The final part of this track-by-track Love Never Dies commentary covers the ending of the show, dealing with tracks 12-13 on the second disc of the original cast recording.
12. “Gustave, Gustave”
The title of this track made me chuckle. Why is it that in the Phantom universe, names must always be repeated – and often to a melody? This particular outburst comes from Christine, who has noticed that Gustave is missing. The Phantom immediately thinks that Raoul must have taken the child when he left and he bemoans this using the melody of “The Beauty Underneath”, which works perfectly well here – without the rock beat and throbbing bassline. Squelch is summoned and replies that Raoul was definitely alone when he left, singing is words to a melodic line taken from “The Coney Island Waltz” that seems to be popular choice for recitative in this show. Then Phantom turns his attention to Madame Giry, who says she could never have even considered harming the child knowing that he was the Phantom’s son, a statement that sits more than a little oddly considering how vengeful she seemed towards the boy at the end of the first act. As she continues with her speech, which is sung to the melody used for all such outbursts by this character, Giry also says she understands ‘how it hurts to see one’s own child brought to harm’, which I suppose is meant to prepare us for Meg’s upcoming revelation. Next, Fleck arrives with the news that Meg’s dressing room was smashed and that she saw Meg taking the child, looking incredibly suspicious as she did so. No one seems bothered enough to ask Fleck why she didn’t do anything about it at the time.
Head spinning yet? I hope not, for there is even more desperate plotting to come. Having spent much energy trying to hide any real development towards a conclusion such as this one, the creative team has to work even harder to try and make all of this even vaguely believable.
Giry intrejects, fearing she has snapped but insists that Meg could never hurt the boy. The Phantom seems to know better and miraculously also seems to know where they have gone. This lease to a chase, like there was at the end of The Phantom of the Opera: this time we’re trying to track down a potential murder by running through the streets of Coney Island to the pier. This makes for several cases of mistaken identity as the characters push through the crowd in their attempts to reach their destination. Mark my words, if this was a film it would be a chase by hot air balloon, the one used earlier to bring the crowds to this performance at Phantasma.
13. “Please, Miss Giry, I Want to Go Back”
Meanwhile, at the pier, Gustave begs Meg to take him back. She is too preoccupied reprising the little song she sang to Raoul about swimming in the sea to cleanse her conscience and ‘leave the hurt behind’. This allows time for the others to arrive just in time for Meg to have a mad scene, delivered to the tune of “Bathing Beauty” (!), in which she reveals the secret that has tormented her for years: how she had to prosituted herself for the Phantom’s sake, to get permits, to pay bills, to seal deals and to get the press on their side. “See what I’ve become!” she proclaims, having switched now to the melody of Madame Giry’s outburst recitative. The only problem is that until now she’s behaved in a fairly normal way with little to indicate that she has anything bubbling underneath her confident facade. And what was the trigger here? Her past experience has only an oblique bearing on this situayion, have to do with this siutation?
This is where Ben Elton, Glenn Slater and Andrew Lloyd Webber need to decide what story they are telling. If Christine is the protagonist and the crisis is represented in a choice between Raoul and the Phantom, then this climactic sequence has no place here. The protagonist’s choice is meant to precipitate the climax; thus, either one of the alternative endings I suggested in part 11 of this commentary would bring that story to a close.
If the Phantom is the protagonist (a fact that the creative team seem fond of dropping into press statements, but don’t seem too bother about dropping into the play itself), then the crisis needs to be represented in a choice between Meg and Christine. Meg has not been presented as even vaguely being a viable alternative to Christine in the plot of this show. He simply hasn’t been shown to place any value whatsoever on Meg’s presence in his life. I said above that there is no trigger for Meg’s actions, no pattern of cause and effect: this is because the Phantom arrived on stage with his choice already made. At least if there was a scene in which Meg confronted the Phantom and he dismissed her, kicking her out of Phantasma (his home) and and throwing some money at her (for services rendered) this scene would have some motivation. But as it stands, it does not – and we still have quite a bit of it to endure.
The Phantom asks Meg for the gun, trying to convince her that he sees her at last. He says that he looks at her and sees ‘the beauty underneath’: how ironic, we as the audience are meant to think, we see her beauty is on the outside and that she is twisted and broken inside. Meg seems to buy it until the Phantom makes a mistake by mentioning Christine’s name, at which point Meg shoots her. Giry runs to get help, never to return, and Christine’s long death scene begins.
First, she tells Gustave, who is asking for his father that the Phantom is his real father. ‘Look with your heart,’ she tells him before she dies – or so it would appear. Gustave screams as a big dramatic musical reprise of “Once Upon Another Time” takes over, followed by the Phantom singing a reprise of the same song, lamenting the loss of Christine and wondering what to do with Gustave. Christine – who hasn’t actually died yet – manages to summon up enough energy and breath to sing some really high notes, telling the Phantom to ‘love and live and give what (he) can give and take the love that (he) deserve(s)’. Even after this, she’s doesn’t die. We still have a reprise of “‘Til I Hear You Sing”, during which she asks the Phantom for a last kiss before dying (at last) in his arms.
Following this, the show’s opening flute melody of “Beneath a Moonless Sky” plays, segueing into the Phantom’s “darkness made light” theme, which appeared when he named Gustave as his ‘saving grace’ at the end of Act I. With this, the Phantom turns to comfort Gustave, who unmasks him with out any horror as the curtain falls.
Final verdict: This ending as it currently appears doesn’t work. Firstly, it’s unmotivated by the action of the play. Secondly, it is overly plotty, trying to fit in all manner of narrative detail that has been glossed over earlier in the play and which has caused the scene to appear so unmotivated in the first place. Thirdly, the dénouement pushes the suspension of the audience’s belief to the absolute maximum. It takes too long for Christine to die and she sings far too much when she should be too weak to even sustain normal breath. Maybe the creative team should go and have a look at the end of Carmen to see how to make a death scene truly effective.
The final, final verdict: Is there a good show in Love Never Dies? Potentially, yes. But it is not one that can be realised by making a few cosmetic changes made to the show as it stands. The writing team needs to get the details of the narrative straight, taking into account which storytelling traditions they are manipulating here: melodrama, operetta and the conventions of the sequel. They then need to distill that clarity into the book, the lyrics and the music. Slater, in particular, needs to up his game at this point. And then those revisions can make their way into production, transformed from drama into theatre. Only then will Love Never Dies achieve its full potential.
And that, my friends, brings this track-by-track commentary of Love Never Dies to an end. If you want to read more about the show, click here to see all the blogs about it that are available at Musical Cyberspace.
Purchases from Amazon.com
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:
1. Love Never Dies Concept Album Cast Recording.
2. Love Never Dies Concept Album Cast Recording – Deluxe Edition.
Great analysis, David. I think I agree with most everything you say.
I do, however, miss a clearer description of what you think of the musical numbers, as music/compositions/tunes. After all, it is more or less the music that seems to be the raison d’etre of many Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals.
For example, while I find your comments on the “Devil Take the Hindmost” quartet spot on, I at the same time think it’s one of the coolest tunes Lloyd Webber has written for a lng time. I also wonder why you think the title tune was best in its incarnation in The Beautiful Game, as it was severely butchered?
Also, I don’t quite get this: “how ironic, we as the audience are meant to think, we see her beauty is on the outside and that she is twisted and broken inside”.
That’s not what I thought at all.
What I thought was the obvious, ironic message was that the Phantom finally realises he is the one who has neglected to see Meg and the beauty SHE has underneath. Although it is somewhat sappy, I also thought it was nice, and I felt it gave this story some emotional resonance, despite being flawed.
I’m only going to respond to the last point for now, but I don’t think that there would be any irony in the Phantom realising that Meg has “beauty underneath” because, in this show, that phrase refers to thinks that look ugly on the outside, but are objects of wonder when you look beyond that to see what’s ticking on the inside. Therefore, the Phantom has no such realisation – because he sees her for what she is, and what she is has no “beauty underneath” – and his words to the contrary are only a tactic in his strategy to get her to give him the gun before she shoots someone.
What we are meant to read as ironic is in this scene is derived from the fact that the Phantom’s beauty, as it is discovered in this sequel, is underneath his deformed face, while Meg’s obvious beauty hides a very twisted soul that is damaged because of her being prostituted to pay for Phantasma. (Phantasma is incredibly spectacular, so she must have been pimped off a lot.) It’s classic Beauty and the Beast stuff, but it’s presented in a rather hackneyed, simplistic manner in Love Never Dies, partly due to the creative teams uncertainly of how to present that narrative and partly due to the narrative itself.
Really enjoyed this in-depth review and analysis of the soundtrack. It confirms my own impressions of she show’s flawed book and story construct, but it also highlights the LND’s strong points. I do wish Andrew and his team would take some of your suggestions back to their drawing board before the show opens on Broadway.
Just finished reading this after starting it some time ago. And I must say I enjoyed it very much, sir. I’ve only listened to the cast recording once and I agree there are some instantly memorable melodies but the accompanying twisto-plot kills most of their potential. I was considering catching this in London (I have one more slot left for another show!) but I don’t know now. My bro keeps telling me to go. I guess he thinks it’s gonna be another Carrie, or something. Carrie is much better! lol.
Fascinating, detailed analysis. Very well written and balanced.
I disagree on some points – I think the title track sits wonderfully and sounds much better than its incarnation in The Beautiful Game. It is a real showstopper in the most traditional sense – it certainly stopped the show when I saw it a few weeks ago. The slow build up works on stage, as she basically considers her options.
On the same theme, “The Beauty Underneath” is also a song that works much better on stage than on the CD – and there is no ‘sexual’ undertone. Let’s face it – “The Phantom of the Opera” is a pop/rock song slap in the middle of a fairly operatic score – “The Beauty Underneath” carries on this tradition and I just love the way Andrew Lloyd Webber winds up reviewers in general by composing eclectic scores. It works brilliantly in the show and was probably the third most welcomed song by the audience, after the title track and “Till I Hear You Sing”.
“Bathing Beauty” needs to be put out with the bath water. Its reprises irritate the hell out of me on the CD, though it is less noticeable in the theatre.
All in all, the show actually works pretty well on the stage but it is carried by the music alone, in my view. Lloyd Webber has written his best score since Sunset Boulevard and it is one of the finest out there at the moment. But I just don’t know what happens when it comes to constructing the book and accepting the lyrics. He is a highly educated man – how does he allow such awful lyrics to be accepted? I also has a great instinct for what ‘works’ – that sadly deserted him entirely for The Woman in White and has not served him thoroughly for Love Never Dies, either. The latest rumour is that it will close for a few weeks in November, allowing the producers to ‘do a Sunset‘ – but in that show’s case, they cut and pasted a new version which had been thoroughly re-written and performed in the US back into the Adelphi. No such luxuries for this team.
I think “Beautiful” is a classic Lloyd Webber whale of a tune – I enjoy its carious reprises, not least in ‘Ah Christine’ which I am surprised you do not like. The combination of that melody and the Phantom’s works incredibly well – it is real ‘old school’ Lloyd Webber.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! Please send this to the creative team in person.