It was with great sadness that I heard that the Phantom of the Opera was finally leaving the Majestic Theater in New York City after a staggering 35 year run (Day). Of course, I rushed to see it before it closed like everybody else, but I know many people will now never get that chance. A few days after the show closed, I even got the saddest email I’ve ever seen in my entire life:
So, in honor of Baby’s First Musical (it’s me. I’m Baby), I decided that I’d make a post about the greater Phantom of the Opera lore to heal the gaping hole in my heart.
So, like, did y’all know The Phantom of the Opera had a sequel? It’s called Love Never Dies, and it’s one of the weirdest musicals I have ever seen.
So the reason this musical isn’t as well known as the Phantom is that it was never actually on Broadway. It actually premiered in the West End in London, where it underwent substantial revision. There was also a very successful run at the Melbourne theater in Australia (Wikipedia). There’s a very excellent filmed version of that show, and I highly recommend it. There’s also an official soundtrack “Original Cast Recording” (note the lack of the word Broadway in there). Bizarrely, the filmed version and the soundtrack don’t actually like up perfectly, but Andrew Lloyd Webber has a history of editing his shows for different versions. The changes are minor and don’t affect the point I’m making here today.
When I say this musical is wild, I mean it is absolutely buck wild. It completely ignores the canon of both the Phantom of the Opera 1909 book by Gaston Leroux (first English Translation in 1911) and the original musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber. So if you know anything about the Phantom, buckle up for this synopsis because it is going to be a bumpy ride.
The show starts in New York City. And ends there. The entire plot takes place on Coney Island. No more cool French stuff now that Americans are writing the plot, I guess. It also takes place 10 years after the events of The Phantom of the Opera, despite the fact that The Phantom canonically takes place in 1881 and Love Never Dies takes place in 1907. Christine Diae has just come to NYC to sing for Rodgers and Hammerstein because her abusive husband the Viscount of Chanie gambled away all their money and now they’re broke. Like, the only way to make the Phantom a viable love interest the second time around is to completely ignore everything that happened in the original, including entirely new characters! Oh, wait, they’re the same characters? The character assassination is strong with this one. Raoul and Christine have come to America together, along with their 10 year old son, Gustave.
While in New York City, they discover that the Phantom actually survived, leaving the Opera Populaire with the help of Meg and Madame Giry, and he now owns a large freak show on Coney Island. Which is totally something that would seem okay to someone who has a physical disfigurement and spent the first part of his life locked away in a freak show, but I digress. The Phantom finds Christine and offers her a stupid amount of money to sing for him instead. We also find out that they totally banged before he left for America because “Christine tracked him down before he left” and “they banged in the dark so she couldn’t see his face which fixed literally all the problems”. Yikes.
Who wants to start placing bets on who Gustave’s real father is?
So Raoul is unsurprisingly pissed at Christine’s decision to sing for the Phantom again, but he can’t really do anything about it because he’s a deadbeat drunk who gambled them into poverty. The gang all gets back together, and the Phantom meets Gustave for the first time.
Time to cash in those bets!
The Phantom realizes that Gustave is ten years old and that he’s good at music, and instantly decides that he’s Gustave’s real father. Despite the evidence that exposure to music during childhood being a bigger factor in musics aptitude than genetics, and also that his mother is literally one of the most famous opera singers in Europe. Shocker. Guess the writers also forgot gestation time was a thing, and getting pregnant 10 years ago means the baby would actually only be about 9 years old, but whatever.
The Phantom declares that he’s leaving everything he owns on Cony Isle to his son, and Madame Giry is PISSED because she wanted that for herself and Meg since they smuggled him out of France. The Phantom then does a sneaky and convinces Raoul to make a bet with him on something that he already knows the outcome: whether Christine will sing for him. If she does, Raoul has to leave. If Raoul can convince Christine not to sing, he’ll pay off their debts and send them on their way.
Of course, Raoul tries his best, but the bet is fixed either way because if Christine loves the Phantom, she’ll sing for him, and if she loves Raoul, SHE’LL STILL SING because the Phantom is paying her a stupid amount of money that she needs to pay off Raoul’s gambling debts. She sings, and Raoul proceeds to fuck off for the entire rest of the show like a kicked puppy.
Cue Meg. She’s been hanging around the whole show, trying desperately to get the Phantom’s attention as a sexy “Oo La La” dancer in his shows. Well, she finally has a complete mental breakdown and kidnaps Gustave because she’s jealous he gets the circus and the Phantom doesn’t care about her. Everyone goes crazy until they find them at the dock, where Meg is trying to drown Gustave.
In the final confrontation, Meg reveals that her mother has been prostituting her out to important people to get funds and permits for the Phantom to run his business and that’s why she’s having a breakdown. The Phantom attempts to talk her down, saying that he can see the dark shattered parts of her and that darkness is beautiful to him. He’s almost got her when he makes the mistake of saying “we can’t all be [perfect] like Christine” and she loses it. Meg shoots Christine and then screams and runs off, Christine tells Gustave that the Phantom is his real father and he screams and runs off, and then Christine dies in the Phantom’s arms and he screams but manages not to run off.
And that’s it. That’s the whole show. And if you’re like me, after watching something like this, all you can do is sit in stunned silence and ask yourself “Who wrote this???”
I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the first name that springs to mind. Andrew Lloyd Webber did not write this show. He composed it. That means he wrote the music, but he did not write any of the lyrics, the dialogue, or the plot. Well, he contributed, but he isn’t solely to blame. The actual playwrights for this show are Glen Slater, Ben Elton, and Frederick Forsyth, with a credit to Webber as well. The lyricists for the show are Glen Slater again, along with Charles Hart (Wikipedia).
But the story behind the inspiration for this show is even wilder. Love Never Dies debuted in 2010, but the roots go far beyond that.
See, back in 1990 whenAndrew Lloyd Webber pitched the idea for a semi-related sequel to the Phantom, he was working with a man named Frederick Forsyth to develop the plot (Wikipedia). They eventually decided it was too ambitious for the stage and abandoned the project, but then Forsyth decided to take the idea and turn it into a novel. This novel became The Phantom of Manhattan, which was published in 1999 (Forsyth).
Recognize that name? Yeah, he’s one of the writers for the script of Love Never Dies. When technology caught up to their vision, Webber decided to give the composition another shot and wrote the music to Love Never Dies. The team of writers used Forsyth’s novel as a base, but only kind of adapted it in the stage version. If you’re keeping track, that means that Love Never Dies is an adaptation of The Phantom of Manhattan, which is an adaptation/continuation of The Phantom of the Opera stage musical, which is an adaptation of the original novel by Leroux (and anyone who’s actually read the book knows it’s a very loose adaptation at that).
That means Love Never Dies is a fanfiction of a fanfiction of an adaptation that really only gave lip service to the original story. If you’re familiar with fanfiction tropes, it definitely reads like one. Despite how absolutely insane the script is, however, it’s high on my list of top musicals. Do I lose my mind every time I try to listen to this show? Absolutely. Do I keep doing it anyway? Yes, for the love of this:
The music to this show is absolutely brilliant. In fact, I might even go as far as to say that I prefer it over the music to The Phantom of the Opera. But the script? Maybe just admit you’re writing fanfiction next time, boys. I promise there’s a market for that on AO3.
Day, Andrea. “'The Phantom of the Opera' Is Closing Soon - Meet Some of the Lifers Who Have Worked on It for Decades.” CNBC, CNBC, 15 Dec. 2022, https://www.cnbc.com/2022/12/15/phantom-is-closing-in-april-meet-some-of-its-longtime-employees.html#:~:text=After%2035%20years%20on%20Broadway,show%20in%20U.S.%20theatrical%20history.
Forsyth, Frederick. The Phantom of Manhattan. 1999.
Leroux, Gaston. The Phantom of the Opera. Penguin Books, 2021.
“Love Never Dies (Musical).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 28 Nov. 2022, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Never_Dies_(musical).