Will Gordon sing?

March.27 : Love Never Dies... or does it? As you can probably guess I’ve just been to see the sequel of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, which premiered recently at the Westend. Love Never Dies has had a difficult launch, plagued by consistent panning by the critics and by die-hard supporters of the original Phantom. Phantom is a hard act to follow as it has been running successfully for more than two decades at the Westend. A box office bonanza, Phantom has always drawn an avid viewership, and that, too, makes one marvel at the ever-increasing hordes of theatregoers, many of whom are willing to pay up to £60 (roughly about Rs 5,000 per ticket) to see a show which is now as much a part of the London tour as is perhaps the Tower of London or Madam Tussauds’ waxworks. Of course, the special effects in the show are ethereal — as when the boat on stage glides through the lamp posts which pop up in the mist. One is simply left enchanted. The production moves like clockwork — not a note out of place. The tragic tale of the terribly disfigured, masked Phantom yearning hopelessly for his Christine (who can forget the wonderful song, The Music of the Night) but unable to attain her, is directly meant to woo simple hearted folk like me.

Moreover, we empathise with the talented, lonely Phantom as only Christine understands his music and can sing it the way he wants. But when Christine walks off into the sunset with Raoul, the perfect man, it is a bitter-sweet ending to a very romantic musical.

Obviously it is this cruel separation of the doomed lovers that haunted Webber, too, and since 1990 he had been thinking of a sequel (now before us as Love Never Dies) in which the Phantom and Christina are united again. But unlike the setting of the original Phantom, the story in Love Never Dies has moved to America’s Coney Island, with all its freaks and oddities at the turn of the 19th century.

In a way it is a perfect place for someone with a secret to hide from the world, as it has extravagant hotels and amusement parks and some rather strange inhabitants. Even Houdini is said to have started his career here. An impresario who abhors reality would be very welcome in this place.

The play opens with the lonely Phantom living here as a recluse in a housefull of strange robotic creatures, distant from love and relationships. But after 10 years of his self-imposed exile, the Phantom finally invites Christine, without revealing his own identity, to come and sing in his production. She arrives at Coney Island with her husband Raoul and child Gustave. When she learns who her new employer actually is, she too shares a secret: Gustave is actually the Phantom’s son.

So far, so good. Being a sucker for love stories I bought it all. Even though the music wasn’t  of the same calibre as that of the original Phantom and I could not hum along with a single tune (my idea of good music is something I can remember) I still loved the production, and the amazing special effects. Scott Penrose is actually a "Magic Consultant" for the production and that has gone a long way in creating a spectacular show, with a bizarre yet burlesque appeal.

I suspect I also enjoyed the first half of the show because it closely resembles a Bollywood film. But alas, just like most Bollywood films, it loses its way in the second half. Therefore, as in the moralising films of the 1950s in which all adulteresses had to die, the same rough justice is ultimately meted out to poor Christina, who gets shot. And just like in those 1950s films, she had to sing and sing and sing before she finally dies. So finally the Phantom is left alone with his son — which, I suppose, could give rise to yet another production featuring the Phantom, Christina’s ghost and her son, and it could be called Love (Really and Truly) Never Died, Believe Me.

STRANGELY ENOUGH the show reminded me very strongly of the politics which is now being played out in the UK. Prime Minister of UK Gordon Brown is aiming for a sequel of the Labour government called "A Future Fair For All" (a slogan which sounds more like an advertisement for a bleaching cream) and in his case the tormented, tortured love he bears is for the premiership. He is trying everything he can — even creating an illusionary Coney Island (if I can take the metaphor of the play a little further) through all kinds of clever tricks in the recently-announced Budget — to lure the prime ministership a little closer. The Magic Consultant in his case is Lord Peter Mandelson who has been credited with creating the illusion of a "feel good" Budget even though UK’s debt is said to be clocking up an average of £500 million every day. Everyone seems to have liked it. The allegory may not be all good news though: because if we follow the Love Never Dies plot, the premiership gets shot to pieces, even if there is a swan song to look forward to. So perhaps we shall finally see Gordon Brown sing?

However, the good news is that Love Never Dies ends with the Phantom hanging onto his son and crying. So it now depends on whose "son" we are looking out for? Who is going to be the real inheritor of the realm? Remember Gordon Brown is Phantom II; Phantom I, whose show ran for 10 years was, actually, Tony Blair. So if it is Gordon’s dynasty that moves forward we will probably get Ed Balls, the current holder of the education portfolio. And if it is Tony’s successor then we could get David Cameron, the Leader of the Opposition. It all gets quite complicated, and which is why unless Lord Mandelson (who is masterminding this show) can think of a solution or even a song rather quickly, we will move into a sequel of a hung Parliament which will be called The Love That Labour Lost.

Which is why I like the Indian style of politics. We know who the Prime Minister is right now, and we also know who the next one is. And we don’t even need an election for it. It is all so straightforward. This show, if ever Webber can be persuaded to do it, will be called The Love That Just Goes On… And On… And On…

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

Kishwar Desai

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

No Articles Found

I want to begin with a little story that was told to me by a leading executive at Aptech. He was exercising in a gym with a lot of younger people.

Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen didn’t make the cut. Neither did Shaji Karun’s Piravi, which bagged 31 international awards.