So even if you have never heard the music, seen the play or seen the movie of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical, The Phantom of the Opera, you have to have at least heard of it. It first came out in London's West End in 1986, and has become a timeless classic. It is very sentimental for me as I grew up listening to the music and it is one of the first live productions I ever went to and the music is just so moving and incredible and the story so mysterious and bittersweet.
Exactly one year ago I was on a Delta flight reading their Spirit Magazine and read an article that Andrew Lloyd Webber had written a sequel to Phantom and it would be debuting in the next year. What?! First of all, creating a sequel to a stage musical has never been done before. There is talk of making a movie sequel to the movie Hairspray which was an adaptation of a stage musical, but that is different. Not only is it a gutsy move because it hasn't been done before, but its disturbing something iconic. One of the things that I adore about Phantom is that it ends somewhat ambiguously. It is so poignant and mystifying and it lingers with you. I liked musing about them and leaving it in that quiet place of wonder. (It's true that I just posted about the creativity of Stephen Sondheim in writing stories that look at what happens after happily-ever-after, but that isn't for all shows).
The Music: For those of you that don't know, Andrew Lloyd Webber only writes the score and not the lyrics for his music. The brilliant Charles Hart (and somewhat by Richard Stilgoe) wrote the lyrics to the songs for the original Phantom and they are so clever and romantic and poetic. The lyrics for Love Never Dies were written by Glenn Slater. It's not that they are bad lyrics, but they definitely lack the whimsy and the soulfulness of the original. And as we learned from the movie Music & Lyrics:
A melody is like seeing someone for the first time. The physical attraction. But then, as you get to know the person, that's the lyrics. Their story. Who they are underneath. It's the combination of the two that makes it magical.
Lyrics aside, I have to admit that some of the melodies are completely captivating and beautiful and definitely reminiscent of the soaring original score. The cast is fantastic and I definitely have some of the songs still ringing in my ears. As with any new musical the more time you give and familiarity you gain with the music, the more you can enjoy it, and this show is still new to me and I am working on forgiving it for daring to infringe on the original that I know and love so well.
The Story: The show is very much like Les Miserables in the sense that almost everything is in song and not much is regular talking, so you can piece together the entire plot by listening to the CD. I admit that when first started listening to it I was already feeling resentful that they had the effrontery to even attempt this, and I had myself braced to despise it. I won't give away any of the plot, but I will say that they were definitely creative in the storyline. At first I was a little irritated with some character personality changes and situations that I felt contradicted what we took from Phantom, but as I reflect they didn't actually do anything that changes what happened in the first, it just gives us a different perspective. Like Wicked with The Wizard of Oz. It doesn't change the story that we all know, it just provides a different point of view. There are some lovely role reversals that parallel the original and it retains the darkness and the bittersweet feeling that I love about Phantom. I even think that the ending was completely fitting. I'm just still not sure that we needed a new ending.
So all in all... I am torn. Part of me really appreciates the inventive plot and the beautiful music and the daring it took to even attempt a stage sequel, but part of me feels like its a betrayal and I just want to blast the Phantom CD and pretend this new one never happened. Maybe it will grow on me more, as music tends to do with time. I just feel like it kills some of the magic by even existing. If I wasn't so fiercely attached to the original that I have been listening to since I was four and know backwards and forwards, I think its possible that I would really like this new one, but I would never love it, either way. I'll let you judge for yourself. I would however, definitely suggest you avoid it if you haven't heard/seen the original. Phantom must come first.