Love Never Dies is a poor sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, entertaining enough, but far falling short of the standards of its predecessor.
In its favour, the costumes and set design were magnificent, the set transitions unbelievable, and the depiction of a freakshow/funfair Coney Island extremely imaginative. In particular I enjoyed the phantom-esque entrance to the park and the peacock plumage. However the move to Coney Island and the themes of freaks and loyalty (from masks and romance) was a poor tonal shift that didn’t match the Phantom.
Love Never Dies was let down by a tawdry, retcon-reliant storyline that altered the relationships between the main characters and treated them superficially. Ten years have passed, and Raoul, Christine and their son have come to New York to avoid destitution. Raoul is an angry gambler who drinks too much, and Christine harbours stronger feelings for someone else. The Phantom has been hiding in Coney Island obsessing over Christine, supported and cared for by Madame Giry and Meg, who have been forced to resort to extreme measures to survive.
The storyline of the original musical was economical melodrama (spiced by comedic side characters) delivered via great set pieces. Love Never Dies works on a far smaller scale, and forces poor behaviour upon the characters to generate drama. It’s hard to respect or admire the once well-loved characters of Phantom after their jealous and disloyal portrayals of this installment. There are a couple of set pieces, but many of the locations are an afterthought: a bar and a pier are the unimaginative settings for two of the more dramatic scenes. The ending is terrible, a dramatic development that resolves none of the themes of the story.
The music suffers as well. There are a couple of good songs, but it is nothing like the consistent parade of strong works that Phantom was. Bafflingly, “Point of No Return” and “Prima Donna” return as minor themes, but the headline tunes of the first movie are completely missing. I waited the entire show to hear even the Phantom’s theme and was left unsatisfied. With tonal reservations, I liked Meg Giry’s “Bathing Beauty” performance (it was a little like a burlesque show) and and enjoyed the prominence of her and her mother’s characters. The eponymous song had a good melody too, but I found the lyrics banal and a poor fit with the show’s themes.