He’s back! No – not the masked phantom who sought the music of the night, but Andrew Lloyd Webber who provided the music of many nights! In this, his return to the style as well as the topic of his most successful work in a career of successes, he also returns to the level of sophistication, complexity and interrelationships that made The Phantom of the Opera the longest running musical in both Broadway and London history.
Lloyd Webber also returns to composing truly effective music that carries lyrics of less than equal quality. This time it is Glenn Slater who provides lyrics that approach but do not reach the heft of the melodist’s work. They fall time and time again just shy of the level of polish that should be required.
True, Slater doesn’t repeat some of the most egregious examples of sloppiness of Charles Hart’s work on the original Phantom. At least the key word “opera” isn’t delivered as a two syllable word in one place and a three syllable phrase elsewhere.
But really! Look at this couplet:
How could you think I wouldn’t guess?
How could you think I wouldn’t know?
Do you have something to confess?
I want the truth right now, even so!
Not since Sunset Boulevard in 1993 has Lloyd Webber soared as high as he does here. “‘Till I Hear You Sing,” “Once Upon Another Time,” “The Coney Island Waltz” and the title song belong in any compilation of his best. That would have to be a very big compilation, but come to think of it, there have been many very big compilations of his outstanding work.
Slater, despite the above mentioned lack of polishing, reaches for big images and strong emotions very much in the style Hart pursued in the earlier Phantom work. As the lyricist for many of the Ringling Brothers, Barnum and Bailey Circuses as well as a childhood spent a short drive from Coney Island, he draws from a deep well of imagery that serves the fun-house/carnival setting of the sequel. At least it appears to serve it well. Without the benefit of a synopsis of any kind in the skimpy packaging of the standard release, it is somewhat difficult to judge. No printed lyrics are provided either, making it difficult at times to even know which character is singing which words.
The storyline does start out fairly clearly, however, and it is only as things get complex toward the ending that terminal confusion sets in. In the early going, it is quite easy to glean that the Phantom made good his escape from the angry mob in the bowels of the Paris Opera House. With the aid of Madame Giry and her daughter Meg, he escapes France all together and settles in, of all places, Coney Island, New York where he becomes a side show impresario and turns young Meg into a star. In the meantime, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny has married Christine Daaé and she has given birth to a son.
It isn’t until later that you learn that the son is the offspring of the one night of passion the Phantom ever knew. Now, with the boy approaching ten years old and the family wracked by Raoul’s debts, Christine has returned to the stage and receives an astonishingly high fee to travel to New York to make her American debut in — you guessed it — Coney Island. We’ll await a printed synopsis to venture a full explanation of the second half of the second act.
Despite the confusion, the recording is rich and sumptuous, capturing the lush orchestrations by David Cullen and Sir Lloyd Webber. The performances seem completely appropriate as far as can be told from only the audio half of the show. Sierra Boggess has a voice clear and clean enough to enrapture a Phantom, and Summer Strallen gets a slightly tawdry tone as a side show star. Joseph Millson seems to be overacting in the early going only to reveal more depth and subtlety when his character becomes clear as the Phantom’s rival, Raul.
Ramin Karimbloo is the new Phantom, and he’s thoroughly satisfying and even occasionally thrilling. His reprise of “‘Till I Hear You Sing” is a superb example of building a song to a stirring climax.