Sunday, August 15, 2010

Love Never Dies, Part Two: Act I

Every musical has to start somewhere. No, I'm not talking about the idea process. I'm referring to the actual beginning of it. I don't live in the UK and therefore haven't seen the West End performances of Love Never Dies, but I do have to soundtrack, and I know the story. What does that mean? It means I can go song by song, telling what I liked and disliked. This is gonna be a long one.

But first, the basic framework. It's been about ten years since The Phantom of the Opera, and in that time, a lot's happened. The Phantom was smuggled onto a ship headed for America, and the Girys went with him. Madame Giry and her daughter, Meg, went for their own ends, Meg wanting to catch the Phantom's eye and her mother wanting to get a slice of the Phantom's money. In the ten years, the Phantom and the Girys put their minds to work, creating Fantasma, a "little slice of heaven" on Coney Island. The Phantom is able to walk amongst the world because, let's face it, Coney Island is weird enough that a guy who walks around in a half mask won't get too many second glances.

This isn't enough for the Phantom. He desperately wants to see, and more importantly hear, Christine again, and nothing can keep him from his obsession. So he cooks up a plan to bring Christine to the performance hall inside Fantasma to sing an aria that he's composing. Christine arrives, Raoul and son Gustave in tow, and quickly discovers the true meaning of her invitation. Cue a jealous Raoul (who in those ten years has managed to gamble away his fortune and tried to drink the pain of that away), a confused Christine, and a Phantom who realizes he just may have the ace up his sleeve.

Be honest, Andrew Lloyd Webber's stories were never his strongest point, and Love Never Dies doesn't change any of that. So how's the music?

Prologue: A short intro. Tries to be creepy and atmospheric, but the show's just begun, and the odd choice of characters for the first scene don't help things.

Coney Island Waltz: A great instrumental piece that introduces many of the themes we'll hear throughout the course of the musical. Very smartly orchestrated, and it has atmosphere the Prologue never could achieve.

That's the Place That You Ruined, You Fool!: Same characters as the start, and this short piece doesn't impress any more than the Prologue did. All in all, a somewhat disappointing intro.

Heaven by the Sea: While I understand what this song is intended to do (show how base the visitors to Coney Island are), and it achieves it, it still feels out of place when compared to the rest of the music.

Only for Him/Only for You: I kind of like this one. It's the first glimpse we've ever really gotten into Meg's head, and the duality of it is likeable. It's also not nearly as overdone as the previous piece.

The Aerie: Another beautiful instrumental piece. Where the music is not always winning, the instrumentals are. Nuff said.

Till I Hear You Sing: Oh, Phantom, it's good to see you again! This piece is phantastic, and is surely a show-stopper on all accounts. Magnificent music of the night, one that's worthy of being lumped in with the original. Bravo!

Giry Confronts the Phantom/Till I Hear You Sing (reprise): This one's great too, if only to hear Karimloo soar his way through the melody again. I'd also like to point out that Liz Robertson does a splendid job as Giry.

Christine Disembarks: Not much to say about this one, no real music.

Arrival of the Trio/Are You Ready to Begin?: The trio is weird, and one of the weakest parts of the new show. They annoy me less and less as I go, but their melodies are sung in strange, off-putting voices, and it doesn't fit in too well.

What a Dreadful Town!...: A Raoul piece where it becomes clear how much the character has changed. A very different, mature Webber piece, and it's kind of good for something offbeat.

Look With Your Heart: A Christine and Gustave duet that makes for lovely listening. It's catchy and quite nice. It almost feels like it could be in The Sound of Music. Be sure to listen until the end, because there's a cool nod to the original in the final seconds after the song has finished.

Beneath a Moonless Sky: A Phantom and Christine duet! It's been too long since "Point of No Return." Webber gets across a lot of information in an emotional, soaring way, and it lays the groundwork for a nice twist.

Once Upon Another Time: Really a continuation of "Beneath a Moonless Sky," but it's beautiful. I greatly enjoy listening to Karimloo and Boggess singing together.

"Mother Please, I'm Scared!": Not much of a new piece, but there's a very cool moment when the Phantom and Gustave first meet. Otherwise, forgettable.

Dear Old Friend: This is a fun layered piece, and the veiled hostility is conveyed nicely. It's also a melody you won't really hear before or after, which makes it an interesting surprise.

Beautiful: Look out, there's a quick nod to the original, but it's only a few notes long! And then Gustave sings, and it makes the Phantom realize something, and makes him sing, which is always good. It transitions directly into...

The Beauty Underneath: This is the most polarizing piece in the whole show. You either like it or hate it. Either way, you can't deny that Gustave's part is awkward and for the most part unnecessary, and the song, while it rocks, is a bit over the top, even for Phantom.

The Phantom Confronts Christine: A secret gets out, the Phantom makes a resolution, and Giry overhears it all. All of it's important to have but doesn't really stick out.

So far, we've got a varied set of songs, much more so that the original, and when it works, it works. It's got some incredibly good moments, as well as some that don't fit. But what's my verdict? Now, now, don't be impatient, we still have Act II to get through!


Anonymous said...

Phantom Needs NO Sequel!
Webber's sequel to Phantom - LOVE NEVER DIES - destroys the original story and characters created by Gaston Leroux. Theatre critics disliked the sequel giving it less than 3 stars and audience members are calling it 'Paint Never Dries'. LOVE SHOULD DIE!

The Writer said...

Well, nice to see my mention of this most controversial of musicals has attracted somebody's notice, in what I'm completely sure was an original response.

Unfortunately for LoveShouldDie, it's not quite that clear-cut. Reviews were mixed for the sequel, but it's gotten reviews just as glowing as the negative ones were scathing. Audiences as a whole seem to enjoy it, although saying it isn't as good as the original. Which is just a pinch unrealistic.

To be perfectly honest, Love Never Dies is a sequel to the musical, not the novel by Leroux. The two are not one and the same, and while I frown upon the attitude Webber displays toward the original novel, he has the right to make a sequel to his musical. As far as I've heard, there haven't been any lawsuits pending from anyone associated with Leroux.

And if Webber wrote a musical in which the characters were static and unchanging after ten years, it would be even more unrealistic than the current storyline.

As for me, I'm going to present my opinion and allow people to draw their own conclusions without screaming LOVE SHOULD DIE!

Sally said...

Yes, of course Webber has the legal right to write a sequel to his own show, but that doesn't mean he should have done it.

In writing his version of what happens after the end of the original show, he puts his imprimatur on it as the official version. One of the fine qualities of the last scene of the original show was that it was ambiguous, open ended. Did the Phantom escape the mob? Did he die of love? Did he find a new love? Did Christine and Raoul live happily ever after, or...not?

Every audience member who chose to could come up with his or her own answers.

That ambiguity is spoiled now as more and more people become aware of what has happened to the characters, twisted to fit the Forsyth/Elton/ Webber story.

--Better he had written his beautiful music, to be sung by talented performers, about other characters and another story, but unfortunately, he didn't.

The Writer said...

I cannot deny that the ambiguity is gone for almost everyone by the end of the musical. Unfortunately, people enjoy writing sequels, especially if it's with a character as interesting as the Phantom.

Webber also seemed to have wanted to rid himself of the ambiguity for a long time, as evidenced by the writing of The Phantom of Manhattan (which I haven't read, but seems to not have a single good review). He must have decided the only way to continue for his sake (because the Phantom is still making him loads of money, and anything he does, he can do for himself) was in musical form.

Outside of the ambiguity being lost, the original musical is still there, and the music is still amazing. I listened to the soundtrack for it just yesterday, and didn't love it any less, except for wishing I had a recording with Ramin Karimloo as the Phantom for it too. But I wished that when I saw the first YouTube video of him as the Phantom.

My goal is to judge this on its own merits as best I can, without resorting to fanboyish cries of, "Raoul did WHAT?!?" and the like. Which you aren't doing, and thank you for that. It's nice to have a well thought-out comment here. You should see the comments I got for a review of a Terry Goodkind book that was *gasp* negative.

Sally said...

Thank you for publishing my comment.

You don't have to publish this one, but I just wanted to say...

As Love Never Dies continues to run, how long will it be before people with any interest in musical theater will not be affected any more in the same way that they have been by the Final Lair of the original show?

Some will be able to lose themselves in the moment, but I think that before it finally closes, Phantom of the Opera will NOT still be there in the way it has been for so many years, and if LND lasts long enough, public perception of the original story and characters will have been affected.

The music will be there and will probably still be enjoyable for anyone who can put out of his mind what he knows about the characters' ultimate fate, but I still regret that they will have to.

--Too bad Lloyd Webber had "issues" with the ending of the original show. For close to 25 years, no one else seems to have had any problem.

AJ said...

It's interesting to see how the Love Should Die movement has grown. I published my own page about Love Never Dies in October 2009, when the first official announcements about the sequel were made, but it was not until a supporter of Love Should Die posted a comment on my page that I realised that some Phantom Phans were so upset.

Like you, I am allowing people to form their own opinions, but in the interests of balance I have added a debate to my page, so people can give their views.