The seventh part of this track-by-track Love Never Dies commentary brings us to the end of the first act of the show and deals with tracks 17-19 on the original cast recording.
With Gustave having gone missing at the end of the previous scene, we catch up with him as he is taken to the Aerie by Fleck, Gangle and Squelch. This is all done to the music-box like musical theme we heard when they met the De Chagny family at the docks. It’s short and probably a better beckoning song than Camelot‘s “Follow Me”; it seems to fit in with what’s going on around it a little more comfortably at any rate.
As he arrives, we are treated once again to a musical theme from The Phantom of the Opera, the musical “Little Lotte” theme that is repeated when Christine first visits the Phantom’s lair and again in “Past the Point of No Return”. This time it mirrors the second of those three instances; here it is Gustave’s first visit to the Phantom’s new lair that is being described. Even the new lyrics have something in common with the old: compare the original show’s ‘I have brought you to the seat of sweet music’s throne / To this kingdom where all must pay homage to music’ with the new show’s ‘This is my realm, illusion’s domain / Where music and beauty and art have first reign’.
Left to his own devices while the Phantom finishes his work, Gustave plays the melody of the “Beautiful” melody – ‘just a song in my head’ – on a piano. As the orchestra takes over, the Phantom begins to reflect on questions that will lead to the revelation that Gustave is his son. We’re leading up to the displaced “The Phantom of the Opera” section, and this section is already decidedly creepy – laying a foundation for a subtext that I’m sure will feature in discussions of this show for as long as it remains in human memory.
Remember how in The Phantom of the Opera, there was an erotically charged moment when Christine caressed the Phantom’s mask? There is an intense eroticism woven into the idea of the Phantom’s unmasking, intensified by the repression of the era and idea of connecting with the taboo. This is another staple feature of Gothic Romanticism and it worked in the favour of the show. However, the idea doesn’t sit nearly quite as well when it’s ported over into Love Never Dies. We’re leading up to a similar unmasking, one in which the Phantom exposes himself in the hope that Gustave will accept him, and that process begins here as the music builds and builds towards a climax (while the Phantom shouts “My God” in a tone of hopeful rapture) that will thrust us into a song called “The Beauty Underneath”. There is something decidedly, if unintentionally, pederastic about the way this sequence has been created even if no such act is perpetrated in the narrative of the play. Yet, it does give us something interesting to explore in terms of the Phantom’s psychology. Harold Prince insisted that the way that the Phantom pursued his relationship with Christine was the result of his physical deformity and the reactions of people to it having distorted his normality. From Harold Prince and the American Musical Theatre:
There was total conflict in me (and so many of the audience) respecting out perception of physical deformity. We recoil and at the same time our reason tells us that’s ridiculous, that we should be ashamed. And then we recoil again. The Phantom has accepted the recoiling mechanism and cannot integrate the fact that Christine, having grown to know him, no longer perceives him in that way. It was the quality of the Phantom’s common humanity, his normal sexual and romantic impulses that get distorted by his physical deformity, that I wanted to emphasize.
So perhaps this is a proposal in the same vein? That his normal paternal instincts are distorted by his obsession with his physical deformity? If so – how interesting? Why not explore that more fully instead of delivering what comes next – a song that sticks out like a sore thumb in the score of Love Never Dies.
18. “The Beauty Underneath”
In the notes he wrote for the CD booklet, Andrew Lloyd Webber discusses how he used the title song of Love Never Dies, originally intended for a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera for The Beautiful Game – have a look at this blog about the same issue if you want to compare the different versions. Of the song’s inclusion in The Beautiful Game, he says that he ‘felt it stuck out like a sore thumb from the rest of the score’. One wonders if he has listened to “The Beauty Underneath” as a part of the score of Love Never Dies. We may have heard snippets of the melody earlier in the show – snippets that already sat oddly in the context of the score – but that doesn’t stop the song sounding like it should be in Starlight Express, albeit one in which the pederastic subtext is carried through with remarkable consistency.
During the song, the Phantom presents all kinds of bizarre and grotesque inventions to Gustave, like a skeletal gorilla playing and organ, and it is only when his mask is removed that Gustave is horrified and screams – just as Christine conveniently enters so that she will be there to comfort him.
19. “The Phantom Confronts Christine”
With Christine on hand, the Phantom can discover the truth about Gustave and Christine confesses everything to him, that the boy is his son. She must be translating her words directly from the French in her head, as the lyrics contain a painfully obvious errors in English grammar: ‘I kept the secret hid / The secret my marriage forbid’. Firstly, hid is not the past participle of hide, hidden is; secondly, if the marriage is preventing her from revealing the secret now, there is an error in concord and “forbids” should be used instead of “forbid”; and thirdly, if the marriage prevented her from revealing the secret in the past, it should be in the past tense, “forbade”. After adding these mistakes to all her others, Christine says she will sing the Phantom’s song and then leave with the boy, having caused the Phantom nothing but pain since they came into one another’s lives.
The Phantom, however, declares that Gustave is his ‘saving grace’ and that everything that he owns will be left to his son. All of this is overheard by Madame Giry, who is furious that her work over the years for the Phantom will amount to nothing because of this ‘bastard’. Her intense hatred for the boy is odd, especially considering her words later in the second act that her loyalty to the Phantom would prevent her from harming the boy. So this is a red herring parading as a plot point so that we can all be surprised when Meg kidnaps him later. But it should be Meg here, in her role as villain-seducer, promising us that ‘it is to be war’ them and that this will lead to ‘a disaster beyond your imagination’ in the second act. As it stands, it falls rather flat as the closing of an act, not really giving enough of a cliffhanger for a play that is so completely rooted in the tradition of melodrama, even as it plays with and subverts the tradition.
Final verdict: This sequence has a lot of energy contrived by the rock music used in it. The dramatic ideas wane, foundering as proposals that aren’t followed through by Ben Elton and Glenn Slater in the book or lyrics, but this doesn’t seem to be a priority as long as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and the robotic creations on display distract us from the fact. The ending of the sequence is also weak, particularly given that it’s the end Act I. This is the moment where the stakes should be highest, the moment that draws us in to see how things will be resolved. But because the team is reluctant to commit to a narrative strategy, the audience can’t even really be sure where the primary conflicts of the play lie. I suspect this has something to with what Lloyd Webber perceived to be problem with The Woman in White. In an interview with Mark Shenton at Playbill, the composer said the following:
I have learned very definitely over the last few years that you have to be very sure before you go forward…. I got myself into [the problem that the end of it is very confused] with The Woman in White. We had a terrific first act, but actually today, and it was something I had underestimated, there’s no secret you can even remotely put on a stage today that a modern audience can find shocking. It was a novel about a faked birth certificate – and people said, ‘So what?’ That was our mistake – if ever I revisited the piece, we would have to stop at the point where it is revealed that the sisters are swapped in the asylum. So I don’t want to make that mistake again…
And yet, here he is making the same mistake. The revelation about Meg that is coming in the second act is tremendously underwhelming and by covering it up with red herrings like the one at the end of this act of Love Never Dies, the problem is only being compounded. Even with all the minds at work on this show, the basic principle of creating drama – making choices and following through on them – has been ignored. And ultimately, that is what will make Love Never Dies only half as good as it could be unless some drastic revisions are made to the show as it continues its development en route to Broadway.
NEXT UP: Meanwhile, in a bar on Coney Island…
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.