** May Contain Spoilers **
Many have approached this latest offering from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber with a lot of disdain. There are those who adore the original Phantom spectacle and curse Webber and the day he dreamed this show up. For his many critics (and there are many), they will view and/or listen to this and highlight its flaws and diminish the successes (not that there is no room for criticism of course, I am simply referring to those that take great pride in bashing Webber). After all, during the last couple of years, I had read and reread countless posts, blogs from many passionate detractors (including many "Phans") waiting for the chance for "Love Never Dies" to be released so they can pounce all over it and send it to theatre oblivion where it belongs while many others loudly thanked and elevated Webber's feline companion to near sainthood for accidently deleting this score from his masters computer a few years back. Hoping this would convince Webber to axe the idea once and for all (never underestimate the creative energy of a composer on a mission and in love with his work).
Well, to me, that is a shame as I have finally listened to the score and wasn't at all surprised on how much I loved it. Since I am a big fan of previous Webber scores; "Evita", Jesus Christ Superstar", "Phantom of the Opera", "Sunset Boulevard" and even his "Aspect of Love" which despite not being his best show had a lovely score, I knew that in typical Webber fashion, his latest musical would have at least one or two songs that will command my attention. I was not proven wrong. Overall, the music in "Love Never Dies", is sumptuous with the Phantom and Christine obviously having the best tunes of the bunch. I will state, that in comparing it to the original, the score is different. There are lesser moments of operatic grandeur. This should be expected from such a drastic change in setting, taking the action out of the Paris Opera House and placing it amidst the grittier spectacle of turn of the century Coney Island and unlike the original, the songs themselves are not as instantly catchy. It may take a few extra listens for you to appreciate the full beauty of some of these melodies. Some of the highlights include:
"The Coney Island Waltz" - Lovely instrumental track which opens the show. Not as instantly recognizable or as epic as the original's "Overture" but the melody and orchestrations are splendid.
"The Aerie" - A lovely instrumental track with lush orchestrations. The tune is brief but poignant and is reused in various other parts of the musical to great effect.
"Till I Hear You Sing" - An emotional ballad sung by the Phantom. Beautiful and melodic, the song is enriched by the gorgeous rich tones of Karimloo's powerful vocals.
"Look With Your Heart" - A charming ditty sung by Christine and her son Gustave.
"Beneath A Moonless Sky" and "Once Upon Another Time" - This entire scene between the Phantom and Christine during their first reunion is a powerful one (probably even more so on stage) and the songs are exquisitely sung by the 2 leads. The melodies, especially "Beneath a Moonless Sky" are haunting. Definitely one of Webber's loveliest tunes and a score highlight.
"The Beauty Underneath" - This song has had mixed reviews but I happen to love it. Yes, it sticks out like a sore thumb since the screeching guitars and drums differs from the romantic strings of previous songs, however, it works. The melody is quite infectious and the mix of the 2 voices, the Phantom and the young Gustave, is a great combination. The song also incorporates parts of "Beautiful", the previous track.
"Why Does She Love Me" - Great song. Showcases Raoul in all of his tormented glory.
"Devil Take the Hindmost" - A duet/confrontation between the 2 male leads leading up to a bet involving Christine.
"Love Never Dies"- Christine's aria written specifically for her by the Phantom is beautifully sung by Boggess.
Some of the score is reminiscent of "Sunset Boulevard" and "Jesus Christ Superstar" and despite some lack-luster numbers, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Many people are having issues with the lyrics but I do not see them as a problem. Let's remember that Charles Hart's lyrics of "Phantom" were hardly acclaimed and considered awful by many. If that musical works its mostly due to the success of Webber's music (and Harold Prince must be given credit here too) as it's the foundation that holds the entire piece together. When the fans listen to that cast recording time after time, whether it's the original London cast recording, the Canadian cast recording or the film soundtrack, it is not the spectacular visuals or the slick direction or production values that have them intrigued, it is the music and I think "Love Never Dies" will have the same effect on those undiscriminating listeners just wanting to listen to a haunting melody.
I was somewhat surprised at the drastic change in characters and unlike some reviewers, I find these changes refreshing. As much as I love "Phantom of the Opera", with the exception of the Phantom and that Grande Diva "La Carlotta", the characters were a bit bland. Everyone is practically in agreement that Raoul and Meg were boring and rather useless and although Christine herself was interesting in the sense that she sang the best tunes in the show (she was in practically every scene...well almost), she spends most of her time in a trance so there is not much range of emotion and she was far too naïve to excite any real sympathy. That was then, this is now as Raoul, Meg and Madame Giry have become rather selfish, loud and mysterious creatures. The complete opposites to how they were originally portrayed. Raoul's drastic transformation is believable in my opinion because, well, we didn't really get to know him in the original piece and a lot can happen in 10 years. The Giry womens' obsessive, rather unpleasant personalities is explained: the Phantom's everlasting love for Christine leads to what they see as the ultimate betrayal. These changes in character gives this musical a darker, grittier edge when compared to the softer brush strokes of the original. With that said, the 2 main characters remain the same overall. The Phantom remains as obsessive, as dangerous, as loving as ever while Christine, although more mature, still retains the charming characteristics of Ms. Daaé of a decade earlier.
The leads deliver on all fronts, at least on this recording. Ramin Karimloo (The Phantom) and Sierra Boggess (Christine) are fantastic in their roles with solid, gorgeous vocals, delivering just the right amount of emotion. Joseph Millson is also noteworthy for portraying the still unlikable but far more interesting-this-time around Raoul, Vicomte de Chagney. While Raoul was a cookie cutter pretty boy with no real personality the first time around, he is an embittered, angry-at-the-world failure here. Millson does a great job in capturing his complex personality while still managing to inject some likability into this damaged persona.
"Love Never Dies" works as both a sequel and as a standalone piece despite the drastic changes. Those enamored with the syrupy romance of the original may find plenty to dislike here as this tale deviates considerably from its predecessor and as previously mentioned, the stark changes in character personalities may be hard for some to swallow. The climax may also disappoint those expecting a more conventional ending. I have not seen the stage show (hopefully it will come to Canada) but listening to the music, I find this to be Webber's best since "Sunset Boulevard". Taking into account the setting, the music successfully captures the era and the love songs are ravishingly beautiful. The score may sound repetitious at times as some of the songs are repeated throughout. There are also brief moments in the score where melodies from Webber's original piece, "Little Lotte", "Twisted Every Way", are mixed in with the new, but there is no denying the beauty that permeates the score. When the Phantom burst into his songs and Christine beautifully sings her aria showcasing her delicate soprano, it all comes together to create a certain magic. The Phantoms return may not please all as is evidenced by some of the reviews but if you are accepting of it, you may find yourself surrendering to the music all over again. Recommended.