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So I wrote out my new theory on the PotO sequel.

Warning: contains spoilers for Phantom of Manhattan and speculation on Love Never Dies 

Ah...Frederick Forsyth’s ‘Phantom of Manhattan’. Possibly the most hated piece of literature in the Phantom canon--if you’re even kind enough to include it. The version that many phans would go so far as to rank behind the Dario Argento film. That, when it was officially announced as the source material for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new sequel, caused hundreds of phans to scream “NOOOO!” in a long, dramatic, horrified fashion. We’re told Love Never Dies is going to be based on this ‘atrocity’, but what exactly is ALW’s definition of ‘based on’?

When ALW decided to transform the original Phantom into the paragon of theatre we know now, it is said that he went through a copy of the Gaston Leroux novel with a red pencil, striking through parts here, and adding bits there, and generally making the plot more suitable for his purposes. Some purists might shudder at the thought of picking at the plot like that, but you have to admit the end result was pretty darn good. Maybe not the most accurate or direct adaptation, but a good story in its own right. (Forsyth tried to do the same thing in his sequel, but made the crucial mistake of being a jerk about it. It’s difficult to read his scathing 20-odd page prologue without thinking that poor Gaston had done Forsyth some personal wrong. Not only that, but he said that Leroux’s account had been wrong, but that’s another article…) Forsyth was booted out of the sequel’s production team right at the beginning, leaving ALW alone to do whatever he liked to PoM’s storyline (who‘s ‘wrong’ now, Forsyth?). Around that same time, ALW confirmed in an interview--or maybe it was on his vlog--that he was going to be making changes. The question is, ‘how big of changes?’

We haven’t much to go on in this stage of production, and probably won’t know the full storyline until at least the Toronto premiere, but we have had a few glimpses at it, most recently in the form of the casting calls. (There was also the report from Sydmonton, but it’s more important to take that report with a grain of salt, as that was only one man’s opinion, and the show might have changed considerably since then.) So, going only on the official casting notices, we can assume the following:

It’s set 10 years after the original musical.
Erik’s rich and successful, and runs a theatre in Coney Island (possibly a freak show, too).
Meg and Madame Giry are in Coney Island, working for Erik.
Christine is a ‘semi-retired’ opera star.
Christine has a son, named Gustave.
Raoul’s an alcoholic.
Christine, Raoul, and Gustave come to New York when Christine’s invited to sing at Erik’s theatre.
There’ll be narrators of some sort (Mr. Gangle, Mr. Squelch, Fleck), and a chorus consisting of strange and interesting body types (lending credence to the freak show idea)

There are obviously some large similarities here between LND and PoM: Christine & Co. go to New York; Erik, King of Coney Island; Christine’s son (He isn’t described as “Christine and Raoul’’s son’ in the casting call. Make of that what you will…). But there are also differences. There’s been no mention, not even in the Sydmonton report, of Erik ever donning a clown mask. In PoM, Madame Giry had died of cancer and Meg was Christine’s maid. Raoul wasn’t an alcoholic in the book. The ‘strange and mystical’ narrators weren’t present in the book. And, perhaps less crucially, ALW had the sense to give the son a better--and less cliché--name than ’Pierre’. Out of all the differences, the most significant ones to me are the Giry’s larger roles, and the original PoM characters that don’t seem to have made the cut.

At the beginning of Phantom of Manhattan, Erik befriended--if that’s the right word--this creepy guy named Darius, who had sold his soul to the gold god. It was a great friendship, because Darius didn’t care about anything except gold, and Erik had tons of gold--or at least the smarts to get it. As Erik became more successful, he eventually made Darius his ‘vice-president’, and sole inheritor of his estate. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement, until Erik’s real son--and threat to Darius’ inheritance--Pierre, turned up. Darius decided to get rid of the threat, but accidentally killed Christine instead. Erik wasn’t happy, and killed Darius in return. Pierre thinks his dad’s awesome, and decides to stay with him. Cue happy ending. Neither Darius, Cholly Bloom (a future reporter who tags along for most of the story) , or Father Joseph (Pierre’s tutor, who’s conveniently around to give Christine last rites) have been mentioned in the casting calls. There might be a later casting call with further roles, but I sort of doubt it. What happens when you, as ALW appears to have done, remove Darius from this equation?

As mentioned before, the Giry’s aren’t really around much in the PoM book. They’re the only ‘main’ characters (if you don’t count that French guy at the beginning) who aren’t present at Christine’s death. Madame Giry’s letter to Erik was the catalyst for the story (helping Erik get to America, and then informing him of Pierre/Gustave’s paternity), but after that she’d hardly mentioned--mostly because she’s dead. Meg was just a tenth wheel in an already cramped cast of characters, and there was really no point to her being there at all. (In case you haven’t read PoM, an injured leg had prematurely ended Meg’s dancing career, and Christine, out of the kindness of her heart, let Meg be her maid.) In Love Never Dies, on the other hand, they seem to have moved to the forefront as main characters. Let’s see what the casting call has to say of them:

Meg: Coney Island fairground star, gothic, mystical, unusual, sweet, charming, fun, has a broken baby-doll vulnerability, edge, sexiness, and heart of steel

If this is anything to go on, Meg seems to have escaped her career-ending injury. Or perhaps Erik has taught her to sing? (“Fairground star” does make it sound just a bit as if she’s become a bearded-lady or something, though.)
Madame Giry’s description is rather more interesting:

Madame Giry: intent on making things happen for her and her daughter Meg while having attained the position of business manager to the Phantom, thus feels entitled to prominence and distinction, will make sure that nothing or no one gets in her way, has much pent-up aggression

“Nothing or no one” including an unexpected heir? There have been suggestions that Pierre/Gustave might be a red herring, that Meg might actually turn out to be Erik’s child. But would that be a big enough plot conflict? I mean, sure, Madame Giry might be jealous of Christine, but Pierre/Gustave probably wouldn’t pose too huge of a risk to Meg’s inheritance, as she’s considerably older than him (I‘m not completely certain how the primogeniture laws were in 1907 New York, but I’d think that if Meg had at least had some right to the money, that something could have been worked out.) A bigger conflict would be if, as in PoM, the threatened party had no real claim to Erik’s estate. Now, if you have no claim to someone’s fortune, and you want to have one, what’s the easiest way to get it (particularly for a woman of that time)? Marry into it, of course.

Imagine it: Madame Giry and Meg have been working with Erik for ten years. Erik has become rich, and Madame Giry wants to cement her and her daughter’s social and economic position in the best way she knows. Her daughter would be the wife of the richest man in New York… who wouldn’t have wanted that for their beloved daughter? Everything is going swimmingly, until Erik’s real true love shows up, along with a son whose age would displace even any children that Meg had--and there‘s no way Erik would marry Meg if he has another chance at Christine. Unlike PoM, where Raoul was a good guy who Christine wasn’t willing to leave, he’s now a completely disposable alcoholic. And… Madame Giry gets a chance to take out all that "pent-up aggression" on someone.

There are still questions: “how does Erik find out that Gustave is his”, for example. In the book, Madame Giry was the one who told him, which in turn drove him to invite Christine to his theatre. It’s conceivable that the reason for inviting Christine in LND is something like ‘oh, Erik just finished building his theatre and wants Christine for the premiere’, but then what? I can’t see Madame Giry wanting him to find out, if the scenario I’ve suggested turns out to be correct. And why would Christine tell him? She didn’t seem to happy about him knowing in the PoM book. Unless maybe she hates being married to Raoul, and is desperate for a way out. Raoul probably wouldn’t tell him, because it would require him explaining to Erik why Raoul was so sure the kid wasn’t his. (I don’t imagine that the musical will spell it out quite as graphically as the book, but they’ll need to say something to make it absolutely certain that Gustave couldn’t possibly be Raoul’s son. After all, they can‘t just have him DNA tested, can they?) That leaves Meg. Maybe she tells him? Her casting call doesn’t colour her with quite the scheming terms of her mother, so maybe she’s innocent in the whole situation, with no awareness of her mother’s plotting. Maybe she read it in her mother’s diary, and blurted it out when she heard Christine & Co. were coming to visit. Or, of course, there might be some other way of Erik finding out. Maybe it’ll turn out that he was the guy who shot Raoul?

In conclusion: I still don’t think that this’ll be a straightforward adaptation of PoM. Due to the conspicuous absence of any mention of Darius, I believe that Madame Giry will be moved to the position of villain, and will try to kill Christine and/or Gustave so that Meg can marry Erik and inherit his fortune. This prediction is the most logical conclusion that I can make based on the information released thus far, and may change as more details become available. I’m still trying to figure out how the mannequin fits in, and hoping that it was a hallucination by the intoxicated Sydmonton reviewer. Clearly, even if I'm wrong about the specifics, and barring any forthcoming secondary casting calls, this is set to be at least a slightly different story than PoM was.

Any thoughts, or am I just grasping at straws? I want to hear your theories!
 
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