The Love Never Dies experience for a Phantom of the Opera fan (Part 1 of 2: Lyrics and stuff)

August 18, 2012 at 12:47 am (Articles / Interviews) (, , , , )

Warning: Here there be spoilers, strong language, and assumption of familiarity with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Phantom of the Opera.

Anyone with even the slightest interest in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera must have heard of its sequel, Love Never Dies, and the fandom clusterfuck that came upon its premiere back in 2010.

Certain fans questioned why the musical, which has been running since 1986, and has since spawned generations of people unhealthily obsessed with the titular character, even needed a sequel – especially when that sequel involves said character moving to Coney Island and finding he’s fathered a child with the woman the previous musical established he’d never end up with (not because he’s ugly, mind, but because he’s crazy).

I give that description with a goodly amount of affection, as I happen to be one of those people unhealthily obsessed with the titular character. It would have been easy to jump on the sequel hate bandwagon – more so when I found out Love Never Dies would be taking cues from the 1999 novel Phantom of Manhattan, which I really didn’t like. But I decided to withhold judgement until I actually saw it. Besides, it had this awesome poster:

love never dies

Which I felt was a pretty nice throw-back to this one:

Phantom

And so despite the trepidation which comes with suspecting you’re about to see some beloved characters mangled, I went and watched the Love Never Dies (Melbourne production) DVD. There are two ways one can look at it – as a long-time Phantom of the Opera fan, or as someone with absolutely no attachment to the musical.

Let’s go with the latter first (now expunging the years I’ve spent obsessively comparing the Michael Crawford and Steve Harley versions of the song ‘Phantom of the Opera’, wondering why The Persian didn’t make it into the musical, mulling over the Joel Schumacher movie, etc).

So. Love Never Dies. It’s okay. It’s fun. You should watch it.

What’ll get you is the production value – the sets draw one into the alluring but ominous carnival the Phantom has built on Coney Island, which is largely populated by circus freaks that both entertain and menace. This is most apparent in the ‘Beauty Underneath’ sequence which sees Phantom and li’l Gustav going around a mirror maze, walking past strange pillars of glass that brighten up to reveal a lot of creepy shit inside – that alone actually makes me want to see the production live.

There’s a handful of winning moments, including the introduction of Phantom’s freaks, Madame Giry answering Raoul’s question about who’s behind the carnival with a deadpanned “Who do you think?”, and the confrontation between Phantom and Raoul which features a lot of terse bitchery.

I also find that a few days after viewing, the haunting ‘Coney Island Waltz’ is still in my head.

The actors brought sufficient life to the material – props especially for Gustave (Jack Lyall), who has a voice like a prepubescent angel, and Meg (Sharon Millerchip), who portrays her slow descent into despair in poignant fashion.

The problem comes when you actually pay attention to the material. The lyrics are heavy on the didactic side. Take this bit from the titular song:

Love never dies
Love never falters
Once it has spoken
Love is yours

Love never fades
Love never alters
Hearts may get broken
Love endures
Hearts may get broken
Love endures

They also like to go back to the same words over and over again. In this case it’s “love”, which is possibly the most loaded, heavy-handed word you can use for something like Phantom of the Opera. If you’ve seen Love Never Dies, you’ll know this also goes for the words “dear old friend”, “Ah, Christine”, “beautiful / beauty”, and “devil take the hindmost.” A lot of repetition happens.

Not that repetition is a bad thing – given the right context, it can be a powerful device. In the case of Love Never Dies though, it seems we return to the same refrains because it seems to be the only way to hammer the point well and thoroughly in.

And then there are the cases when the lyrics just go the Disney-esque route of explaining the “moral lesson” for everyone. Besides the aforementioned ‘Love Never Dies’, there’s this – ‘Look With Your Heart’:

So look with your heart
And not with your eyes
A heart understands
A heart never lies

Believe what it feels
And trust what it shows
Look with your heart
The heart always knows

And this is where I begin to let the influence of many years’ worth of Phantom fawning slip in. The lyrics of the original musical had staying power – whether it was ‘Music of the Night’ or ‘Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again’. The words heightened the music, enriching the dark, romantic atmosphere of the entire play.

Love Never Dies, on the other hand, tends to mow over subtlety and tension to get to the business of exposition.

As an example here’s Phantom of the Opera’s ‘The Point of No Return’ (where Phantom and Christine talk about, well, fucking):

I have come here,
Hardly knowing the reason why
In my mind I’ve already imagined
Our bodies entwining
Defenseless and silent,
Now I am here with you
No second thoughts
I’ve decided
Decided.

Past the point of no return
No going back now
Our passion-play has now at last begun.

Past all thought of right or wrong
One final question
How long should we two wait before we’re one?

When will the blood begin to race
The sleeping bud burst into bloom
When will the flames at last consume us?

Now, compare that to Love Never Dies’ ‘Beneath a Moonless Sky’ (where Phantom and Christine talk about –surprise!- having had fucked before Christine married Raoul):

Once there was a night beneath a moonless sky
Too dark to see a thing, too dark to even try
I strode to your side to tell you I must go
I couldn’t see your face but sensed you even so

And I touched you
And I felt you
And I heard those ravishing refrains
The music of the past
The singing in your veins

And I held you
And I touched you
And embraced you
And I felt you
And with every breath and every sigh
I felt no longer scared
I felt no longer shy
At last our feelings bared
Beneath a moonless sky

What we get from the former is a lot of blistering sexual tension. In the latter, there’s a lot of touching. I’m not saying it’s bad to cut to the chase, lyrics-wise, it’s just that sometimes, a lot of impact is lost that way. Moreover while I, who was much into the original Phantom musical, was expecting more of the former, I got more of the latter.

Part 2 will take a look at the story and characters of Love Never Dies. Hoo-rah.

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2 Comments

  1. The Love Never Dies experience for a Phantom of the Opera fan (Part 2 of 2: Story and characters) « In the Grayworld said,

    […] Warning: Here there be spoilers, strong language, and assumption of familiarity with the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Phantom of the Opera. CONTINUED FROM PART 1. […]

  2. Gabby said,

    ALW wanted Alan Jay Lerner as lyricist for LND… can you imagine what Alan Jay Lerner would have made of this music? can you imagine the lyrics he would have penned? sigh.

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