After spending the last couple of days closely listening to Andrew Lloyd Webber's newest musical Love Never Dies, my first reaction is that I like it. The story, being a follow-up to his smash-hit The Phantom of the Opera, is perhaps lacking in integrity and plays out like a soap opera, however one could find numerous faults with Webber's adaptation of Gaston Leroux's original horror-romance. It needs to be said, however, that people don't tend to flock to ALW productions for the intricate stories, rather they go for the tunes - and Love Never Dies certainly delivers on that front.
The fact that LND is a sequel to Phantom will immediately prevent a lot of people from giving this new musical a chance, which is a shame because there is certainly some magnificent stuff in it. I've only really known the show for a year, after seeing it live in Perth last March; however in that year Phantom has jumped the ranks to become one of my favourite musicals, only below Les Miserables. The idea of a sequel excited me musically - where could ALW take the voices from Phantom and how would his matured orchestral style benefit the score. The result is a score that bears more resemblance to Sunset Boulevard in it's romanticism than Phantom of the Opera, which isn't an issue since Sunset is easily Webber's best since Phantom (up until now, that is). Love Never Dies is also set in America's Coney Island at the turn of the 20th Century, so it makes sense for the music to be stylistically similar to Sunset. A carnivalesque atmosphere permeates LND, but it's the expected love scenes that really stand out.
HERE BE SPOILERS. YE BE WARNED!!!
The gist of the story is that The Phantom (under the name Mr Y) has set up an attraction on Coney Island called Phantasma, where Meg Giry is the headline act (an ooh-la-la girl) under the watchful guidance of her mother, Madame Giry. It seems that Meg has been smitten by The Phantom after the events of the original and wants to impress him by being the showgirl she thinks he wants. The Phantom, however is still pining for Christine Daae - the woman who was trained to be the best soprano by him and ultimately chose Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny over The Phantom in the original musical's climatic scene. Christine, now married to Raoul and with a ten-year-old son Gustave has accepted an invitation to perform at Phantasma, strangely unaware that it is the Phantom enticing her back into his clutches. Christine and family travel to Coney Island, where it is revealed that her relationship with Raoul is struggling (likely because of the feelings she still holds for the Phantom) and that the Phantom and Christine shared a night of passion before Christine was married to Raoul. From here, it's not a long stretch to realise that Gustave is actually the Phantom's son, something which Raoul is blissfully unaware of. The situation comes to a head when the Phantom makes a deal with Raoul to pay off his gambling debts if he leaves before Christine sings. Raoul ultimately loses and Christine sings, leaving her to finally be the Phantom's prize. Everything would have ended nicely, except that Meg Giry, furious that Christine has returned to take away her fame (and affection from the Phantom), kidnaps Gustave and attempts to drown him. The Phantom rescues the boy, but Meg has found a gun and threatens to kill herself if the Phantom doesn't choose her. The Phantom talks Meg out of it but makes the mistake of saying (or singing) Christine's name, causing Meg to crack and shoot Christine. Christine dies, leaving the Phantom to care for his son. Phew! So, it's not a great story, but again - it's about the music!
"The Coney Island Waltz" sets the mood for the show and builds the tension inherent in revisiting these characters. The Phantom's first appearance in "Til I Hear You Sing" is breathtaking and is what sold the concept of the sequel to me. The revelationary "Beneath A Moonless Sky" is likely the most beautiful piece ALW has ever written, but is probably also the most likely to get the mire of Phans for it's suggestion that Christine and The Phantom consummated their affair. The first meeting of Christine, Meg, Madame Giry and Raoul is a clever waltz, "Dear Old Friends", that reminds of the orignal show's "Prima Donna". Gustave's meeting with the Phantom is an interesting rock-ballad "The Beauty Underneath" that parallels Christine's first meeting with the Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera". The "Entr'acte" is Lloyd Webber's orchestral sensibilities at their finest, really gearing excitement for the second act. "Devil Take The Hindmost" is my personal favourite from the new show and scores the deal between the Phantom and Raoul and sees the score at its most lyrical. The much-talked about aria the Phantom writes for Christine and is the dramatic highpoint of the show, "Love Never Dies" is indeed a showstopper and despite appearing in past Lloyd Webber productions feels comfortable here. The finale, "Please Miss Giry, I Want To Back..." has all the swells of a typical ALW finale, but brings together the tapestry of motifs created for the show. Overall it is a sumptuous is score and in time I think I'll like it more than The Phantom of the Opera.
In terms of it being a sequel, I feel the music is more about the parallels between this show and the original, rather than outright statements of previous themes. The motifs for "The Angel of Music" and "The Music of the Night" do reappear here, but they are highlighting dramatic moments, such as Gustave entering the Phantom's lair and Meg remembering Christine from long ago. An outright statement of the previous score comes right before "Love Never Dies", with Christine having once again to make a terrible choice between Raoul and the Phantom through song, much like "The Point of No Return" in the original. As I already suggested, "The Beauty Underneath" reflects Christine's first meeting with the Phantom in "The Phantom of the Opera", whereas "Til I Hear You Sing" offers similar chord progressions to "The Music of the Night". "Beneath A Moonless Sky" hints at "All I Ask of You", both musically and lyrically. "Heaven By The Sea" reminds the listener of "Masquerade" in the ensemble performace, whilst here instead of an opera within an opera we have Meg's vaudeville act "Bathing Beauty". It is the parallels to the previous score that remind me that it is a sequel, rather than the altered characters.
Ultimately, I find the score to be sublime and a nexus of Andrew Lloyd Webber's skills as an artist and this is what makes it a musical masterpiece. Will the show be a success? I don't know - the story is weak and screams out "soap-opera", but taking the merits of the music alone it should find some success. I do hope it comes to Australia, because I will gladly go and see it. I'll leave you with some footage of the London show to try and convince you to give the album a listen.