“Love Never Dies,” the polarizing sequel to the genre-defining “Phantom of the Opera,” takes the love triangle of Christine, Raoul and the Phantom 10 years into the future. The Phantom has opened an amusement park, Raoul has turned into a bitter and withdrawn alcoholic, and Christine wonders what could have been.
“Phantom of the Opera,” the only Broadway production to run 10,000 shows (with more than 12,000 under its belt), finally received the sequel treatment back in 2010 with the original premiere of “Love Never Dies” at the Adelphi Theatre in London. “Love Never Dies” has since had productions in Melbourne, Copenhagen, Tokyo and Hamburg, and is now in the midst of its North American tour.
The new Raoul, twisted by the traumatic events of “Phantom of the Opera,” is portrayed by Sean Thompson. Thompson spoke with City Pulse via phone about his experience on the tour.
Andrew Lloyd Weber has gone from referring to “Love Never Dies” as a “standalone piece” to a sequel that doesn’t require its audience to have seen “Phantom of the Opera.” What’s your take? Is this a true continuation of the original story?
It’s definitely a sequel. It’s the same characters in the same world 10 years after the original events. I think it should be celebrated, as anybody that loves “Phantom of the Opera” will love “Love Never Dies,” because it’s an extension of the beautiful show that “Phantom” is.
I think the reason he may consider it a standalone piece, is the characters, while they are the same people from “Phantom of the Opera,” have had 10 years of life happen to them. My character goes from being the archetypal hero of the story — the knight in shining armor who saves Christine — to a dissolute, drunk gambler and a louse of a husband.
Ten years of time has drastically changed Raoul from what audiences came to know him as. In that sense, it can be considered a standalone, because the characters are so drastically different from the original. It certainly does present itself as a sequel, being in the same universe and an extension of the same story.
Raoul’s turn to the dark side — is it really his fault, given what he goes through in “Phantom?” Do you blame him for his behavior?
I don’t blame him. I’ve got to sympathize with him and find some sort of human in there — I would say he has flaws. As an actor, that’s exciting and that’s a lovely challenge, because every human being has their fragilities, and these just happen to be his.
In the original, he’s this guy who has identified himself through his family’s money, because he’s a viscount, which just means that his family has a lot of money and a high position in society. He’s gone from identifying himself through that, to fighting for his life against this mass murderer.
At the end of “Phantom,” he’s literally strung up in a noose by a dude trying to steal his fiancé. I think Raul has PTSD.
He’s gotten married to Christine, he’s followed all the instructions that are laid out for him as a man of society. Raoul’s taking care of her child, but she’s not happy, because she’s constantly fixated on this idea of music. And music is the one thing that I think Raul cannot give her.
All the passion involved in that, and all the depth that that brings to her soul, is only fulfilled by one person, and he knows that’s the Phantom.
Now, whom do you personally think is right for Christine?
The romantic in me wants to say the Phantom, because that’s where her passion lies. You could see it in her very being that she yearned for him in a way that is almost otherworldly.
But I think a lot of people might say Raul, because he presents security to her and the age-old question, ‘What’s better, stability or passion?’ I want to say #TeamRaoul, because, ultimately, the Phantom is a serial killer and he’s a very dangerous person. In “Love Never Dies,” he threatens their 10-year-old son’s life, and I think really if Raoul and Christine can overcome their differences, they can have a really happy marriage.
How are you responding to the hype and pressure of creating a follow-up to such a famous musical?
At first, honestly, it was pretty daunting, because of the disparity between the two versions of Raul in “Love” and “Phantom.” These fans expect something when they come to the show, and they know they know these characters more than any of us could ever possibly could. They’ve seen the show hundreds of times.
I knew what I was presenting was not the Raoul that people knew, but this guy who is really hard to like. And usually he’s the guy who everyone falls in love with. I felt that pressure from the audience itself. But then I realized that the more I sympathized with him, and the more I find the human traits in him that are relatable and universal, the more people warmed up to him.
I have to say at this point, that challenge has sort of dulled itself, because people are sympathizing with him. They’re saying, ‘At the end of the show, I feel sorry for Raoul,’ which is honestly a huge compliment. Aside from that, taking something like “Phantom” and making a sequel is, for me, murky territory. You don’t want to mess with something that’s been running on Broadway for 31 years.
But we have to honor what we’ve been given, and what we’ve been given is “Love Never Dies.” And that is a beautiful score written by the premier composer of our time. And it’s a beautiful design that looks like nothing like what you’ll see on Broadway, or on tour right now. At the end of the day, instead of looking at it as a challenge to sort of measure up to the name “Phantom of the Opera,” it’s become more about celebrating “Love Never Dies” as its own awesome piece of theater.
“Love Never Dies” Tickets start at $43 Oct. 9-11, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 14, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wharton Center for Performing Arts 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing (517) 432-2000 www.whartoncenter.com