Part 10 of this track-by-track Love Never Dies commentary takes us to Christine’s dressing room, beginning the lead up to the moment whether Christine will choose to sing or not, taking us through tracks 8-9 of the second disc of the original cast recording.
8. “Before the Performance”
“Before the Performance” consists of several musical themes and a great deal of plotting. It’s aim to to create a real crisis for Christine: will she sing or not? However, the foundations for creating a crisis have been poorly laid and this superficial attempt doesn’t really make us wonder whether the outcome will be anything but the eventual performance of the Phantom’s new song.
The scene starts off with Gustave humming a haunting little melody, which – if we’ve been paying attention – we first heard in “The Coney Island Waltz” before it became the melody for “Mother, Please I’m Scared”, when he dreamed of someone taking him away and drowning him. It’s subtle foreshadowing, I think: not enough not for anyone to put the pieces all together if they aren’t sure of the plot, but certainly one that is a delightful touch when viewing the show retrospectively.
The scene set is in Christine’s dressing room. She is putting on her jewellery and asks Gustave to help her. This leads into a reprise of “Beautiful” which has some awfully flat lyrics, about how Christine looks ‘like a queen in a book’ and how much ‘fun’ it would be for the two of them to spend some time alone together after the performance. I also wondered about the choice of music here: is the use of this melody here appropriate? “Beautiful” is meant to be a song that Gustave has in his head, that the Phantom heard him playing in his lair prior to “The Beauty Underneath”. Is this diegetic material really appropriate for use non-diegetically in this scenario? It is used non-diegetically in the scene that culminates with “The Beauty Underneath”, but there it develops out of the Phantom and Gustave’s interaction and feels as if it fits. Here, is doesn’t seem to be quite as good a match. Maybe it would be better if there was a reprise of “Look With Your Heart” here instead and perhaps that reprise should happen once Christine, the choice having not yet entered her mind, is in some turmoil about whether to perform or not. Or maybe “Beautiful” should be a completely non-diegetic piece and the melody is Gustave’s head should always be the one he is singing now.
The show also lacks an interaction in which Gustave mentions his experience of seeing the Phantom without his mask and Christine unpacks that a little in a way that makes his acceptance of his real father more moving; to achieve that Gustave should be a little more stubborn in this interaction so that the question appears to be one answered only in the moment of crisis near the end of the show. Whether or not this is the right place for that little scene is up for debate, but I think it is an important beat in the action that has been skipped over by the creators of the show.
Raoul arrives on the scene next, looking more like his old self and doing his best to be just as charming. Gustave is excused; Christine gives him permission to explore backstage on the condition that he returns to her dressing room after her performance. Raoul then has some apologetic recitative, which is then followed by his attempt to convince Christine not to sing, which culminates in a weak-willed reprise of “Why Does She Love Me?” – and that’s that. It’s not nearly good enough a proposal to throw Christine into the kind of turmoil she is supposed to experience when considering whether she would sing or not. The option of not singing is not made attractive enough, not to her or to the audience. With so much apparently on the line, Raoul’s attempt at convincing Christine not to sing needs to leave Christine (and us) believing that there is really is a possibility of a wonderful future for the three of them together as a family. Raoul needs something much better than a reprise of his pitiful drinking song from earlier in Act II; he needs an “All I Ask of You”.
We move directly on to the Phantom’s counterargument, which begins with a sequence of rather awkwardly arguments about Raoul: ‘He knows his love is not enough / He knows he isn’t what you need’. The point of his argument here is that it is time for Christine ‘to be who [she] should be’ so why not phrase them to here in the second person instead, in other words ‘You know his love is not enough / You knows he isn’t what you need’. While those lyrics might be served by a minor adjustment, the lyrics about Christine being ‘made of finer stuff’ and about how she should ‘leave him in the dust’ are, frankly, unsalvageable.
The Phantom’s argument continues with a reprise of “‘Til I Hear You Sing’, which encompasses further arguments for his case: the thrill of performing for an audience with music that makes her feel truly alive once more and the opportunity to fulfill the romantic potential discovered between them one night “Beneath a Moonless Sky” at last.
The stage manager arrives to tell Christine that it’s time for her to perform. She sings “Twisted every way, what answer can I give”. The problem is, she’s not twisted every way. One option seems clearly better than the other; the dramatists haven’t done their job and have overly relied on the moral codes of marriage and family to make an argument for staying with Raoul. Christine is given another couple of lines to sing here, but I don’t think they would be necessary if the play had set up the conflict well enough; music and body language should be enough to communicate her conflict to us in these moments before her performance. The music here represents her deliberation in itself.
The scene concludes with a sung snippet to the tune of “Prima Donna” from The Phantom of the Opera before the orchestra swells using the same musical theme. It does bring a sense of grandeur to the moment and a lump to the throat. As the melodic works up to its climax, you catch your breath and –
Instead of being carried through to the climactic moment of Christine’s performance, we’re taken through a reprise of “Devil Take the Hindmost” – yet another poorly calculated error in judgment.
9. “Devil Take the Hindmost (Quartet)”
I’m not disputing that the idea of a reprise of “Devil Take the Hindmost” can add invaluable tension and suspense within the sequence leading up to Christine’s performance, but this is the wrong place for it. Placed here, it just becomes a frustrating scene we have to sit through while we wait for Christine to sing – or not sing, if we supposed to be seriously consider that there is a choice in the matter at this point.
So where should it be? I’m not entirely sure; there are several options and any of them would require some rewriting. The first option is to start it off between Madame Giry and Meg after their scene (“Mother Did You Watch?”), during which they could see and hear Gustave humming his tune en route to Christine’s dressing room before we see the Phantom and Raoul separately deliberating over their plans to convince Christine to sing or not. Meg can have her epiphany and leave to play her part in the final events of the show. The second option would be to place it in between Raoul and the Phantom’s visits to Christine, with Raoul reflecting on the case he has made and the Phantom reflecting on the case he is about to make, while the sections pertaining to Madame Giry, Meg and Gustave remaining the same as outlined above. The third option would be the most difficult to achieve successfully and to create a fully integrated musical backstage sequence that somehow weaves all of the themes mentioned in this section of the commentary together into one complex, masterful dramatic whole.
The song as it stands still places too much focus on Madame Giry and too little on Meg. We have to see Meg snap or at least take on some kind of agency as the villain of this show and one line at the end of a song isn’t enough. Yes, we will be shocked perhaps by her actions later – but it is a shock that seems unmotivated by the events of the play as a whole.
Final verdict: It’s clear that Ben Elton, Glenn Slater and Andrew Lloyd Webber are struggling with the question of how to tell their story. The structure of these two backstage sequences, which have a fair amount of material that works in its favour, doesn’t help the play rhythmically and there are some serious issues that need to be approached if this “moment of crisis” is going to properly set up the climax of the show. To find the answers, the creators really need need to decide what story they are telling. At the moment, its seem as if they’re just throwing together chunks of narrative and hoping for the best. Certainly chance plays some role in whether a show is successful or not, but creating drama is still primarily about making choices. That way, even if a show doesn’t go over with audiences, the theatre-makers can find some comfort in the value of their artistry. Love Never Dies can’t yet offer its creators even that.
NEXT UP: Love Never Dies.
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.