How do you say "bad idea" in French?

Okay, so here's the thing: I've never been a huge fan of Phantom of the Opera. (Insert scandalized gasp here). Sure, I think it's a great musical, and it has fantastic costumes and the score is really intense and beautiful, but it's not one of my favorite shows or anything. In fact, I've never really known what to make of it, what I'm supposed to think about it and its characters. Let's recap, shall we?

Unfortunately disfigured man sees girl. Unfortunately disfigured man becomes creepily obsessed with girl and decides to teach her to sing really awesomely so that they can have the vocal equivalent of eye sex. Girl gets a chance to star in a show after unfortunately disfigured man sabotages the original lead. Girl's childhood sweetheart hears girl sing and sees her and falls in love with her. Girl falls in love with childhood sweetheart. Unfortunately disfigured man, who girl thinks is an angel sent by her dead father to watch over her and help her sing really well, goes a little apeshit. Unfortunately disfigured man proceeds to hypnotize and kidnap girl to try and make her fall in love with him, and when that fails, unfortunately disfigured man declares war and proceeds to kill people and wreak general havoc on the opera house where he lives. Girl says she hates unfortunately disfigured man, but then musters up a little sympathy for said man and kisses him in an attempt to save her childhood love. Unfortunately disfigured man feels bad and lets girl and her childhood love go before breaking a lot of mirrors and disappearing.

All things considered, the Phantom seems like a kind of awful person, no? He's manipulative, creepy, a kidnapper, a murderer, has some rage issues, and just generally not a nice person. Yes he's misunderstood and shunned by society due to his physical deformities, but he's no tragic romantic hero in my mind. Imagine my surprise and confusion, then, when I find out I'm expected to believe that the Phantom isn't such a bad person after all, and that his love for Christine is so beautiful and wonderful (and not so unrequited after all) that it deserves a sequel to arguably one of the most popular musicals of all time, aptly (and perhaps heavy-handedly) entitled Love Never Dies. When I first heard the news that Andrew Lloyd Webber was writing a sequel to his most successful work, my immediate reaction was simply "What the hell?!" followed very quickly by "I thought 'Phantom' made him so rich he would never sink to this level" and ended with "holy shit, this is going to be a damn hot mess of a show." However, I tried to convince myself that ALW wouldn't have announced a sequel unless he had a vision, and a good one at that. It'll be okay, I reassured myself. This won't turn into the huge clusterfuck I'm envisioning in my mind.

Friends, it appears my reservations were well-founded.

Granted, I have not yet seen Love Never Dies, nor have I listened to any of the score beyond the 30 second previews offered on iTunes. My opinion of this show is based solely on the opinions of other people whose columns and blogs I've read, the Wikipedia-ing I've done, and the press releases I've perused and the details I've gleamed from them. It may be that Love Never Dies is actually a decent show that is getting a bad rap from some people whose opinions on theater seem to matter to the general public. To be sure, some news outlets have given it fairly positive reviews. For the most part, however, the general consensus seems to be: What in the name of all that's good and holy were they thinking? Who thought this was a good idea, and what substances were they taking when they thought of it?

I suppose that what really blows my mind about Love Never Dies is that people (I'm talking about you, ALW) thought that the "love story" of Phantom of the Opera is between the Phantom and Christine, not just a one-sided creepy obsession on the Phantom's part, and even more so that it merited a sequel. I just don't get it. It's a story of unrequited love, to be sure, but it's pretty much the most unhealthy, most vindictive, most toxic unrequited love imaginable. The Phantom kills people because he's angry that Christine doesn't love him the way he loves her. In fact, in all my experiences with the show, I don't believe Christine loves him at all in a romantic sense. She's been manipulated and seduced by his singing, yes, but there's no indication that she actually love loves the Phantom, especially compared to the emotion and love she shows towards Raoul ("All I Ask of You" is the most romantic number in that show, and it's between Christine and Raoul, not the Phantom). In fact, the Phantom tries to kill Raoul, the man she does love, and attempts to coerce Christine into living her life with him. Not to mention, he has a freaking life-size mannequin of her (I shudder to think at what he does with it when he's alone). To me, that seems far more Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction than, say, Ryan Gosling in The Notebook.

I guess what I'm really trying to say is that, at it's core, Phantom of the Opera is not a good love story: it's an unhealthy, manipulative relationship that borders on abusive. I just feel like I have a radically different idea of what the show is about than Andrew Lloyd Webber. Where he sees an epic love story, I see something creepy and disturbing. And what's more is that at the end of Phantom, the story is pretty much wrapped up. Christine and Raoul are in love and plan to be married, and the Phantom disappeared into the darkness to do whatever. End of story. No need for a sequel. No need to throw certain characters under the bus (and based on what I've read on Wikipedia - which I won't share so as to ruin the show for anyone who doesn't know and doesn't want to find out - said throwing happens in a pretty major way) for the sake of propagating a "romance" that really isn't all that romantic (although Love Never Dies attempts to show otherwise). And most importantly, no need to tarnish the legacy of the longest-running musical in Broadway history with a crappy sequel.

To be fair, if ALW was to write a sequel to one of his musicals, Phantom of the Opera is really the only choice. Cats had no real plot to speak of, and it was so bizarre that I don't think people could handle a second go round. Joseph... was all wrapped up by the end. And you can't really write a sequel to Jesus Christ Superstar because, well... your main character is kind of dead, so unless you're planning on it being "Easter: the Musical", you're pretty much shit out of luck. But in all honesty, the logic of choosing to make Love Never Dies is truly befuddling. In my mind, there are two possible explanations:

A.) He honestly thought he had a well-crafted score and libretto, and that he could produce a quality production that would garner critical and popular acclaim.

B.) This is some sort of fantasy of ALW's wherein he gets to vicariously live out his failed relationship with his own Christine (or it's just a huge "suck it, Sarah Brightman!") and show the world that loving and lusting after a woman considerably younger than you who really doesn't share your sentiments and was only seduced by your music is totes fine and not creepy at all.

I'm not sure which one is more frightening. Maybe his cat had it right after all.


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