OK, I was highly resistant to the idea of a _Phantom_ sequel, but it was too good to resist, and, after a month of looking in stores, I finally found _Love Never Dies_ on CD Monday, and I listened to it today. . . . .
How dare I question the Master?
Andrew, Lord Lloyd-Webber of Sydmonton, has done it.
First, like all Lloyd Webber musicals, it begins in the future (not sure when; haven’t read the libretto). Madame Giry and someone else (I think Meg) are speaking. Then the overture, the “Coney Island Waltz,” plays. I wasn’t particularly thrilled with this melody when it premiered in October, and it’s one of the few previews we’ve gotten. It’s a tad nauseating. But it works in context. Strangely, where most ALW shows have “gone back in time” after the overture, there are a few more lines in “the present” until they overtly take us into the flashback.
OK, Coney Island has just opened. It’s the very first day. The amusement park has been constructed in just one year by the mysterious “Mr. Y,” who rarely appears in public and, when he does, wears a mask. . . .
The star attraction at Coney Island is Meg Giry, the “Bathing Beauty.” Meg is the Phantom’s new protege, and trying to win his affection. She and her mother have been serving him these ten years, helped him escape Paris, etc.
Low expectations blown away:
1) I expected, as in the dreadful book _Phantom of Manhattan_, that the Gustave-producing incident occurred *during* the events of the original story, totally negating the significance of the kiss at the ending. No. There is technically no retconning involved here. The musical clearly explains how the Phantom and Christine reunited for one night “beneath a moonless sky”–the night before her wedding to Raoul–and, this time, he left her.
2) Also unlike Frederick Forsythe’s travesty, this story plays on the doubt regarding Gustave’s paternity. He is extremely good-looking, suggesting the blend of Christine and Raoul, yet he is extremely musical as well, as well as a gifted prodigy in other ways (this *is* from Forsythe’s book, where the boy is a gifted engineer).
3) Reuse melodies. OK, no reprise of the most famous 3 tunes, except for the bass-riff of “Phantom of the Opera.” Actually, the one I would have liked to have heard, at the climax, was “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again.” But they do reuse a few pieces, to great effect.
The first noticeable involves a music box. Of course, as soon as a music box is mentioned, you expect “Masquerade,” but it’s actually “Point of No Return,” quite hauntingly done. And the verse melody of same is sung during the climax, but without the refrain. The incidental music ALW wrote for the 2004 movie is used prominently here, I think even with lyrics. There is a stirring reprise of “Twisted Every Way,” with the bit of “Prima Donna” melody that comes after it, but this time, it is Erik “the Phantom” (or “Mr. Y”), singing “Christine, Christine, don’t think that I don’t care, but every hope-every prayer rests on you now!” Then, in one of the scenes leading up to the climax, there’s a poignant reprise of “Little Lotte” and a few other dialogue tunes from the “first part” ending in the aforementioned use of “Point of No Return.”
4) Recitative: ALW has developed a penchant for writing mostly in rather atonal recitative–_Aspects of Love_ and _Woman in White_ are the biggest examples of this. Don’t know _The Beautiful Game_/_Boys in the Photograph_ well enough. But I was wondering if he was capable of melody. Certainly he’s shown a declining capacity for writing “songs.”
5) The title song is a melody that’s already become familiar to ALW fans. I’ve been listening to its original incarnation, “The Heart is Slow to Learn,” for over ten years. However, despite that fact, and even despite the YouTube video of
“Love Never Dies” live, the recording is AMAZING. I’m not sure what the highest notes are, but I daresay that Sarah Brightman could not sing it. I recently read how the high note at the end of of the song “Phantom of the Opera” is the highest she’s ever been recorded singing.
So, even though the melody was familiaar (and it’s only used once), it is executed.
The other main song, “Till I Hear You Sing Once More” is used perhaps a tad too much but still powerful enough to carry the show.