I . . . don’t know how much it helped, to be honest, but I think at the very least it greatly contributed to the hilarity of the notes that Amy took during the performance!
The show begins with a bang, showing a black-and-white photo of an opera house on a screen over the stage . . . which then CATCHES FIRE. Then: newspaper clippings! Moving photos! A red line that zooms from Paris to Manhattan! I should say that I actually thought the old-film-reel effect was pretty cool, just in terms of staging. The only problem with the red moving transit line is that every time it shows up it just makes me wish we are actually watching an Indiana Jones musical, instead of what we have so foolishly signed up for.
But: no regrets! We went into this with our eyes open. We know what we are in for and are braced for the worst. All the same, when the photoscreen lifts and we are faced with a bright neon purple lair covered in what looks like glowing alien eyes, we are somewhat taken aback. We are more taken aback when the Christine-shaped gold-swathed figure in the middle loses her gold cloak in a dramatic burst of wind that blows it offstage, and reveals itself to be a LIFE-SIZED ANIMATRONIC CHRISTINE in a tiny gold nightie that shows off its life-sized animatronic chest.
Here the Phantom comes and sings about how it’s been ten years since he’s seen real Christine and he’s so, so sad, he can’t bear it, he just wants to hear her sing ONCE MORE. And therefore he will embark on his favorite activity: an elaborate stalking and kidnapping plot! Amy and I bid a sad farewell to all of the Phantom’s character development from the last musical as it wafts away. Your reformation was nice while it lasted, Phantom!
(bookelfe: Couldn’t he just . . . go buy a ticket to one of her performances?)
Next up is an introduction to the Phantom’s Coney Island show, whichis cunningly titled PHANTASMA. This is actually one of the best songs in the show and also has some of the best combinations of multimedia special effects and live performances. Seriously, it's a visually gorgeous number, conducted by Madame Giry, clad in exactly the same costume she wore in the original . . . and poor Meg, dressed in nothing but a very few spangles. Oh, Meg. We look forward to the day when you will be allowed to wear proper clothes.
Spangles aside, though, I am actually pretty impressed by the actress who plays Meg, who does an excellent job of portraying cheerful bouncy enthusiasm that verges just slightly on the hysterical. She finishes her spangle-clad dance and rushes out to chatter a mile a minute in song at her mother, demanding to know if the performance went well and if she liked it and also if the Phantom liked it, because sometime between the last musical and now both Madame Giry and Meg have decided that their lives revolve around the Phantom and all they crave is his attention and approval. Also Madame Giry hates Christine because Christine . . . left the Phantom behind . . . which everyone including Madame Giry was encouraging her to do all along? We do not understand where the Madame Giry from the original musical went, and who this imposter is wearing her costume, but we miss her! Anyway, Madame Giry rants and raves about Christine, and Meg meanwhile sings about how excited she is to see Christine and how they will be BFF again and sing and dance side by side again and everything will be just like it used to be, except of course for the awkward fact that Meg does not wear clothes to work anymore.
(rowanberries: Is Meg in love with the Phantom, or Christine, or both?
bookelfe: I am definitely leaning more towards Christine at this point.)
And now: Christine herself! Who divas off the boat to America in a fabulously shag-trimmed red-and-purple gown, followed by her Adorable Moppet of a son and an extremely pissy and bemoustached Raoul, who has also officially misplaced all of his original characterization. We get some exposition to the effect that Christine’s here to sing at the Met to pay off Raoul’s debts before a GIANT CREEPY ANIMATRONIC HORSE-AND-CARRIAGE arrives along with the Phantom’s trio of fairground dancers to collect the de Chagny family. No one finds anything suspicious about this, except Raoul, who as per his pissyfaced characterization just thinks it’s AN INSULT TO THE DE CHAGNY FAMILY NAME. Adorable Moppet Gustave rides on top of the carriage, because that’s safe. We are treated to another red-line that maps their animatronic trajectory through New York, and then we get to the Phantom’s prepared Christine!lair, which OF COURSE features a giant creepy gilt-encrusted mirror. THREE GUESSES AS TO WHAT’S COMING. Pissy-and-drunken Raoul is quickly gotten out of the way with a fake appointment, there’s a creepy music box that plays the trademark DUUUUN DUN DUN DUN DUN DUUUUUN, and then, in a flash of highly unsubtle light and crash of dramatic chords: HELLO, PHANTOM!
And: duet time! At this point Christine and the Phantom would like to make it VERY CLEAR to us that they have slept together. Seriously, they would like to be sure no one in the theater has ANY DOUBT. Hearing them sing passionately “AND I TOUCHED YOU!” “AND I HELD YOU!” at each other repeatedly eventually becomes rather uncomfortable.
(rowanberries: Do you think we should go and leave them alone?)
It is then exposited to us that after their tryst on the night before Christine’s wedding, the Phantom freaked out and ran away, leaving Christine to wake up in the ruins of . . . somewhere and trot back off to marry Raoul. Given this, Christine is not too happy that the Phantom has chosen to interfere in her life again. “I had no choice!” the Phantom informs her, at which Amy and I look at each other and make horrified faces.
PSA, for anyone reading this: THERE IS ALWAYS A CHOICE ABOUT STALKING. And the choice you should make is NO.
Christine introduces Gustave, and the Phantom promptly takes advantage of this to tell her that if she doesn’t sing his music on his stage tomorrow night, he’ll send her away and hang onto the kid. Dang, romance. Christine is like “YOU WOULDN’T” and the Phantom is all “a man as hideous as I am is capable of ANYTHING,” because there’s nothing like adding some ablism to this already-problematic cocktail!
Then we are treated to a run-through of another one of Meg’s dance numbers, which she is rehearsing when Christine walks in. Christine, clad by now in pristine ingénue white (the divalicious purple-and-red will sadly never be seen again), manfully suppresses her awkward faces at the discovery that Meg does not wear clothes to work! Andrew Lloyd Webber does not at ALL suppress his urges to show us a virgin-whore dichotomy via costuming! They are delighted to see each other! Meg is not so delighted to find out that Christine is going to be singing tomorrow night, because a.) she does not think Christine hanging out with the Phantom again is healthy (CORRECTLY) and b.) apparently she was supposed to sing that aria and it was going to be her big break . . .?
(bookelfe: MEG. You are a BALLERINA. WHY are you trying to sing arias?
rowanberries: MEG. You are a MEZZO-SOPRANO. WHY are you trying to sing arias?)
Raoul and Madame Giry are also having an awkward reunion of their own, which is hilariously bitchy and yet makes no sense given that the last time they saw each other, Madame Giry was helping Raoul track down the Phantom. WHY DO THEY HATE EACH OTHER NOW? We don’t know, but we’ll enjoy the sniping while it lasts!
Meanwhile, Adorable Little Gustave has transferred over into the Rocky Horror Picture Show up in the Phantom’s NEON PURPLE LAIR. He bangs away on the keyboard for a bit; the Phantom, delighted by Gustave’s musical talent, decides to show off some of his automatons; and suddenly we are in the middle of some GIANT 80’S METAL ROCK EXTRAVAGANZA featuring walking skeletons, wriggling chandeliers, severed heads, and a drum player who appears to have wandered out of the Star Wars Cantina. Gustave eats it up with a spoon and both he and the Phantom jump around shouting “YES YES YES!” for a while, which becomes nearly as uncomfortable as the Phantom and Christine's sex song earlier. The Phantom is getting way overexcited over all this, by the way, because clearly the fact that the kid likes skulls and metal is an infallible sign of heredity winning out and not, you know, a sign that the child is A TEN-YEAR-OLD BOY. (Gustave also narrowly avoids a brush with Life-Sized Animatronic Christine, for which we are rather grateful, because AWKWARD.) The party, alas, breaks up when Gustave freaks out for no apparent reason – it took me a few minutes to figure out that he’d pulled off the Phantom’s mask, revealing his terrible one-sided facial sunburn – just as Christine appears.
PHANTOM: CHRISTINE! Do you have something to TELL ME?
CHRISTINE: YES. Not only did you run away after our night of hot sex, you ass, you left me PREGNANT.
(rowanberries and bookelfe: But . . . if her wedding night, which presumably involved some sexing, was the very next night, then . . . how does she know?)
Then she disappears and the Phantom sings about how he has a son and it’s all very exciting and he will leave him everything, everything! But who should be listening but . . . MADAME GIRY! Who is very upset about the prospect of having everything given to an adorable moppet. Never mind the fact that it has already been established that Madame Giry handles all the finances for the show! If she wanted, she could turf the Phantom out! And probably should! But that is not dramatic nor operatic enough for Madame, who instead picks up a gun from . . . somewhere that we have not seen before and stares at it OMINOUSLY.
Anyway it’s a very dramatic time for a CURTAIN. We take advantage of it to go to the bar to discuss possible plot functions of the Christine-automoton – it’s like a Chekhov’s gun, you can’t introduce it in the first act and not use it in the second! – and have another round of drinks. We have a feeling we will need them for the second act.
Which opens with . . . Raoul! Because Andrew Lloyd Webber has just remembered that he has this character lying around who has not yet actually gotten to sing anything. What Raoul sings, it turns out, is pretty much an Ode To Character-Bashing. Seriously, it could have been pulled straight from any Christine/Erik fanfiction epic, it’s all about how Raoul’s all wrong for her and he wants to CLIP HER WINGS and nobody knows WHY she even loves him except he’s singing it himself, which just makes it all the more hilarious and sad. Please, Andrew Lloyd Webber, STEP AWAY FROM FF.NET. It is not good for you!
Then Meg shows up, wearing – of course – nothing but a bathing costume and a towel, to sing about how this bar is called Suicide Point, and Manhattan is a dirty, dirty town, and she needs to go swimming every morning to feel clean again in a way that’s not foreshadowing AT ALL. She also tells him earnestly that if the Phantom hears Christine sing he’ll NEVER LET HER LEAVE and he needs to get his family away from there at once, at once! Raoul is like, DON’T TELL ME WHAT I CAN’T DO. Meg, sad to find that Raoul really has every last vestige of his character erased from the original musical, hurries out, and Raoul demands another drink from the bartender, who turns out to be – shocking everyone – THE PHANTOM.
The Phantom and Raoul get very much in each other’s faces to have a penis-measuring match and also an argument about which of them Christine loves more, and Phantom is like “neener neener you’re a drunken loser!” and Raoul is like “neener neener at least I’m pretty!” and the Phantom is like “lol not with that moustache you’re not” and then they decide to make a BET about whether Christine will sing tonight, and whoever wins gets Christine, and once again Amy and I stare at each other and make horrified faces.
PSA, for anyone reading this: don’t make bets on your wife! Especially not without telling her! IT’S A REALLY BAD PLAN.
Meg gets another performance involving a lot of costume changes into scantier and scantier bathing suits behind a towel, and Madame Giry helpfully comes backstage to tell her she was sort of good, and people sure enjoyed it, but none of the main cast of characters actually cared at all. “Well, there go my last shreds of self-esteem,” says Meg, “thanks.”
Raoul pops up to try to convince Christine not to sing, and I think – although I am not positive – that he has in fact shaved the moustache for this effort! Well played, Raoul. Christine is all “oh you look just like you did back when you had your old characterization!” and agonizes about her choice for a while – even including a “Twisted Every Way” callback, which just makes me angry, because oh, dumb-but-sweet Christine and Raoul of the original, where did you go! I miss you guys! – while Gustave climbs up on a chair for some random vocalization. But alas, neither Raoul’s newly moustache-less forelip nor Gustave’s vocalizing are enough to tip the scales, and Christine, wearing five million pounds of shiny, shiny bling, comes out to sing the Phantom’s great masterwork.
The Phantom’s great masterwork, for the record, basically is just “LOOOOVE NEEEEVER DIIIIIES” repeated ad infinitum. Half of which is Christine awkwardly singing into one wing or the other, because LOVE TRIANGLE, while I mentally shriek at her to stop facing the wings and face the audience, she’s a professional!
(rowanberries: Well, this is . . . . really boring.
bookelfe: Seriously, at least Don Juan Triumphant was musically interesting.)
The Phantom comes out all starry-eyed and they slaver over each other for a while, and then someone delivers Raoul’s note that’s basically like “okay, I get it, everyone ships Christine/Phantom, I DON’T KNOW WHY I EVEN BOTHER, I’M LEAVING.” Christine looks sort of sad but not too sad. But then . . . WHERE IS GUSTAVE?
The Phantom instantly suspects Madame Giry – who knows why, because she has said one line to him throughout the whole musical – and drags her in, and Madame Giry is like “what, dude, I don’t care about your stupid kid,” and then everyone remembers . . . MEG! Meg who has apparently snapped and dragged Gustave all the way down to the not-at-all ominously-named Suicide Point and is waving the gun that she got from who-knows-where around. On the plus side, she finally gets to wear real clothes?
(We’re not sure why she brought Gustave along, but then we realize that if she hadn’t, none of the cast members would actually have realized she was gone because they are all too busy fixating on the Phantom.)
Anyway, Christine grabs up Gustave, and Meg points the gun at her own head and lets forth a long torrent of song about how her mom and the Phantom brought her all the way to freaking CONEY ISLAND where she doesn’t get to have a real career OR wear clothes and ALSO has to deal with sexual abuse from the NYC creepsters and the Phantom is so self-centered that he has not noticed this AT ALL, and I feel all of this is a fair point! Like, if the moral of this whole thing is going to be “the Phantom is an obsessive jerk who is not the only one with a terrible life and there are other stories going on behind his back,” I could work with that! Of course it soon becomes clear that I am giving Andrew Lloyd Webber far, far too much credit, but the hope was nice while it lasted.
The Phantom, of course, is very concerned and tries to get her to give him the gun. VERY HELPFULLY, he tells her, “Beauty sometimes goes unseen! We can’t all be like Christine!”
(rowanberries: Dude, how would you have liked it if Christine had told you “we can’t all be like Raoul” way back in the first musical?)
Well, naturally enough, Meg starts to gesticulate in disgust at the Phantom’s idiocy –
And the GUN IN HER HAND MISFIRES AND KILLS CHRISTINE.
THAT IS ACTUALLY WHAT HAPPENS.
Because GOD FORBID either Meg or Christine have any kind of agency at all, AT ALL. And because the only good woman is a DEAD ONE. Thanks, Andrew Lloyd Webber. THANKS FOR THAT.
While we boggle at this, Meg and Madame Giry are rushed offstage to make way for the pitiful unending Christine/Phantom death scene you would expect, and Christine tells the Phantom to take care of his son, and meanwhile Adorable Muppet Gustave runs all the way to the ferry station – how does he know how to get there? We don’t know! – and brings back Raoul, and then hugs Raoul and the Phantom both, and now apparently Raoul and the Phantom are going to raise Gustave together? I am a bit taken aback by this, but then of course I realize that this is inevitable; this whole musical has been drawing heavily, heavily on ff.net tropes, so OF COURSE in the end you kill off the female character and pair off the male leads! Presumably they will do a time-share or something in Animatronic Christine, who, disappointingly, has not made an appearance throughout the whole second act. Later, I will theorize that someone has fundamentally misunderstood the meaning of Chekhov’s Gun. (“We introduced a life-sized animatronic lady in the first act,” a writer clearly said to himself, “so a gun needs to go off in the last!”) Anyway, it all seems quite clearly a setup for another sequel, Two and a Half Men and an Animatronic Lady.
When the show is over, Amy and I stagger outside, bid each other a stunned farewell chorus of “WHAT DID WE JUST WATCH?” and take to our trains.
I am safely seated and have a book out when suddenly I hear, I hear, faint and tinny, “DUUUUN . . . dun dun dun dun DUUUUUN . . . .”
My panicked thought processes go something like this: "Is it a cell phone? I don’t see a cell phone . . . and we’re underground and there’s no way a cell phone ring would go on this long anyway, so . . . oh god, HE IS ACTUALLY THERE. In voluntarily choosing to see Phantom 2, I have DOOMED myself to having the Phantom of the Opera . . . inside my mind!"
Then I look across the way and realize there is a woman listening to her iPod, which is where the soundtrack must be coming from. And it keeps playing ALL THE WAY HOME.
And the worst part is, if it comes to New York and certain ladies of my acquaintance still want to see it . . . I will totally see it again.