After roughly two weeks of previews and two weeks of internet bickering it’s almost refreshing to scour the morning papers in search of constructive comment on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much discussed and long awaited sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera”. There’s plenty of it – constructive comment, that is – and the good news is that almost 100% of the critical fraternity have at last given Lloyd Webber his due and recognised that this is as gorgeous a score as he has yet given us – a score offering at least three potential standards – “Till I Hear You Sing”, “Look With Your Heart”, and “Once Upon Another Time” – not to mention the sumptuously subversive “Coney Island Waltz” and the now oh, so familiar title song delivered with dazzling accomplishment by the delectable Sierra Boggess. Yes, everybody has droned on about “The Beautiful Game” (are they unfamiliar with recycling? – Handel did it all the time), though fewer about the main title of “The Apartment” to which it bears a disturbing resemblance – but the point is that familiarity and recognition are precisely the feelings that Lloyd Webber wanted to engender at this point in the evening because this will be the last time that Christine will sing publicly for The Phantom. It’s a brilliant moment of dramatic and musical stagecraft, too, with the Adelphi revolve used to offer differing perspectives for Christine’s male and female rivals watching from the wings.
What reviewers haven’t really mentioned, though, is the intricacy of Lloyd Webber’s thematic interweaving, each of these strands carrying with them an emotional memory that teases and tugs (or should do) at our dramatic sensibilities. Many critics haven’t bought the story, the book of the show, complaining about the lack of tension in the mix. But that’s what the music does, that’s what a through-sung piece can do more readily than a traditional book-song musical. There is barely a line of sung recitative in this show that doesn’t derive from one of the thematic strands. It is easily Lloyd Webber’s most cogent and ambitious show and goes so much further than the original Phantom.
For me (and for The Independent’s Paul Taylor), the key dramatic element is the boy Gustave – and therein lies the heart of the show. The scene with The Phantom where mutual kinship is established is one of the most surprising and daring that Lloyd Webber has ever written. The precipitous switch from the boy’s haunting little song “Beautiful” into the bold, bad, and ugly, but pumpingly exciting “The Beauty Underneath” is I think pretty breathtaking in musical theatre terms and sets up precisely where this drama is going.
I don’t buy the lack of tension. What about that cracking duet between the rival men “Devil Take the Hindmost” at the beginning of the second act? Yes, the outcome might be predictable but that’s true of most musicals – it’s the intrigue and entertainment they put into play on the journey that really counts. The outcome of “Love Never Dies” may be predictable to some (though not to me) but what isn’t is the emotional punch it packs as the emotional legacy of all those motivic musical strands converge to a single purpose. You may not be aware of what’s happening but you sure as hell feel it. That’s if you’ve a shred of musicality.