A Haunting Performance
The ability to craft a musical as moving as Love Never Dies or its predecessor, The Phantom of the Opera, requires the skilled hands, mind, and soul of a true artist ... or two.
While the name Andrew Lloyd Webber is synonymous with brilliant musical theater, lyricist Glenn Slater should also be held in high regard as it’s his storytelling that helps bring Webber’s compositions to life in Love Never Dies. Fans of the predecessor can find out what comes next for The Phantom and Christine when Love Never Dies comes to Bass Concert Hall November 27 through December 2.
The pair also worked together on the musical School of Rock, for which they were nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score. Slater, a three-time Tony Award nominee and Grammy Award winner in his own right, clearly marvels at the musical brilliance of Webber. "He’s not like anybody else," explains Slater. "He’s not generally thinking in terms of pop hit moments. He’s generally thinking in terms of the big tapestry. How does this motif play out over the course of the story? And so very often he will have thought through an entire musical line that I’m not necessarily privy to when we start, but I go along for the ride."
Slater says he thinks The Phantom holds a special place in Webber’s heart and that he identifies with him. As such, he says Webber began devising the Love Never Dies story more than 30 years ago, not long after The Phantom of the Opera debuted. Slater says while it’s a continuation of the story, it’s not exactly a sequel as Love Never Dies was written to stand on its own and provides enough backstory to not require seeing The Phantom of the Opera first.
In their newest rendition, The Phantom (played by Bronson Norris Murphy) has found a new home amongst the side show freaks and human oddities living in New York’s Coney Island. Still in love with Christina Daae (Meghan Picerno), he lures her to the Big Apple.
"[Webber]'s retained a lot of that high European operatic tone, but also brought in the sounds of the new world. Musical. Burlesque. Things that are more reminiscent of Americans during that period," Salter explains. "There’s an evolution of the sound, while there is still a link to the earlier feel of Phantom."
Once Webber came up with the musical themes, Slater says it was his job to take the story and figure out how to pull it together through lyrics. The process took several years, and involved a lot of give and take and tweaking along the way.
"I would look at that moment and figure out how much story needs to be told musically within this moment, where does the movement peak emotionally, and how can I get that moment to peak at the same time as the music peaks," Slater says.
Occasionally, Slater would have to negotiate with Webber to adjust the music to fit lyrics into a specific section. He says when it came time to writing the lyrics for “Beneath a Moonless Sky,” which is the moment when The Phantom and Christine meet again for the first time in 10 years, he realized that the verse and chorus music Webber had written would need to be expanded to incorporate more backstory.
“To make it work, we had to pad it out. So, we now hear that verse and chorus several times,” he explains. "The music mutates and changes to match the story that they are telling and there’s a very definite high point to the story that the music has to rise to meet, so we worked that out together."
Slater has trouble picking a favorite piece in the musical, but says "'Til I Hear You Sing" is on the list. He says because of how it came together, he has a great feeling every time he hears it. “I wrote the lyric in two days. It just came pouring out," he remembers. "Just hearing this music, I was like, ‘I know who this man is I know what’s going through his mind,' and it was just one of those wonderful moments where everything comes together very quickly. I sent it off to [Webber] and heard back five minutes later, ‘We’re doing this, let’s go.'”
Slater says Love Never Dies is full of surprises, whether this musical is your introduction to Phantom or you are a long-time fan. "There are a lot of twists and turns that you don’t see coming, and the ending is just wildly over the top emotional," he explains. "Audiences are coming out with tears rolling down their cheeks saying, ‘That’s not what I expected.'"
You can explore the unexpected during Love Never Dies’ week-long Austin run. Tickets range from $30-$125 and are available here. Attendees should review Bass' new bag policy prior to heading to the theater. Find details and entrance requirements here.