The Globe and Mail
April 18, 2011
Link to actual article
Growing up in Hamilton in the 1990s, Jeff Timmons was a contender for number one fan of The Phantom of the Opera. He travelled to Toronto to see the musical almost 60 times and, when it posted its closing notice after 10 years, even started a petition to keep it running.
Now, however, to the popular musical's composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, Timmons, 30, and his wife Rebecca, 31, are public enemies number one and two.
“Mental Phantom fans,” the British impresario called the Toronto-based couple in a interview last month with Playbill, due to their involvement in an ongoing Internet campaign called “Love Should Die” that has targeted his recent Phantom sequel Love Never Dies.
Timmons doesn't believe he and his wife are doing anything wrong, however. “It's unfortunate that [Lloyd Webber] feels I'm 'mental', but it's not remotely accurate,” he wrote in an e-mail to The Globe and Mail.
“I'm a normal person who has an opinion.”
The couple, who threw a Phantom-themed party when they were married in 2002, turned into full-fledged Phantom menaces about a year ago when Lloyd Webber's sequel to his 1986 hit was about to open on London’s West End.
The Love Should Die campaign began as a Facebook group created by disgruntled “Phans” to, in Timmons' description, “counter-act the perception ... that every Phantom fan was waiting for the sequel with breathless anticipation.”
Since then, it has spread its tentacles all over the Internet: In addition to a website that archives bad reviews and sells Love Should Die shirts, ties and even shoes, there's a Twitter account that pumps out up to a dozen negative tweets a day and a Facebook fan page “liked” by more than 2,000 people.
The Timmons's exact involvement in the genesis of the campaign – which has even bought Google ads so it appears in the search results for Love Never Dies – is disputed. In a Daily Telegraph article last summer, they were named as “the architects” behind it and, in his recent interview, Lloyd Webber pointed the finger at the Toronto couple as the force behind a “highly professional done operation.”
According to Timmons, however, he and his wife became the Canadian co-organizers of the international effort only in late March of last year only after the original Facebook group briefly disappeared.
Regardless, since the Telegraph outed them, the two Torontonians have become the public faces for the otherwise anonymous group of fans of the musical and the 1910 Gaston Leroux novel it is based on who feel a sequel is a bad idea and a disservice to the original.
“Behind the gothic romance and its origins in the beauty and the beast myth, The Phantom of the Opera is at its heart a story about the redemptive power of love,” Timmons explained via e-mail. (He would not consent to an interview in person or over the phone.)
“Rewriting the ending of this story to find that the Phantom is not in fact dead, but in New York City, still killing, committing crimes, and obsessing over Christine completely undoes the message and impact of the original.”
What has irritated Lloyd Webber and his production company Really Useful Group, however, isn't criticism – the composer himself has admitted to Playbill that “a couple of things went extremely wrong” with the still-running West End sequel – but that many of the campaigners, including Timmons, haven't seen the show that's got them in a tizzy.
Timmons, who has listened to the cast album and read the script, doesn't believe he is disqualified from criticizing it on that basis, however. “I'm not discussing acting, lighting, blocking, or even design – only the plot,” he writes.
Louise, an Australian Love Should Die organizer who prefers not to use her last name, explained via e-mail why she hates a musical she has never seen. “It may sound absurd, weird, obsessed even, that one can be so upset over a show, but if Phantom touches your life, like it did mine, and the millions of other Phantom fans, then yes you are passionate about what happens next!” she wrote.
What has increased the ire of Phans – those hard-core fans who frequent online message boards and don half-masks to attend meet-ups around the world – is that Lloyd Webber has derided their community in interviews about Love Should Die. A year before he called the Hamilton couple “mental,” the composer complained to the Times of London about “a whole sad culture around the world of people who seem to only live by the old Phantom of the Opera.” (A representative for Lloyd Webber declined an interview for this article.)
“[It] really makes me angry and sad,” wrote Louise, a self-described “mum with two grown-up sons.” “[We] are the same fans that have lined his pockets all these years because of our love of this musical.”
Indeed, these passionate fans have even been used in the past to promote the original – which has been running on the West End since 1986 and on Broadway in New York since 1988.
As a teenager, Timmons was put forward by Livent – the Toronto producers – to journalists due to his unusual passion for the musical. In both 1998 and 1999, the Hamilton Spectator interviewed him, describing how he met his then-girlfriend at the show and worked at Wendy's flipping burgers to fund his Phantom collectibles habit.
“I was a bad kid before, didn't go to school, smoked and everything,” he is quoted as saying in one article. “The Phantom has completely changed my life.”
Today, Timmons, who works at a financial institution, is eager to point out that he and his wife, who works in human resources, have other interests: They fundraise for charity, enjoy outdoors sports and enjoy spending time with family and friends.
But Timmons maintains that the Phantom changed his life. It led to him meeting many close friends though Phan gatherings around the world and to spending years working in the U.K. and U.S. theatre industries.
“I would never trade those experiences!” he writes. “And, how many people can say they've been publicly hated by Andrew Lloyd Webber?”
Timmons makes it clear that is a joke – but it's nevertheless something for Lloyd Webber to consider as he proceeds with opening a reworked production of Love Never Dies in Australia in May – and a clock on the Love Should Die site ticks down to “another disaster beyond imagination.”
Left alone, the musical's detractors might very well have quieted down by now – but continuing to attack its creators and community has only given them a stronger sense of purpose.