Yesterday we were going to do a ghost walk with Darren and family but we were much too tired and had things to do. Operation Salad Lunches is in full swing now so we went to Bearwood to get supplies (more salad, couscous, plus some bits for tea - we somehow still managed to spend £50), and then I spent much of the day doing washing as the weather was nice. (Our garden gets the sun pretty much all day, so is great for drying things.) We had a leg of lamb from Aldi for dinner with roasted veg and minted potatoes, and then Paul fell asleep watching Anchorman and refused to go to bed. :P
I've purposely left the beginning of this entry quite sparse as I have a lot to say about the other thing I did on Saturday, which was to have a girly afternoon with my mum watching Love Never Dies, the Phantom sequel, on Blu-Ray on the shiny LED TV. So of course I have quite a lot to say. ;)
Okaaaay. So. I suppose I went into this with a certain amount of trepidation, knowing that the book on which Love Never Dies is based (Frederick Forsyth's Phantom of Manhattan) mangled the characters and the story beyond recognition, and also knowing how the book ended. I had also heard various rumours about the plot and the lyrics, and seen some of the promo footage, and was very very worried that the entire thing was a huge car crash. However, I'd also heard that the staging was amazing and for that reason alone I did want to see it in London; my plan was to queue up for half-price tickets as there was no way in any universe I was going to pay £60 for something I wasn't sure I'd enjoy, and then it closed last September anyway. Having now seen it on Blu-ray (admittedly the Australian production, which apparently has different staging and costumes), I'm actually very glad I wasn't silly enough to pay £60 for it - or even £30, actually.
I'll hash out the plot within the review, though it's basically the same plot as PoM. Essentially, it's Andrew Lloyd Webber's fanfiction. The sad thing is there are better fanfics out there, and LND uses a lot of fanfiction clichés which are now frowned upon as being in the realm of badfic: drunken / destitute Raoul, a lovechild, Erik leaving France and luring Christine back to him... none of it is particularly original, in all honesty, except to anyone who hasn't been partaking in the online fandom all this time. PoM was commissioned long before LND saw the light of day and, in fairness to Lloyd Webber, Forsyth mangled the concept beyond recognition anyway. The idea behind why Erik is on Coney Island is actually brilliant: he goes from living underground to living overground in a penthouse apartment, looking out over the world; he goes to a place where freaks are celebrated rather than reviled, and uses that to his advantage. None of that came through in the book, and it might as well have been written about original characters. When fanfiction writers can do a better job than established, published authors, you seriously have a problem.
Only the basic skeleton of PoM remains in LND, thank anything. Many of the awful elements have gone (such as Erik taking Christine by force - really, Forsyth? Credit your 19th century heroine with more spine than that, please!) and there is more interaction between Erik and Christine which we actually get to see. (I've moaned before that the only decent E/C scene in the entire book is a dialogue-only mess narrated by an incidental character - way to miss the point!) Raoul is a drunkard and a gambler but he's not especially abusive, just dismissive - quite bland, in fairness. Meg is a stripper and a prostitute and eventually drives herself insane - so not the meek little ballet girl from the original by any stretch. Giry is mostly recognisable still, but somehow her calculating plan to inherit from Erik's gains seems out of character. I have always enjoyed the little hints of Erik/Giry that came out of the musical (and even the movie) but LND leans more towards unrequited Meg/Erik as the counterpoint, which makes a bit of sense in context, but also begs the question of why Giry would drag her daughter to New York rather than allowing her career to blossom instead; or, to take the opposite view, why she would allow her to tag along on such a crazy mission. In a lot of respects, it asks more questions than it answers.
Anyway, I'll try to make some vague sense out of these ramblings, though I'm not completely au fait on song titles or the running order, as I've only seen it once and read a transcript of the London production (libretto plus blocking, from various audience sources). Much of this might be out of order or wrong, but I'll do my best.
It opens very strangely with Erik playing the organ within a roped-off circular area, and the words, "Paris, 1895" appear. (Apparently this was staged differently in the London production and Erik got to move around a bit more rather than shuffling around in a space of five feet.) He laments about Christine and how his life will be incomplete until he hears her sing again. This is supposed to be shortly after the incidents of POTO and Christine having left with Raoul.
Then the scene changes, "Coney Island, 1905" - supposedly ten years later, except the events of POTO are meant to take place in 1881, not 1895. So actually LND takes place 24 years later. :P (It's a little ironic considering POTO itself is now 25 years old so the events are literally taking place 24 years later...) I suspect this might actually be the fault of PoM and setting it in 1891 may have thrown up historical inaccuracies regarding Coney Island / Oscar Hammerstein / the Met, but that's really no excuse... Er, anyway, three of Erik's freaks (I've forgotten them names but I think two of them were Gangle and Fleck) introduce the scene and subsequently Meg Giry, the "Ooh La La" girl from Paris.
Christine, Raoul and Gustave arrive on the boat and are swarmed by reporters and photographers. Raoul is grumpy, Gustave is excited and wants to visit Coney Island and learn to swim (foreshadowing FTW). Raoul is put out that Hammerstein hasn't met them at the harbour, but then a mysterious mechanical carriage pulls up containing Erik's henchmen, who advise that their host will meet them later. They board the carriage and it takes them to Coney Island.
In the next scene, Gustave wants his father to play with him or at least pay him some attention, and he's showing off a music box that the freaks gave him - a monkey playing the cymbals (obviously), sitting on top of a rotating snow globe. He winds it up and it plays; I think this was the same melody as from the original ("Maskerade") but I can't quite remember now, it might have been something different. Raoul is still fuming that Hammerstein didn't meet them at the harbour, except then receives a message that he wishes to meet Raoul alone in the bar of the hotel to discuss the particulars. Raoul heads downstairs leaving Christine and Gustave alone.
Gustave whines that his father doesn't love him because he's so dismissive, and Christine reassures him ("Look with your Heart") then sends him off to bed. This was quite a nice little scene, actually, the closeness between mother and son in direct opposition to the distance shown by Raoul. The balcony windows then open up and Erik walks right in. This was actually quite effective as it made both me and my mum jump, so bonus points there even if I was expecting it. ;)
Then we have "Beneath a Moonless Sky" and "Once Upon Another Time", whereby Erik and Christine reminisce about the night before her wedding to Raoul, where she sought him out and they shared a night together - whereupon, of course, he left her. From what I can ascertain, the staging and choreography and character reactions in the London production were a lot better than the Australian one - which is completely understandable as it was Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom and he was awesome in the gala in terms of visuals (he has very expressive eyes). In the Australian one, though, I just didn't feel it. It's kind of strange watching the characters interact in that way in any event; in the original, during "Music of the Night" and later "Point of No Return" there is so much tension in the air, the atmosphere is so tangible, that it's odd even to think that the UST is actually RST. It doesn't seem to suit the character dynamic AT ALL. I dunno, I just didn't find the scene as charged as it should have been. Two characters who were supposedly in love, seeing each other again after ten years - it should have been more of an edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster - like the "Perfect Year" tango scene from Sunset Boulevard. I didn't get any of that. There were elements of betrayal and hurt in there, definitely, but none of the conflicted feelings that should have been present.
I don't think the lyrics helped, as they're bordering on ridiculous, which is a shame. It's true for much of the show that the melodies by themselves are lovely, but the lyrics are awful and clunky and anachronistic. POTO has suffered occasionally by sounding like it's from the 80's, but that's because it is; and in time the orchestrations changed and grew and evolved, and you didn't actually notice so much. LND tries to be too modern, so much so that the echoes of the original score seem jarring when they do occur. It seemed to me that the characters in the Australian production were too touchy-feely in the scene, where the London one had more of the almost-but-not-quite contact that made MOTN/PONR so heart-stoppingly awesome.
It also doesn't help that Susan Kay already did the 'return' sequence in her book and did it better. In Kay, Christine goes to visit Erik on his deathbed; she uses the same idea that the child is Erik's, but Raoul has full knowledge and is wholly accepting by the end. In LND Erik does not die, he simply gets up and abandons her in the morning; as the lyrics put it, "I woke to swear my love, and found you gone instead". I can't wrap my head around it in the slightest as to why he would do that, but I don't think the staging / acting of the scene particularly helped in that regard, as they just seem to be angry for the duration. He never explains his actions at any point and we're just supposed to fill in the gaps. Christine does think that he's dead before he turns up again, but I much prefer the idea of her being there when it happens, rather than him just buggering off in the cold light of day.
It's sad that an uber-shippy canon Erik/Christine scene can be so completely meh, but I'm afraid that's all I could see. Subsequently, "Once Upon Another Time" didn't seem even remotely nostalgic or as heart-breaking as it should have been, just bitter and jaded. (I should say though, that these are my first impressions in remembrance, and I might change my mind if I do a rewatch.)
At the end of this scene, Gustave awakens from a nightmare and meets Christine's "friend", Mr Y, who promises to show him all the excitement of Coney Island. I did find it somewhat odd that Gustave didn't even question why his mother's male friend was on the balcony with her and wearing a mask, given that I would expect any average 10-year-old to be deathly curious, and if there had been more tension in the scene in the first place then perhaps they could have played on Gustave noticing that, too. I would also have liked the barest glimmer of initial recognition from Erik, disappointment that her marriage to Raoul was secured by their having a baby, something other than "OH HAI small boy."
The point being, as I've already mentioned, that Gustave is not Raoul's child, but Erik's (as we discover later). There was SO MUCH more they could have done with this on that first moment of contact. Erik is not exactly unobservant, and he would notice the resemblance to Christine just as much as he would notice the non-resemblance to Raoul. It is unlikely he would recognise anything of himself in the child, given his propensity never to look in mirrors or examine his own face in too much detail (even the unmasked side), but nevertheless it should have started the cogs turning... Or maybe I'm expecting too much from this massive cliche of a story. :P
Erik asks Christine to sing in his theatre, just one song that he has written, and he'll double whatever Hammerstein is going to pay her. He also threatens to steal Gustave if she refuses. Clearly he hasn't gotten any better at ultimatums. Then he leaves her.
After this, Raoul returns from the bar, complaining that Hammerstein has not turned up. He notices something is awry with Christine but she chooses not to tell him just yet.
The next day they go to "Phantasma", the theatre / show that Erik runs under the guise of Mr Y, where they run into Mme. Giry and Meg. Whilst the four are reminiscing and discussing what Christine has been asked to do (Raoul is unhappy about it, of course, and Mme. Giry warns against the potential danger of allowing Christine to perform - so, much the same as before, really) Erik is taking Gustave for a tour of Phantasma. They reach a piano and Gustave begins to play a song he's composed. This is the point where Erik makes the connection of the child's age and the fact that he's apparently a prodigy, and begins to lead him to the hall of mirrors.
The song here is called "The Beauty Underneath", which I'm sure could have been a really good song if I hadn't been immediately distracted by all the red lighting and ELECTRIC GUITARS. I'm not even kidding; it goes full-on rock show completely out of nowhere, and the transition was insane. Erm, anyway, Erik shows Gustave the hall of mirrors, and the point is basically him ascertaining if Gustave is capable of not taking things at face value and seeing 'the beauty underneath', whereupon in a fit of OOC pique, he removes his mask and shows the child his true face. Gustave screams and runs off.
Also? Make-up FAIL. Apparently in ten years a lifelong deformity has healed itself to be nothing more than a few ugly veins. This is the only point when we get to see his face, and it's literally only for a split second; after that it's always pointing away from the audience or shrouded in shadow. It's a huge mistake to take something that iconic, and not bother with it because it's only on display for half a second. It should be as good if not BETTER (or worse, if you like) than the original. (Aside from the fact that Michael Crawford and everyone after him has had to endure the arduous make-up application process every night for the entire run, giving them only a glimpse of what things must have been like for Erik himself, where the LND Phantoms have their scars painted on. Literally. No room for character introspection there.) The reveal in the original is the crowning moment and it has actual shock value. LND does not deliver in that respect AT ALL.
Right, so after that, Christine has gone looking for Gustave and finds him fleeing the scene. She sends him away with Meg, whereupon Erik confronts her about his parentage. I can't remember now if this scene had him unmasked or not, because even if he was, the tainted half was pointed away from the audience. He asks that Gustave be told the truth but Christine refuses. After she's gone Erik does a soliloquy (I can't remember what about now, I think it was a reprise of "Till I Hear You Sing" or it might have been about Gustave) and leaves, whereupon Mme Giry reveals that she's been hiding behind a mirror and has heard everything. She is furious that after all the years of support given to Erik by herself and Meg, they will lose everything because of Gustave. The act ends here; apparently in the London production she threw Gustave's coat down in a rage, and in the Australian one she just waves her fists at the sky. But, you know, compared to dropping a chandelier on the audience, they're both pretty stupid. :P
Act Two begins with Raoul drinking in a bar in the early hours of the morning, drowning his sorrows after learning of Erik's request for Christine to sing. He questions to himself why Christine loves him. Meg joins him after a morning dip in the sea, and warns Raoul against letting Christine sing for Erik again. As she leaves he shouts after her, "I'm not afraid of him!" - and then jumps out of his skin when the morning shift bartender is actually Erik. :D They argue over Christine's loyalty with "Devil Takes the Hindmost", in terms of bargaining for her. Erik has Raoul's number, all right. ;) He says that if Christine does not sing, he will pay off Raoul's gambling debts and let them go, however if she does then Raoul must stand down, as her choice is clear.
Compared to the last two occasions where these two stood off against each other, throwing insults across a bar-room seems a little tame. With maturity and hindsight, I suppose they might have mellowed, but this is Raoul's first glimpse of Erik, whom he has only just discovered is still alive, and Erik is not exactly known for his rationality when it comes to fighting for Christine. The song is a bit weird, too.
Next is the opening of Erik's show, where Meg sings "Bathing Beauty". She is pleased with her performance and excited that it might mean that Erik will make her the star of the show, until Mme. Giry tells her that their hard work has been for nothing. Meg is absolutely distraught; this is the point where we realise her apparently unprecedented feelings for Erik.
The next scene takes place in Christine's dressing room, where Raoul tries to convince her to run away rather than sing Erik's song. Gustave is waiting in the wings, and Raoul leaves at the 10-minute curtain call. Christine goes to the door and discovers it locked, at which point Erik enters in his usual fashion through the mirror, and similarly tries to convince her to sing. There's a lovely echo of "Twisted Every Way" after Erik has gone, which only repeats a few of the lyrics, and then Raoul and Erik's voices for "Christine, Christine, don't think that I don't care" // "But every hope and every prayer rests on you, now." respectively. I thought that was a nice touch.
Christine decides to sing. The title song, "Love Never Dies", is at this point. I was incredibly surprised to discover that in fact, the melody was that of "The Heart is Slow to Learn", the song that ALW originally intended to be in a sequel aaaaall the way back during the 50th birthday celebrations (as sung then by Kiri te Kanawa). I was sure that ALW had recycled it to use in "The Beautiful Game", although considering that show flopped like a badly-tossed pancake, it may well be the case that he decided to use it for LND after all. Unfortunately, the lyrics to "The Heart..." were far, far better than those of "Love Never Dies", which is a crying shame. The original lyrics wouldn't have fit, to be honest, but I still prefer the tone and message; the lyrics to "Love Never Dies" kind of beat you over the head with pre-emptive symbolism. (I might find sets of both lyrics later for comparison.) Anyway, Christine directs various parts of the song to Raoul and Erik respectively, as they wait in opposite wings. Halfway through the song, Raoul concedes that he is beaten and walks away, as Christine finishes the song for Erik.
As with other scenes, I think they could have done more with this. All three characters on the same level just didn't do anything for me. I would have loved a reflection of "Think of Me", with Raoul in one box and Erik in another, so she could look to both of them at different points. Looking at people in the wings whilst you're performing is unprofessional, surely? If they'd been in boxes at least her gaze would still have been out towards the audience. Raoul conceding defeat and walking off could have been done more effectively by her seeking him out in the box only to find it empty, with Erik standing firm and not reacting throughout - except perhaps towards the end of the song when it's obvious she's singing for him. He could maybe have emerged slowly from the darkness of the box's interior as the song progressed, disappearing immediately afterwards so he can reappear in her dressing room later.
So, Erik accosts her again in the dressing room after the performance and they are reunited properly at last (again this was more touchy-feely than the London production, but I think in this instance it wasn't out of place). And then she realises Gustave is missing. Erik summons Mme. Giry, who knows nothing. They give chase after Meg.
Meg has taken Gustave to the pier. He protests that he can't swim and wants his mother. Christine, Erik and Mme. Giry finally catch up with them and Meg draws a gun, intending to kill herself. Erik talks her down from madness (LOL IRONY) and then makes the error of referring to Christine, which sends Meg into a rage as she points the gun all over the place. The gun goes off, and Christine gets hit. Mme. Giry and Meg run off for help. With her dying breaths, Christine tells Gustave the truth about his father, but he refuses to accept it and runs off to find Raoul. She dies in Erik's arms as Raoul finally appears, at which point Erik steps aside. The final moment is Gustave approaching Erik, and father and son embrace.
So, overall then. Lots of nice moments, but equally lots of WTFery. I get the sense there was much more that could have been done with several of the scenes (as already stated) and relationships - more interaction between Erik and Meg, for example, to back up her falling for him - and that the songs could have been saved by better lyrics. Musically, there were heavy influences from Sunset Boulevard and The Woman in White (note for note in some cases), and I much preferred the orchestral movements over the songs for the most part. It just goes to show that, indeed, bad lyrics can ruin a good melody.
I think it also suffered from not having any really big ensemble pieces. Where POTO succeeded was in the mix of solos, duets, ensemble and full cast pieces - most notably "Notes" and "Maskerade" - but LND only really had "Dear Old Friend" (Christine, Raoul, Mme. Giry and Meg) and a reprise of "Devil Takes the Hindmost". The cast seemed small and insignificant and barely worth being there; they might as well have stuck with the five main characters and not bothered with anyone else. Erik and Christine's duet(s) were lack-lustre compared to the POTO title song and "Point of No Return", and I would really have liked more counterpoint in the original Erik/Raoul version of "Devil...", to emphasise the differences. Think Javert and Valjean in Les Miserables during "The Confrontation". Something like that. The duet between Erik and Gustave was pleasant enough, but again it could have used more counterpoint - the innocent child vs. the reclusive genius. I understand that by having them sing together it was supposed to emphasise the father/son similarities, but it did paint Gustave as naive and overly-trusting. Just because mummy says the strange masked man hanging around on her balcony in the middle of the night is a friend does not mean you should implicitly trust him; I would wager, in fact, that any normal child's reaction would be the opposite!
Oddly enough, after seeing LND I had a variety of songs in my head, none of which were from the show - the original bits of "El Tango du Roxanne" from Moulin Rouge!", "Ever More Without You" from Woman in White, and several others, before bits of "Beneath a Moonless Sky" and the title song entered my head - and even then, it was with the original lyrics, not the new ones. I think that says a lot for the staging and the influences, but very little for the music. In honesty, it all seemed a bit rushed. They've had 25 years to plan this. Apparently the London production changed week after week as they realised more and more mistakes had been made, which is just... what? Seriously, RUG, you've been doing this for decades now, you should be able to figure this stuff out before the previews!
Even more oddly, I am also compelled to watch it again. Despite not being completely enamoured of the concept or any of the E/C scenes, they have nonetheless been circling around my head since I saw it. I suppose that indicates that it's watchable, and it's not completely terrible; either that or the ship really does eat my brain, even when it's not done perfectly. In any event, it's not as bad as the 2004 movie, but I'm very glad I didn't spend good money seeing it in London.
In many ways, I wish I were not so elitist. I wish I just could sit back and enjoy LND, with all its clichés and plotholes and bad characterisation, or read a badly-written, out-of-character fanfic just for the love of the fandom... but we have been through a lot together, POTO and I, and I'm not the sort of person who will settle for second best. I think also if the fandom had not destroyed my joy already, I might find more about LND to love, and might embrace the shippiness no matter how badly it was done. I should be glad that I'm part of a fandom where my 'ship of choice is the same almost entirely across the board, and where all that wish fulfillment finally occurred in canon - God knows, it never usually happens.
But here's the thing. LND is a fanfic - a bad one, at that. On FFN there are over 10,000 stories; about 90% of those are Erik/Christine centric, and about 20% of those contain more originality, more understanding and more heart than LND has managed to achieve with its massive budget and team of so-called artists. That's what makes me sad. ALW is the fandom's biggest fanboy, and he has all the money in the world to play with canon and publish his self-insert ridiculousness so he can inflict it on the world. (We know already that RUG don't give the remotest crap about the fans, as they've made that more than clear.) The rest of us mere mortals have nothing but ideas and an ability to put them into words, and a grasping hope that it might lead somewhere. ALW may well have had a brilliant idea in the very early stages, but it got chewed up by his 'ghost writer' of choice, and somewhere along the lines it lost any credibility. That makes me sad. POTO did not need a sequel at all; the fanfic authors have created many of their own, but content in the knowledge that we were doing it for our own benefit and nothing else. Having money and power does not give you any bigger right to play with canon and mangle it; it just makes you lucky.
Ho hum. I need to get hold of the gala DVD, I think. I've only managed to make myself watch the 2004 movie about twice, because it still makes me angry. There are actually a lot of things in this fandom which make me angry and the majority of them are because of that movie. Even though I may never participate in the fandom in any great capacity again - other than to read fanfic and perhaps finish my own incomplete stories eventually - I will always enjoy the story and its various incarnations, and I will see the new UK tour (hopefully) even if the staging is different and enjoy the Choice Scene as much as I ever do, even knowing as I do now that it's all done with LND in mind these days. Crawford's MOTN will still reduce me to a gibbering wreck, and Erik/Christine will still break my heart into a thousand pieces. POTO just does that to me, as much as Sunset does, as much as any fandom ever has, but I am no longer strong enough to fight the Powers That Be. Not after Gerik, not after Farscape, not after Cats, not after all the other horrendous crimes against fandom that have happened over the years. I'm too tired and too old, and all too often, I wish my brain were not hot-wired for fandom, just so I wouldn't have to keep suffering the pain of disappointment.
Hmm. Yes. I suppose I expected LND to bring some of these feelings out again, but despite all that, it has a few nice moments. I might buy the soundtrack at some point, and I will probably watch it again now that I'm not going in "cold", but I think I'm going to have to look at it like a big-budget fanvid or it'll make me crazy.
Right, I think that is quite long and boring enough. I actually went looking for LND fanfic last night and for some reason had not anticipated that the majority would be missing scenes for "Beneath a Moonless Sky". (Like the badfic authors needed any more excuses.)
I wrote this at work today to get it out of my brain and subsequently was not exactly productive. Oh well. :P After the gym today Paul and I met up with Lloyd and Denise at Las Iguanas and had lovely Mexican food, so that was nice. I basically had fish and chips but the chips were sweet potato, which I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed, so I will definitely be buying more in future. :)
Right, that's it. I shall post this and probably go to bed. :P