Surprise! Third post of the day! The taped and re-imagined Melbourne production! I know this isn't technically a movie, but it still counts in my book. OK...this is dangerous water we're treading here...lots of controversy still rolling around in the phandom, though it's calmed down a bit since the London production closed...still, this could get hairy...especially since the UK tour was announced and the Denmark production...
So, that's the easy part. Do you want the good stuff or the bad stuff first?
OK, bad stuff it is! Spoilers ahead, and I don't just mean the show itself! (Kidding! There is in fact some good parts!)
WHAT IS UP WITH THIS PLOT?!?! Has the Phantom completely forgotten the incredibly tragic and moving lesson that was his entire character arc from the original play? Since when is Raoul a gambling alcoholic, and I mean outside the realms of fan fiction? And the Girys completely going off the deep end? And Gustave simply MUST be the Phantom's son because he's "musical," as if the opera singer mother couldn't have had a cotton-picking thing to do with it? WTF! You know what this is? It's a G-D, M-Fing, S-O-B-ing soap opera! I used to watch this crap on All My Children and One Life To Live with my grandmother! Webber, man, what happened? (Oh, wait, you collaborated with Freddy effing Forsyth to adapt his waste-of-toilet paper Phantom of Manhattan garbage. Pardon me, I forgot.) True story: my mother tried to watch this with me, fell asleep fifteen minutes into it, woke up during the last fifteen minutes, and could tell exactly what was going on, courtesy daytime TV plot twists. She's seen 'em all. I didn't realize quite how bad it was until she tried to tell my sister what happened (quote): "So, Christine slept with the Phantom before she married Raoul and ended up having his kid. Rachel, or Megan, or whatever the hell her name was, the page girl, turned out to be in love with the Phantom, but she wasn't going to get him, so she tried to drop their kid off a bridge. Raoul was an idiot, and the dancer girl's mother was a--" (end quote) At that point, Sis interrupted with a very loud "I DON'T CARE!" Which is pretty much how I could sum up my opinion of the story line.
Music--good and bad. Again, bad stuff first. It started to piss me off to hear so many reprisals from the original, mainly for two reasons. 1.) I'd hoped Andrew Lloyd Webber could come up with enough music not to have to resort to plagiarizing himself, for Pete's sake! 2.) By injecting so much from the extremely-beloved original into his nowhere-near-as-popular sequel, it felt like he was trying to use the success of one to validate the other in the minds of the audience and/or use some of Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe's lyrics so he could credit them and thus get their names on the project, and I didn't care for that at all. "Twisted Every Way" in particular irritated the snot out of me. THAT one really felt jammed in there for the hell of it. I was actually impressed to learn that the orchestra was so small for this production, because it sounded much larger and much more "there"...so there, in fact, that it nearly drowned out the singers. About ninety-five percent of this was sung, which wouldn't have bothered me if it felt like there was more of a break between songs. As it was, bleeding from one straight into the next was exhausting. The lyrics for some of the songs are halfway decent, and some are ridiculous, if I may call it like I see it. I'd say the best stuff here is on par with the average stuff from the original. Again, Webber, man, what happened? The bad ones were...oh dear Lord, how did I get through them? The Phantom doesn't write opera anymore; he writes cheesy vaudeville for Meg's new burlesque show! And Meg, by the way, is reduced to a stripper phangirl...in the Phantom's own universe! *gags* WHAT HAPPENED?!?! The average ones felt Disney-esque, so...*shrugs* The best ones were "Beneath A Moonless Sky" and "Love Never Dies." BAMS was trying to fill the shoes of "The Point of No Return" but, while one hides the message of the song brilliantly with sensual poetry, this one's just out and out "Hey, remember when we did it?" Listening to it, it sounds exactly like it is: a one-night stand. I was only really impressed with it when I could actually see what was happening in the scene at the same time, but I tip my hat to the original cast for bringing this one to my ears in the first place. LND was the one part of the show that nearly brought tears to my eyes. It's full of cliches and seems written mainly to showcase the actress's highest notes, but it was still terribly beautiful and it's still stuck in my head (too bad it's out of my range!). I'm slightly disappointed that the Phantom's solo this time around was a little...disappointing. "Til I Hear You Sing," while plenty nice, doesn't come close to "The Music of the Night," but then, few songs do, period. That's not to say it's a bad song, but...it doesn't feel too Phantom-y to me. Or I should say that it does, but only if the Phantom is reduced to an emo, please-give-me-what-I-want sissy as opposed to the dangerous by-God-I'll-just-take-what-I-want Phantom of the original. A nice solo, but not for the Phantom. Speaking of solos, Raoul finally gets one, but I'm not such a fan of it. It's too much of a pity party. Not such a fan of Raoul in this whole bizarro-land freak show, period.
Always important, the performer taking on the role of the Phantom. Ben Lewis is nowhere close to being my favorite in the role. Don't get me wrong, the man can sing. He reminded me a little of Colm Wilkinson, with that super-deep voice and that resonance, but he shouted a LOT less. Actually, he made me think more of Boris Karloff as Frankenstein than the Phantom...that might be because of the wide-eyed, ooh-I'm-scary stares he kept giving and all those other strange expressions...don't really have too much else to say about him, other than I think I preferred Ramin Karimloo.
As is still the case with anything Phantom related, it's gorgeous to look at. (Boy, that's a weird stroke of irony for the story about the disfigured genius!) The sets are weird and wonderful, the costumes jump out at you, and even the lighting was superb! You don't really think of lighting as being superb, but this was just amazing. It sounds obvious, but it brought on an atmosphere of the bizarre and unusual, which earns this thing some points from me (for lighting? Good God, fishing around here, aren't we?) It's not as good as the original, but then sequels never are, are they? I can't lie, though, I was staring at it and thinking, "Wow!" The entire sequence for "The Beauty Underneath" was eerie and strange and mesmerizing (that was a pretty b*tching song, but was also a little...creepy, especially with Gustave's frequent interjections of "Yes!" I'm just saying), and the peacock set was a tad overwhelming, but still very cool, as Mom put it.
I feel like I gotta say something about how the Girys were handled here. Madame is all of a sudden venting her spleen and hating Christine's guts, when she was something of a mother figure to her in the original. She's also a greedy old hag, but I guess if I'd been busting my backside for a decade and found out it was all for nothing, I'd be pretty ticked too. What made my head spin was Meg's massive character assassination. She was the pretty, best friend that barely got any stage time! Now here she is seething with jealousy that the Phantom is still in love with Christine! I was actually a bit sympathetic towards her, and I didn't see that coming after listening to the London cast recording (but then, they dialed down the crazy before moving the show down under). I mean it, I really felt sorry for her!
Nitpicking here: while "Devil Take the Hindmost" wasn't a bad scene, it cheapened everything about the original for me...well, it summed up the cheapness. They're betting, literally betting, for "prime Christine-banging privileges," as I've read it elsewhere! What horsesh*t! I wouldn't put something that low past the Phantom, or Raoul, at this point, but I repeat: it's cheap! On the bright side, for once in the show, the Phantom is acting like, well, the Phantom! He's one scary, manipulative, sarcastic dude! But again, I preferred Ramin Karimloo to Ben Lewis.
Favorite element of the show? Anna O'Byrne. I've heard some criticism towards her, but I absolutely loved her. The moment she stepped onto the stage, my first thought was "My God, she's gorgeous." And her singing lived up to that sentiment as well. I LOVE Sierra Boggess's original take on the title song, but Anna's was just...holy sheets and linens. Watching her interact with Gustave, you can see where she's at least matured into a mother. She's no longer a damsel in distress, but she's still too easily manipulated and for once, I'd like to see a stage/screen Christine with some backbone! And the boy playing Gustave was, in summary, adorable. An angelic little voice, I swear on a stack of Bibles! But...everyone kept losing him, and that got old pretty darn fast, too. You know who's winning the Parent of the Year awards? Well, it's none of these jokers, and that's the truth! *raspberry*
What annoys me most about the sequel isn't the sequel itself. I'm pretty much neutral on that. What annoys me is Webber's attitude about it. If The Phantom of the Opera was his own creation to start with, then it wouldn't be so terrible to see the way he goes on about his little continuation. Too bad it's not. This just seems like spitting on Gaston Leroux's grave to commandeer his story like that, not to mention to insist he had no idea what he was doing with his own ***ing story to start with! ARGH! Pisses me off! The truth of the matter is, this is only one out of many possibilities for how the story could have gone on, and Webber has no more control over what should happen than anyone else on earth. If he wants to call this his take on it, great. But it's not the be-all end-all, and for it to be publicized as if it were burns me up SO BAD!
I'm not hating on the show. In fact, it was a decent show. I liked it a lot more when I stopped thinking of it as a Phantom of the Opera sequel and took it as something completely different. What I liked about it, I liked enough to watch the whole thing again. Sold on the whole scheme, though? I think not. I'm indifferent. I neither love it nor hate it. If it dropped out of existence tomorrow, I'd be all right, but if it became a huge success on its own merit it wouldn't kill me. KEYWORDS: ITS OWN MERIT. This thing is riding mainly on the legacy of the original as far as I'm concerned...which is something of a shame. It could have been amazing, but methinks Webber has grown lazy and indolent where his cash cow is concerned. ;)
But hey, it could have been worse! It could have stuck to the letter of The Phantom of Manhattan, at which point I think millions of angry phans would have gone past burning Webber in effigy and actually tried to assassinate the fool! So...score?
Your modest movie buff,