I’d like to talk about drama, and the stylistic choices involved in staging. Specifically I want to talk about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new-ish musical Love Never Dies, the And then what happened? follow-on for the 1986 musical Phantom of The Opera, wherein the main characters find themselves on American shores, drawn together one last time to resolve their stories and move on.
The musical itself received a huge mix of responses, some audiences saying it was just what they wanted, others calling that the sets be struck, the manuscripts burnt and Andrew Lloyd Webber hoisted from a yardarm. I’m not going to review the musical beyond saying I found it moving and enjoyed the score enough to listen to it well beyond last curtain. Admittedly the songs can’t hold a candle to the grandeur of Phantom of the Opera, and some of the plot points seem a bit contrived, but ultimately I’m a fan.
I want to talk specifically about the first onstage appearance of female lead Christine Daaé. As a character, Christine is first seen stepping from ship to carriage at a dock just outside Phantom’s new concert hall amusement park. She argues with now-husband Raoul and avoids paparazzi for a few moments before the scene is done.
But this isn’t the first appearance of the night for the actress who plays her. Roll the production back a few scenes, and we have a frenetic Phantom lamenting in his study that he will never be whole until he hears Christine sing once more. The directing makes the bold choice of including, amongst all the Phantom’s scrolls and trappings… a human-like mannequin of Christine Daaé, played by the actress herself.
When I first saw this I felt myself in minor uproar. This? This was the fashion in which Christine was to return to our stage? This was to be her grand entrance, standing lifeless and solid in the corner of a study, a mere prop? It seemed so insufficient, a throwaway dismissal that demeaned her character and cheapened her performance.
Given the distance of time however, the genius of such a move has started unfolding to me. When the audience look upon the Christine mannequin, they feel dejected and distant. They want her to flourish, dancing and singing and owning the stage just as they would expect her to, yet they are denied, forced to watch her emotionless, uncharacteristic silence.
This is exactly how the Phantom feels. Memories, curiosities and songs are not enough for him. He longs to hear and to hold the real Christine, and anything else is just a pale lifeless imitation. Both audience and Phantom are willing Christine into life, knowing full well that it will never be the same thing “till I hear you sing once more”.
To find something so drab and dejecting in a performance, then realise much later the near-genius intention behind it makes me feel simultaneously enthralled and ashamed, and leaves me in awe of a quality that I hope my own writing can one day emulate.
Like I said, I’m a fan.