Part 8 of this track-by-track commentary of Love Never Dies deals with the start of Act 2, moving onto tracks 1-3 of the second disc of the the original cast recording.
Act II starts off with an energetic entr’acte, beginning with a rendition of “Only For You” that sounds like the galop infernal from Orpheus in the Underworld, segues into a a lilting, more up-tempo version of “Look With Your Heart” than we heard in the show proper before moving into a string-filled arrangement of “Once Upon Another Time”. This is followed, first by an urgent (with a fanfare that sounds like a nod to the overtures of My Fair Lady and (even more so) Camelot), then unabashedly romantic excerpt from “‘Til I Hear You Sing” (bonus points for noticing the nod to “All I Ask of You” in the chorus of the song). A coda that returns us to the “Only For You” theme with some dissoance thrown in for fun brings the “Entr’acte” to a close.
The structure of the piece closely mirrors the “Entr’acte” of The Phantom of the Opera, which starts with an ebullient “Angel of Music” before shifting into a more lilting version of the same song, which then segues into a string-filled arrangement of “Music of the Night” and an unabashedly romantic excerpt from “All I Ask of You” before introducing some dissonance via the familiar descending chords from “The Phantom of the Opera”. Since the original’s “Entr’acte” closed with a piece that signified the villain of the piece, maybe we’re getting another clue here about Meg’s role in the bigger picture of the show itself.
2. “Why Does She Love Me?”
The title of this sequence makes me dread what the song might be like; we’re obviously being invited to attend a pity party here. As an instrumental reprise of “Beneath a Moonless Sky” ending with a cheap-sounding saxophone that sounds like it escaped from Miss Saigon, we arrive in a bar where Raoul is drinking himself into a stupor in a suit he must have borrowed from Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard. In the dialogue, Raoul becomes unwittingly meta-textual, asking “What to do with me? That’s the question, isn’t it? It’s always been the question, ever since the beginning.” Raoul always seems to be near the bottom of the list when it comes to serving up characterisation. The song doesn’t answer the question.
“Why Does She Love Me?” has a delicate melody; it’s very clearly a lament. Laments of regret were a staple of opera seria in the Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods and were sometimes used in opera buffe as a contrast to the comic tone of the action in general. Reserved for the heroines of these operas, laments often become popular outside the context of the show because of their appeal to fundamental human emotions. Raoul’s lament seems, in some ways, to be a cousin of the Countess Rosina’s lament of her husband’s infidelity in The Marriage of Figaro, “Porgi, amor, qualche ristoro“, although here is seems to be drink, rather than love, from whom the comfort is sought.
The biggest problem with “Why Does She Love Me?” is that the lyrics generally wallow in the direst self-pity, making it seem as though Raoul has already given up in his ongoing battle with the Phantom for Christine’s affection. Once again, he’s depicted only as a fallen and flawed man, with very little to redeem himself in the eyes of his wife. As I mentioned in my blog about Raoul’s charaterisation when he first appears in Love Never Dies, Ben Elton, Glenn Slater and Andrew Lloyd Webber need to be making the choice more and more difficult for Christine as the show progresses toward the moment where she has to make it. This kind of song kills any chance of suspense in that moment of decision.
Lyrically, there is one somewhat interesting idea here, an attempt at depicting Raoul as a mask-wearer, that he is beautiful and together on the outside and full of “horror, shame (and) despair” on the inside. That’s a fine statement, one that sounds like it should be a defining characteristic of the character. However, in drama, character is action and we don’t see this proposal carried through in Raoul’s actions: there is no mask; the distortion of his inner mind and soul are clearly revealed in his actions. This is certainly true in regard to the behaviour we’ve seen from him earlier, which is a pity, as playing with a mask of this sort might have begun to establish Raoul as a character that offers something truly worthwhile to the play. We see the idea coming together marginally between now and the end of the play, but it’s really too little too late.
Into this scene storms Meg, breaking the mood with the opening melodic phrase of “Old Friends”. She’s there to advise Raoul to leave America with Christine and Gustave – on her mother’s orders. How much more interesting this would be if the impetus came from Meg herself! It would be better for the show too. During this interaction, comes the information that this bar is called Suicide Hall, because desperate people come here to get drunk and disappear by jumping off the nearly pier. Meg comes here to swim, to cleanse her conscience of what Coney Island has caused her to lose. There’s a duality in the register of the lyrics, one meaning giving us – at last – some attempt at a motivation for Meg’s obsession with the Phantom, putting in place a foundation for the “big reveal” we’ll get later in the show and the other, which cleverly distracts us from gleaning too much information from the first almost sounds like she’s manipulating Raoul towards his own suicide before she changes her tune and tries to persuade him to leave, which is her primary tactic for achieving her objective at this point, to get Christine out of the way. It might be interesting to see the manipulator in Meg developed a little more. Would it work to see her try and follow through more in her attempt to convince Raoul to commit suicide? Or would that free Christine up even further in terms of her eligibility as the Phantom’s bride? Or would it perhaps place Gustave in greater need of the Phantom’s care, which Meg desires for herself? Maybe it would, but we also know that Christine has promised to leave after singing the aria because of all the pain the has caused the Phantom during their association. Does Meg know this via Madame Giry who overheard the discussion in question? We don’t know for sure, but it’s possible that she doesn’t. After all, why would she try to get Raoul to take Christine and leave if she knew that Christine had already promised to leave forever after the performance anyway? Does she know at this point that Gustave is the Phantom’s son? Either the creators have assumed that these facts are as clear to us as they are to them, or they don’t know themselves, or they haven’t fully thought through the ramifications of all these scenarios. That’s why some really good proposals in this scene don’t translate into drama that is as effective as it could be.
3. “Devil Take the Hindmost”
Can you imagine how this song got its title? I must admit that, rather cynically, I have an image of Glenn Slater looking at all the entries under the word “devil” in a dictionary of idioms and picking out anything that could even vaguely work. Fortunately, the result here works incredibly well for the situation, as the expression “devil take the hindmost” means “each man for himself” and offers up a chance for some interesting rhymes. Slater is on the thin edge of a wedge here; the rhymes could so easily become self-conscious and contrived, but he seems to quit himself fairly well on that account. What’s even more fun is that he manages to let Raoul’s counterpoint lyrics to be expressed in gambling terms, although the counterpoint itself seems not to leave a question regarding the dramatic sensibilities of inclusion. (What exactly is happening when the counterpoint occurs? They can’t be talking over one another at each other; the score is far too deliberate to signify that kind of Caryl Churchill inspired interaction and the music tells us we’re into the mode of dual soliloquies as it’s already established earlier in this song how interruptions occur in this conversation.)
To get to the song, we have to endure Raoul shouting a little more, this time about how he previously bested the Phantom and therefore has no need to run now. The Phantom appears as if he was summoned by Raoul’s arrogance and they make a deal: if Christine sings, then the Phantom has won and Raoul must leave alone and if she doesn’t, then Raoul has won and leaves with his family and his debts all paid. And in the competition for the prize – you guessed it – devil take the hindmost. It’s definitely a piece in which the gauntlet is thrown down and taken up – the terms are repeated at the end of the song, just in case we missed them, and the Phantom plants a seed of doubt in Raoul’s mind about who Gustave’s father really is – and I think it largely works, except for the moment of counterpoint mentioned above.
So how can that be solved? Easily – by remembering that these two men are not the only players in this game and ultimately both are at the mercy of a far more manipulative villain. How intriguing this would be if Meg was privy to all of this manly gauntlet throwing and took on the same “devil take the hindmost” viewpoint as she eavesdropped. Then we could have all of the counterpoint in the world without sacrificing the dramatic credibility of the scene or trying to justify it with the very poor excuse of poetic license. And once again, we’d be creating a play that deals with its characters instead of trying to hide what’s going on prior to an anti-climactic reveal.
Final verdict: This sequence starts off weak and ends up a lot stronger. The spectacular opening of Act II of “The Phantom of the Opera” has been avoided here (maybe the moment it is being saved for “Bathing Beauty”?) in favour of starting off very low and slow. I’m not sure that this works entirely well and I don’t think the intimacy of the opening interactions between the barman, Raoul and eventually Meg are strong enough dramatically to stand on their own. Perhaps their needs to be some shifting around in Act II so that the act begins with a celebration of the final day of the season (which we eventually get to with a reprise of “Heaven by the Sea” anyway), thereby allowing the scene with Raoul to at least offer some contrast to the situation, even if it might not be any more dramatically effective if left as it stands. Contrast is, after all, along with conflict, one of the essential features of drama. I think that element of personal drama within the public context is what’s missing here; it was so effective in “Masquerade” and it would be nice to see the formula used and manipulated here, as it would have to be – remember, the personal drama in “Masquerade” was also one of celebration and here it would have to sit in contrast to that. In The Phantom of the Opera, “Masquerade” is followed by the Phantom’s entrance as he lays down his challenge to the managers in “Why so Silent”, which segued into a more complex “Notes” sequence. Here these two elements are combined into “Devil Take the Hindmost”, but it would be nice to see it made complex in a way that really works for the dramatic build of the play as a whole, as I’ve proposed in the above commentary.
NEXT UP: Back to the Beach!
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.