering this story. this means that people who have not seen POTO can watch LND without needing the backstory, while those that have can get the extra layers that the music provides.
    the actual recording of this musical is good, it focuses on the people singing or those using the fantastic sets. the only reason I have not given this musical 5 stars is because I think they filmed the wrong one. Don't get me wrong I think that Ben Lewis is a great phantom but Ramin Karilroo (sorry about the spelling) is simply fabulous, if they wanted a movie version of this it should have been with him as the phantom.