Part 6 of this track-by-track commentary of Love Never Dies will probably be the shortest installment, dealing with only track 16 on the original cast recording, a self-contained scene that sees all of our principle characters reunited backstage at Phantasma.
16. “Old Friends”
One of my favourite scenes in The Phantom of the Opera is the “Notes/Prima Donna” sequence. It shows that a number with energy and action can exist in the “Phantom” universe without a driving bassline, it helps to further delineate each of the characters that participates in it and it is an essential dramatic beat without which the play would not be able to make coherent meaning. You could not take out these two songs without compromising the depth of the play as a whole. I’d maybe even go as far as to say that it is the the best piece of dramatic writing in the entire show. But I digress. The point of bringing up this number is that it is time for its counterpart in Love Never Dies: a contrapunctual quartet between Meg, Christine, Madame Giry and Raoul.
Before we get into the song proper, the scene begins with a rehearsal version of a song called “Bathing Beauty” which sounds every bit as cheap and trashy as Madame Giry says it is. Cue some dramatic dialogue about how much Meg has developed over the season, how Madame Giry believes that the Phantom has begun to notice her daughter and how the Phantom has been composing some glorious music. Christine enters with an impatient Gustave in tow; she has to finalise all the practical details for her performance and he wants to see all the things he was promised the previous night. When Christine asks an apparent stranger for help, the song starts.
It turns out that the stranger is Meg and the two sing with joy at meeting once again – until Meg realises that Christine is there to sing, which would jeopardise the Phantom’s attention finding it’s true target from Meg’s point of view. The song starts out with a melody that recalls the pair’s “Angel of Music” duet from The Phantom of the Opera before settling into a pleasant waltz as they trade compliments. Sierra Boggess does a super job in her delivery of the lyric, managing both sincerity meant for Meg and an irony meant for us. It works beautifully.
The song continues with a second melodic and rhythmic theme, this time for Raoul and Madame Giry. It all works out logically if you take the time to work it out, but the impression it leaves is that a step is missing here. Raoul simply assumes that Madame Giry is working at Phantasma and, although he’s correct, this attempt at economical storytelling, successfully employed in earlier moments of the show, falls flat. It feels incomplete. Also contributing to the dissatisfaction in this verse is the manner in which Madame Giry glosses over the fact that her boss is in fact the Phantom. Surely there is more fun to be had here? Surely she would know how frustrated Raoul might be to discover the information? I feel there should be a bigger build up to her revelation in this song.
Following this, we shift back to Meg and Christine and the initial musical theme, as Meg questions Christine about her performance and then back again to Raoul and Madame Giry where some questions are raised about both the Phantom and Christine’s motivations.
Cue a third theme in which the partners swap, with Raoul trying to find out whether Christine knew that Mister Y was the Phantom all along and Meg having a heated exchange about Christine and Raoul’s sudden appearance with her mother. This leads to a reprise of Christine and Meg’s chorus, with all singing lyrics that are intended to place text and subtext in ironic contrast with one another and the back into the third theme as an appeal is made to Raoul and Christine to leave before a few final choruses bring everything all together again. We get a great big final note with a dissonant descant in the accompaniment signaling to us that this happy reunion is most certainly not as happy as it seems. Fin.
Look, it’s a bit of fun, but that’s it. While you certainly couldn’t remove it without losing the sense of the piece, it’s nowhere near as integral as piece as the “Notes/Prima Donna” sequence was – and it’s this dramatic element of the sequence that is most sorely missed. With a a couple of incredibly under-developed characters (Raoul and Meg) on the stage, this is a completely underutilised opportunity.
The song ends and Gustave is missing and Christine goes off to find him.
Final verdict: I like this sequence, but I don’t love it. I don’t love it because it’s not as dramatically inventive as it should be. It should be filled with character development – nuances, not only broad strokes – and should be a moment that takes allows us to sink into the details situation instead of just speeding us across it. That it could be done in a number that isn’t slow and treacly and in a way that isn’t merely another section of stodgy dialogue makes it even harder to bear the fact that this is a wasted moment, even if it is a diverting one. If this song is the “Prima Donna” section of the matching sequence of this show’s forerunner, we need to have a “Notes” section in which the characters and their relationships can be built up. It might also be desirable to extend this into a sextet instead of a quartet, incoriporating Gustave and the Phantom in some way too. Perhaps it is already in this moment that Gustave can show traits that peak the Phantom’s interest in him. Perhaps not. I’m not sure how the puzzle is meant to come together in this number, but I am certain that there are a few pieces missing. I do hope that Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton and Glenn Slater make some move towards finding them as they refine the show.
NEXT UP: The Beauty Underneath…
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.