I found out today a piece of information that was announced over a year ago: Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has written a sequel to Phantom of the Opera to be released on London’s West End in March 2010. The new musical, titled Love Never Dies, will open on Broadway in November 2010. When I first read about this show, I assumed it would take place in the Paris Opera House, just like the original. As an alternative, the streets of Paris or some other Parisian locale seem like plausible options. If they decided to move it away from Paris, there are a number of reasonable choices, such as London at the Royal Opera House, or one of the other old theatres. Rome might be a good place with its history and architecture – Venice and Milan make sense as well. New York seems like a distant choice, but it offers some great venues such as the massive, grand Hippodrome and the Hammerstein Theatre (the Hippodrome no longer exists and the Hammerstein has been extensively re-modeled and used for television), or even the famous New Amsterdam, crown jewel of New York theatres. So where does Love Never Dies take place? It takes place in the beautiful, elegant, historical locale of….drumroll please…Coney Island!
Coney Island. No, you didn’t misread that last sentence: Webber has transported the sequel of his masterpiece from the Paris Opera House to a trashy amusement park in Brooklyn. The reason for the locale change hinges on what happens to the Phantom after he disappears in the stirring climax of the original. Reduced to a mere sideshow novelty, the Phantom makes his way to Coney Island, where he supposedly designs many of the rides and attractions and amasses a great fortune. While celebrating a successful singing career in Europe, Christine and her family (she marries Raoul and has a child) receive an invitation to perform at Coney Island. Little do they know the Phantom has secretly sent the invitation to lure her back to him…
Forgive me if I am more than a little skeptical of this entire production. Phantom of the Opera is my personal favorite musical, easily one of the greatest of all time alongside the likes of My Fair Lady, Oklahoma!, and West Side Story. Part of what makes it great is that all the parts fit together perfectly: the music is superb, the setting in the Paris Opera House is romantic and haunting, the staging is magnificent, the costumes are great, the story is moving, and the plot of a chorus girl transformed into a star soprano under the tutelage of a musical genius mirrors the real-life relationship of Webber and then-wife Sarah Brightman (the original star in the West End and Broadway productions). The various elements of a musical come together beautifully to make a classic the same way the music of Leonard Bernstein, the libretto of Stephen Sondheim, and the scandalously violent (at the time) staging underscored by the poignant portrayal of racial tension make West Side Story a classic.
But just as the rough Hell’s Kitchen of the 1950’s is a perfect setting for West Side Story, so the beautiful, mysterious, haunting Paris Opera House is a perfect setting for Phantom. How can Coney Island possibly compare and maintain any sort of consistency with the original ambience? I understand that Coney Island was a gawdy, larger than life Vegas-style over-the-top extravaganza at the turn of the 20 century. But there is nothing haunting or romantic about such a setting that would be consistent with the mood of Phantom‘s music. And contextually, the Paris Opera House is still standing and still beautiful, while Coney Island is being further dis-assembled by the minute – all that remain are the Parachute Jump and Cyclone roller coaster, neither of which were built in 1906 when Love Never Dies takes place.
Perhaps this will be a great musical and even surpass its predecessor in quality and popularity. But there is reason to worry. For starters, I reject the notion of a sequel to Phantom. Andrew Lloyd Webber called the ending “unsatisfactory,” but I could not disagree more. I consider it the perfect ending, as the Phantom finds true love through sacrifice and selflessness – he then disappears into the oblivion of the beautiful music he helped create. I can be open minded about a sequel, but a further concern is that Webber seems to be past his prime. He has written some great musicals, including Phantom, Cats, Song and Dance, and fun shows such as Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; even Jesus Christ, Superstar has a good score. But since Phantom premiered in 1986, he has has no major successes with flops like Sunset Boulevard and Whistle Down the Wind. He produced Bombay Dreams, and while that has been a hit on the West End it had a very short run on Broadway.
I tend to be optimistic, but I am quite pessimistic on the prospects of Love Never Dies succeeding to any degree beyond a mediocre sequel to a masterpiece. I hope Webber and his crew prove me wrong and pull off another classic, but setting the story in Coney Island only elevates my concerns…