The Ryan Dixon Line: Love Never Dies But Phantom 2 Most Certainly Will


an occasional blogumn about an assortment of things by Ryan Dixon

Here’s a tip for any theatre-centric PhD candidate desperately looking for a thesis topic: write your dissertation on the history of sequels to Broadway musicals. In fact, I’ll make your job even easier and provide you with the research:

And that’s it. Two sequels. 20 total performances. Millions of dollars lost.

phantom2Well, that was it, until now. This evening, London’s Aldelphi Theatre will play host to the world premiere of Love Never Dies, the sequel to a little chamber musical you might have heard of entitled The Phantom of the Opera.

While normally I would have waited to write about Love Never Dies until it makes its scheduled Broadway debut on November 11, urgent circumstances have forced me to re-consider: after listening to the newly released original cast recording, I’m doubtful that the show will ever even get to Broadway.

Let’s get it out of the way: Love Never Dies is terrible. However, the truly important question is whether Love Never Dies (henceforth known as Phantom 2!) is so terrible that it’s actually good?

And the answer to that question is one big, MOTHERF*CKING YES!

While I expected Phantom 2! to be bad, I was fairly certain it was going to be bad in a tastefully done, dull way (similar to Lloyd Webber’s most recent musical The Woman in White). I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Phantom 2! is stuffed so full with glaring lapses of good taste and divinely rotten cliches that the cast recording resembles nothing less than a “Greatest Hits” collection of the Musical Hall of Shame’s first ballot inductees:

The mother and daughter-in-heat hysteria of Carrie: The Musical?

The over-the-top 80’s style power ballads of Dance of the Vampires?

The unironic melodramatic histrionics of Jekyll and Hyde?

It’s all here in Phantom 2!  (Minus David Hasselhoff.)

The Brother’s Grimm were fortunate not to have back-end deals, ancillary rights, and profit participation to tempt them into writing sequels to their fairy tales or they would have been in the same trouble spot that Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber (and his multitude of book writers) found himself, namely: How do you add to a story that doesn’t need adding to?

To answer this question, Lloyd Webber found inspiration from another sequel (prequel, to be exact) to an international entertainment brand with Phantom in the title. Yep, you guessed it: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

Let me be very clear, this is not a good thing.

One of the biggest criticisms lobbed against Episode 1 was that it shat upon the archetypal simplicity of the original trilogy in favor of an exegesis into the intricacies of intergalactic tax law. We wanted more space adventure and instead got W-2 Form: The Movie.

The first Phantom, like the original Star Wars trilogy, was a simple fairy tale, a Gothic reworking of Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, unless you’re Into the Woods, fairy tales rarely go beyond “ever after,” so Lloyd Webber & co. took it upon themselves to keep the story going and the result is about as competent as the accelerator pedal on a Toyota.

Here is my best effort of simplifying the plot of Phantom 2! (Warning: The following is completely and utterly SPOILER FILLED, so don’t get pissed off. But come on, we’re talking about Phantom 2! here, not The Sixth Sense.)

LoveNeverDies10 years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera, our eponymous hero, with the aid of Madame Giry and her now grown daughter Meg, has immigrated to Coney Island (yes, you read that right—Coney Island, known around the world for its mystery and romance) and opened up a Vaudevillian palace by the sea called…wait for it…wait for it… “Phantasma!” (Exclamation mark my own.)

While composing vaudeville ditties like “Bathing Beauty” by day, at night the Phantom works on a new “masterpiece,” much to the delight of Madame Giry (seemingly channeling Young Frankenstein‘s “Frau Blücher”), who assumes that the Phantom will allow Meg to perform said “masterpiece.”

However, the Phantom still has a hankering for Christine Daaé (going so far as to build a robot version of her –No, I’m not kidding) and offers her LeBron James money to make her American singing debut at Coney Island (Once again, yes, that Coney Island).

While Christine wants to turn down the offer, her husband Raoul — now a drunk, degenerate gambler with a severe mustache twirling habit — has managed to waste away their fortune in the down times when he isn’t busy going all “Precious” on their ten-year old son Gustave. So, much in the same way that Nicholas Cage signs on to movies like Bangkok Dangerous to help save his castles from foreclosure, Raoul, Christine and Gustave reluctantly make the trip to Coney Island in the hopes of avoiding financial ruin.

Soon after arriving, Christine is reunited with the Phantom, who realizes that Gustave is actually his son after the boy plays about three bars on the piano (while at the same time the actor who plays Gustave dreams longingly of being able to leave this show and join Billy Elliot).

Complications ensue and, despite vague threats from Raoul that I still don’t understand, Christine sings the Phantom’s “masterpiece.” Meg is so pissed off by this slight that she has a breakdown, morphs into Norma Desmond (by way of Glee) and kidnaps Gustave.

The Phantom and Christine race off to the pier to rescue Gustave (By this point Raoul has wisely gone back to Europe). At the pier, Meg accidentally shoots Christine. Christine dies and Gustave gets to live forever after with the Phantom, perfectly setting up Phantom III: Son of the Phantom.

The End.

Let’s toss aside the approximately forty-five “WTF?” questions that came up while reading my synopsis (Robots? Coney Island? LeBron James?) and focus on one in particular:

As anyone who has taken a sex education class in a state where they actually talk about sex knows, intercourse between a man and a women involves insertion, penetration, and some sort of exchange of bodily fluids (bet you never thought you’d read “penetration, insertion and bodily fluids in a review for Love Never Dies). If we all agree that this is a reasonable, prosaic definition of sexual intercourse, then by this definition is anyone willing to make the case that the Phantom and Christine actually had sex in the original Phantom?


Didn’t think so.

This sort of narrative Clintonism (“It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is?“) is usually reserved for sequels to novels where the movie adaptation has been hugely successful and the author (who usually had his or her book optioned for a tithing long before the movie was made) wants to get in on the seven-figured action. In Winston Groom’s Gump and Co. Jenny and Forrest’s mother are dead even though they actually survived in the first novel. And while Roger Rabbit was the murderer and died at the end of Gary K. Wolf’s Who Censored Roger Rabbit?, he was re-animated in Disneyized form for the post-movie sequel, Who P-P-P-Plugged Roger Rabbit? (The most famous theatrical example of this phenomenon is Shakespeare anachronistically whisking Falstaff two centuries away from the action of Henry IV and plopping him into lives of The Merry Wives of Windsor.)

Most mysterious of all is the strange case of Ian Malcolm in Michael Crichton‘s The Lost World.

There were many differences between the book and movie versions of Jurassic Park, but the one that stood out the most was the fate of Ian Malcolm, the brilliant mathematician (portrayed by Jeff Goldblum in the movie) who died in prose and survived through celluloid.

However, when Crichton’s sequel, The Lost World, hit bookstores in 1995, Ian Malcolm was once again among the living. The opening pages of the novel chalked up this Lazarusesque feat to the fact that Malcolm was so close to death at the end of JP1, that he was mistakenly pronounced dead.

One can’t help but wonder if Malcolm’s miraculous comeback was due not to some meta-literary game Crichton was playing, but instead the result of a conversation he had soon after the movie version of Jurassic Park grossed nearly a billion dollars worldwide in 1993. It probably went something like this:

Steven: Hi, Michael. It’s Steven Spielberg.

Michael: Hey, Steven. I just started writing The Lost World. Dr. Grant finds a second island. Gotta tell you, between you and me, I think Dr. Grant’s going to be more popular character than Indiana Jones.

Steven: That’s what I wanted to talk about. Listen, Sam Neil was a prick and I had a blast working with Jeff Goldblum during Jurassic Park. He really wants to do the sequel. What do you think if he’s the lead of The Lost World?

(Long Silence)

Michael: Steven, Ian Malcolm dies in the first novel.

Steven: Yeah, yeah. I was thinking about that. We don’t actually see him die do we?

Michael: No…I guess not…

Steven: Well, then it could have been a mistake?

Michael: But I killed him…

Steven: Listen, I’ve got to go to a press conference for this DreamWorks thing. I know you’ll work it out. Thanks for helping. It’s going to be huge!

As an act of penance for so blatantly angering the Gods of Narrative Continuity, Crichton hammered us over the head in The Lost Word with countless passages describing the constant pain Malcolm was in from his not-quite-as-deadly-as-we-thought-run-in with a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Another offender of said gods, Lloyd Webber’s narrative self-flagellation is done by hijacking a scene that should be one of the most powerful moments in Phantom 2! —  the Phantom and Christine finally reuniting to sing a love duet — and turning it into a seven minute explication of how P. and C. got down and dirty Bible-style.

Here are just a few choice exchanges from “Beneath a Moonless Sky”:

Phantom & Christine: And I heard this ravishing refrain…

Christine: The music of your pulse…

Phantom:The singing in your veins…

Christine:And I held held you…

Phantom: “And I touched you…

Christine: And embraced you…

Phantom:And I felt you…

Phantom & Christine: And with every breath and every sigh…

Christine:I felt no longer scared…

Phantom:I felt no longer shy…

Phantom & Christine: At last our feelings bared…beneath a moonless sky.

Phantom: Cloaked under the night. With nothing to suppress. A women and a man, no more, and yet, no less. And I caught you...”

Christine: And I kissed you…

Phantom:And I took you…

Christine: And caressed you…

Phantom & Christine:And nothing mattered then, except for you and I. Again and then again…beneath a moonless sky…

For anyone either genuinely moved or wanting to keep on laughing, here’s the entire song:

Let’s now depart the realm of Phantasmic fornication and return to the analogy of the two Phantoms. If Phantom 2! has its own “Jar Jar Binks”– a narrative Virgil who guides unfortunate sequels into the depths of the Turkey Inferno — it’s not the convoluted plot, characters that give cartoons a bad name or “Beneath A Moonless Sky.” It is, in fact, a musical number entitled “The Beauty Underneath.”

When Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborated with Jim Steinman — the bard of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell trilogy and the aforementioned Dance of the Vampires — on the musical Whistle Down the Wind, no one could have predicted that he would become so inspired by Steinman’s musical aesthetic (best described as Wagnerian Pubescence) that he would compose a song for Phantom 2! that could easily be the title track of Bat out of Hell IV.

In fact, two out of the three people I played “The Beauty Underneath” for said, after hearing the opening electric guitar riff (yes, you read that right, opening electric guitar riff), “Who is this? Meat Loaf?”

Instead of adding another 1000 words exploring the lyrical semiotics of “The Beauty Underneath” I’ll end this already massive, Hemorrhoid-inducing post by letting you sample the song.

And feel blessed for listening to this song now.  For Love Never Dies, but this show certainly will.

(Finished listening? Here’s the challenge: Now listen to Meat Loaf’s “In the Land of the Pig, The Butcher is King“– which was originally conceived as a number in Steinman’s aborted Batman musical— and try to tell the difference between Mr. Loaf and the Phantom of the Opera Coney Island.)