The third part of this track-by-track commentary of Love Never Dies deals with tracks 6-8, during which the Phantom is introduced to the audience and in which we find out just how he got to be in this place, so far from the world of the Paris Opera.
6. “The Aerie”
The formula tells us it’s time for “Angel of Music”, but en route to that moment, we need to be transported to the Phantom’s new lair, a set piece so spectacularly beautiful that it requires a piece of music all to itself. All right, I’ll drop the cynicism as I actually quite like this piece of music. The strings remind us of the Phantom’s music from this show’s predecessor, beautiful and harmonic, but then the brass comes in with its dissonant theme and we’re reminded that that harmony was disrupted. As it was then, as it is in our setting here at Phantasma on Coney Island, as it will prove to be in this new lair (we assume), the music reminds us that things cannot always be taken at face value, if you’ll excuse the pun, in the world of the Phantom.
The new lair is an aerie and, as we all know, this is the nest of an eagle, a bird of prey, an image that perhaps lines up with our image of the Phantom following the original show. It’s also a different kind of lair for the Phantom, one that is high up as opposed to the one that is underground – in Meg’s scenes prior to this we’ve already begun to see hints dropped at some kind of inversion or perhaps subversion of The Phantom of the Opera and here we are given another piece of the puzzle and by the end of the scene this pattern will be entrenched in the fabric of this new show. But first, we have a driving disco beat to get us through the recitative into the song proper.
7. “‘Til I Hear You Sing”
Yes! It’s time for that series of repeated semi-quavers on the tonic from Synth 2 – the Phantom bassline – the one we used to hear under “I am your angel of music. Come to me, angel of music.” Let’s get the fact that it’s inappropriate to the period, as it was in the original, out of the way and move on. It’s in this lyric where it is confirmed for us that the show is set 10 years after the original, and it’s this section of music that segues into the first big ballad of the show, the Phantom’s lamenting of Christine’s absence, which is reminiscent of Barbra Streisand’s “Evergreen” and almost any Josh Groban ballad you can name. However, I must admit that it got me in the end: it’s a lovely, lush romantic ballad and it really is seductive and sexy. Should the Phantom be seductive and sexy? He certainly is when played by Ramin Karimloo, but – seriously, even if, in some ways, it’s Karimloo’s performance that makes the song as effective as it is – this represents a rather fundamental dramatic problem in the conception of Love Never Dies. Conceptual inversions are one thing – sure, characters can develop – but basic narrative inconsistencies really are unacceptable. It’s probably appropriate to note at this point that this is the moment in which the much-hyped Christine automation appears – not as the dirty sex toy many expected (and even, perhaps, hoped) it would be. Thankfully, we’re still staying within the scope of a grand romance here – and what is more grandly romantic than ever-enduring, misunderstood and unrequited love?
Let’s get back to my little game of deconstructing the structure of this show in relation to the structure of the original. The Phantom’s big song – it must be this show’s “Music of the Night”, right? All right, taken at face value, I suppose it could be considered as such. But that throws everything out and ignores the ideas I’ve presented earlier in this very post, that Love Never Dies is a variation on a theme rather than a straightforward reproduction of it. What was basic formula just a few tracks earlier has given way to something a bit more playful and a lot more interesting. For I’m sticking by what I implied earlier, that “‘Til I Hear You Sing Again” is this show’s “Angel of Music”. In the original show, “Angel of Music” was a song in which Christine yearned for the missing something that gave her voice a “voice”. In Love Never Dies, “‘Til I Hear You Sing” is a song in which the Phantom yearns for the missing something that gives his music a “voice”. There’s that inversion, once again. I think it’s a very clever move, whether it was a conscious one on the part of Ben Elton, Glenn Slater or Andrew Lloyd Webber or one that developed intuitively.
8. “Giry Confronts The Phantom/ ‘Til I Hear You Sing (Reprise) “
Meg arrives in a post-performance frenzy with a million questions for the Phantom in a reprise of “Only For You”. The obsessive approach is spot on, but the language and the accent are not. I’m really struggling with the idea of Meg sounding like a pledge from Delta Nu. I don’t think it works. Meg is interrupted by Madame Giry with some Very Dramatic Recitative, which then leads into a confrontation between the senior Giry and the Phantom. Mother Giry, you see, has realised that the Phantom is still obsessed with Christine and she’s not happy – cue another reference to the original show with the singing of the “Christine” motif which was first sung by Meg and the Phantom prior to “Angel of Music”. Here it is sung by Madame Giry and Meg – another clue that Meg is the villain of this new show. Meg is told to leave and it’s time for some exposition: Madame Giry catches us up on 10 years of backstory in less that two minutes. It’s quick, efficient writing that doubles as a great piece of character work in the tradition of the retrospective monologue (see A Doll’s House) and, using the basic melody we’ve already heard as “The Coney Island Waltz”, it works.
(For an extra 10 points, can anyone name the dressing room interlude that came between the two parts of “Angel of Music” in The Phantom of the Opera? Yes, it was “Little Lotte” – so it seems that our game of formula inversion is at play thoughout this sequence.)
Following their conformation, the Phantom sends Madame Giry on her way. The Phantom bassline returns he addresses Chistine once again and summons Fleck, Squelch and Guangle to send a letter on his behalf inviting Christine to perform at Phantasma. Cue a reprise of “‘Til I Hear You Sing” and a mostly satisfying sequence of scenes comes to a satisfying close.
Final verdict: This show really begins to hit its stride in this sequence. Yes, we do have that driving bassline, but that was going to make an appearance in Love Never Dies no matter what. That’s a problem that goes beyond this show and inhabits the basic conceptualisation of this particular Phantom universe. On the plus side, the creative team has found a way to play with the structural formula of The Phantom of the Opera instead of merely reproducing it. This show could take a huge leap forward if the idea is recognised and plussed during the revisions that will surely be made during this premiere run as the show is developed for its Broadway premiere in November.
NEXT UP: Christine, Christine…
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.