Part 2 of this track-by-track commentary deals with our first exposure to Coney Island and its wonders – Tracks 4-5 on the original cast album of Love Never Dies.
4. “Heaven By The Sea”
So after all the moody atmosphere of the “Prologue” sequence, a jolly little number sets the scene as a group of trippers marvel at the wonders of Phantasma to the accompaniment of a honky-tonk piano. It starts off sounding perhaps a touch too cartoon-like, maybe more than it would otherwise because of the vocal performances from the cast. However, since they’re left little choice other than to portray a bunch of stereotypically starstruck Americans, perhaps that couldn’t be avoided. The song gets better once it releases into the section starting with ‘The sights, the sounds, the lights, the spells’ where it begins to sound as if there are some real marvels to behold rather than just some dinky sideshow attractions. The number recalls “Colonel Buffalo Bill” from Annie Get Your Gun, although it’s somewhat filtered through “What a Remarkable Age This Is” from Titanic. It’s a pleasant number and establishes the setting well enough as well as the class of the people in attendance, but its not much more than a throwaway piece for the chorus – an equivalent for the “Hannibal” sequence from The Phantom of the Opera perhaps.
5. “Only For Him / Only For You”
Shifting from Phantasma’s visitors to it’s performers as they ready themselves for their show, we are introduced to a second character from The Phantom of the Opera: Meg. You remember her, right? She’s Christine’s friend, often played by an actress who is not the strongest singer, presumably to show up the difference between the two characters. And oh yes, she’s the one who picks up the mask in the final scene of the show. Well, prepare yourselves for a huge departure from the former fact about Meg and a major developmental jump from the latter. For Meg is now a vaudeville performer, an “ooh-la-la girl” who sings and dances, and has an romantic obsession with the Phantom. Since obsessive love was the trait that spurred the Phantom on to his villainy, perhaps we can expect Meg to be the villain of this piece? Or is she just an innocent, lovestruck young woman? Or are we meant to assume that Meg is the Phantom’s new Christine? Those of us who haven’t read the synopsis don’t know for sure, but since we expect Love Never Dies to continue the romance between the Phantom and Christine, it seems logical to discard the last alternative.
On to the songs. Well, here we remain true once again to the formula given to us in The Phantom of the Opera. We have a song that is performed both without an audience and with one, filling the structural position of “Think of Me”. The tone of the two numbers, however, could not be more different and I think that only disadvantages the new show in some ways. The backstage part of this song (“Only for Him”) is a conversation between Meg and the showgirls as they prepare for performance> It’s uptempo and, barring some recitative, sounds almost exactly like the diegetic song it will become (“Only For You”) when it is performed for the audience as part of the opening of Phantasma. I don’t feel this adequately establishes Meg as a major player in “Love Never Dies”. It already begins to set her up as a cartoon villain instead of a complex one. In that aspect, the first half of the song is dramatically disappointing. We should get Meg and the showgirls and their backstage talk – briefly, but then they should leave Meg behind to truly reflect on how her performance is “Only For Him” in a ballad version of the song, for the Phantom, the man whose approval and love she desires. The rest can continue as it happens, with Meg being called to the stage to perform the diegetic number for the audience. The use of melody and the alteration of the arrangement would also work dramatically here. We know the Phantom has composed this song for the show from the recitative, but it is cheap and tawdry compared to his work as we remember it from the Paris Opera. However, if Meg was allowed to find some beauty in it, it would say something about her perceptions of the Phantom and her objectives in that regard. And – snap – we’re on our way to creating a fully rounded character. Unfortunately, we miss out on that beat of action and the show is poorer for it.
Another interesting departure from the original show is in the performer’s attitude to their mysterious benefactor. There is none of the fear and wonder that surrounded the Phantom here. It’s not: “He’s here, the Phantom of the Opera”, but rather: “Honey, please he’s here”. The character has shifted from someone that nobody wants around to someone whose presence people desire. Another clue perhaps to who the villain of this sequel will be?
Following the performance, we have a brief snatch of dialogue during which Madame Giry (who announces herself as the show’s producer) reassures a very needy Meg that she is certain that the Phantom is pleased with her before dragging her off to meet Mr Thompson, a fan of Meg’s who is also an important client. A patron for her, as Raoul was to Christine, but in this case there is no desire on Meg’s part to meet him – to an even greater extent than it seems. Make sure you take note of this throwaway exchange if you hope to make any sense of the play’s ending.
I do have one question that’s popped into my head at this point. Why does Madame Giry have a French accent and Meg an American one? It’s jarring. The scene closes with a snatch of music reprised from “The Coney Island Waltz” that is meant to create some instant tension as we move to meet yet another character from The Phantom of the Opera…
Final verdict: This section of the show is not as good dramatically as the already flawed opening, despite some lovely music in the release of “Heaven By The Sea” and an interesting proposal in the “Only for Him/Only for You” sequence. The show at this point seems set on reproducing the structure of The Phantom of the Opera, but its forgetting that Love Never Dies needs dramatic building blocks of its own – and one is certainly required here if Meg is to be established in a more complex fashion, as is required by the demands of the narrative constructed for the show.
NEXT UP: The Return of the Phantom…
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.