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Love Never Dies (english review)

Rarely has there been such a hotly anticipated musical as “Love Never Dies”, the sequel to the theatrical phenomenon that is The Phantom Of The Opera. Ever since the first public airing of a song from it at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 50th birthday celebration gala at the Royal Albert Hall twelve years ago, “Phans” all over the world have been wondering whether this continuation of the Phantom story could come anywhere near the monumental success of the original. They have had a long wait: the musical was shelved at one point, lyricists and bookwriters have come and gone, and the aforementioned melody even found its way (with different lyrics) into The Beautiful Game (with Don Black’s title for it finding its way into Dracula) – before now finding its way back (with its third set of lyrics) into “Love Never Dies”.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s collaborators on „Love Never Dies“ are new to the Phantom story: gone are Charles Hart and Richard Stilgoe , with whom he wrote the original (though the odd snippet of their work from it does pop up here), and in comes Ben Elton (responsible – and I use that word advisedly – for the “book” of „We Will Rock You“), who has used elements of Frederick Forsyth’s novel The Phantom Of Manhattan (originally designed to be the story on which the musical would be based), and, with lyricist Glen Slater and the Lord himself (who completes the quartet credited with the book), and relocated the action to New York’s Coney Island ten years after the end of the first show.

“Love Never Dies” sees the Phantom (officially named “Mr Y”) opening an extravaganza titled “Phantasma” to complement and surpass the variety of other attractions on offer in this thriving entertainment centre of the 1900’s. He has been aided in his undertaking by Mme Giry – ballet mistress at the Paris Opera in the original Phantom – whose daughter, Meg, is the star of the show. But the Phantom’s obsession with Christine is as desperately felt as ever, and he arranges for her to be invited to appear at Phantasma to perform his latest masterpiece of an aria. Christine’s arrival wakens turbulent emotions and dramatic events, as various rivals now come face to face: Christine and Meg are the competing stars, Christine’s childhood sweetheart Raoul (now a drunken wreck) and the Phantom still vie with each other for her affections, and even Mme Giry finds that she has an unlikely challenger as the probable heir to all the Phantom has amassed.

As a story on its own this all holds up pretty well, though in many respects the characters and scenarios do not seem consistent with who and how they were ten years earlier. In Love Never Dies, the air of “mystery” that surrounded the Phantom is gone – we see Mme Giry, Meg and even servants charging in and out of his quarters with confidence and ease, a far cry from his Paris “lair” which few seemed able and prepared to enter. Mme Giry’s earlier restrained respect when speaking to the Phantom has given way to outspoken resentment when they now come face to face. And somehow Raoul has lost all of his former loving qualities and become a one-dimensional unprepossessing drunkard who makes one wonder why Christine has even stuck with him.

In „Love Never Dies“, narrative comes at the expense of character, with many lyrics providing exposition rather than highlighting personalities. So the Phantom and Christine’s opening duet simply recounts their last encounter – an important event in the light of ensuing events – rather than focusing on their emotions at this, powerful, moment. Glen Slater’s words thereby frequently come across as being, though effective, functional rather than inspired or even illuminating, and sometimes the overuse of a underwhelming lyrical hook – “Beneath A Moonless Sky”, “Devil Take The Hindmost” – ends up grating.

Much of the music does make up for this. There are some splendid numbers that will make any Lloyd Webber fan’s head brim with melodies on leaving the theatre. Stylistically it seems that the Lord has endeavoured to give most of the major tunes in the original Phantom a counterpart here. So the operatic counterpoint of Prima Donna becomes the glorious tongue-in-cheek quartet Dear Old Friend; like the title song in the original, there is a roaring, pulsating rock number that comes out of nowhere in this sequel (The Beauty Underneath); and motifs from that first score pop up throughout. As befits the new theatrical setting of Phantasma (as opposed to the Paris Opera House) jovial and catchy burlesque pastiches replace operatic interludes, which provides a new and successful musical colour.

“Love Never Dies” is pretty much through-composed, and although the audience is treated to some great numbers, many of the passages of recitative prove rather less inspired, especially the more narrative-driven numbers, with the opening of the second act suffering especially, with Raoul’s shallow lament “Why Does She Love Me?” being followed by the somewhat mechanical “Devil Take The Hindmost” (which is even reprised later).

Where „Love Never Dies“ unquestionably succeeds is in the performances. Ramin Karimloo sings and acts the role of the Phantom to perfection, investing all of his songs with emotion and meaning, and proving capable of singing with sonorous beauty as well as really “rocking it up” when required. Sierra Boggess as Christine possesses a beautiful soprano voice with which she conveys all of the passion and drama her role demands. Amongst the other parts Summer Strallen really shines as Meg Giry, who is given a more significant role in proceedings than in the original, and who gets to perform a multiple quick-change routine during her number “Bathing Beauty” that is sure to have the unexpecting theatregoer open-mouthed in amazement.

Jack O’Brien’s production and Bob Crowley’s design boast some fabulous set-pieces, especially in the Phantom’s quarters where he keeps his spectacular collection of magical curiosities. However, Love Never Dies lacks the atmosphere of the original Phantom; somehow, one never feels truly transported into the world it creates, and the very fact that it frequently tends to use such “set-pieces” rather than all-embracing sets sometimes means that one is seeing large areas of empty stage which obviously do not go a long way to bringing the various locations to light.

“Love Never Dies” certainly represents a return to form for Andrew Lloyd Webber after the less-than-impressive Woman In White. The book may not pack the emotional punch of „The Beautiful Game“ (his earlier collaboration with Ben Elton), but all-round it is probably his most impressive creation since his megamusicals of the 80’s and early 90’s. Therein lies the problem it will face. If this were anything other than a sequel to „The Phantom Of The Opera“, audiences would probably praise it as being Lloyd Webber’s best show since that piece. But because it sets itself up as being a Phantom continuation, they may just end up saying that it is not as good as the original.

Greg Wengrove

Theater: Shaftesbury Theatre, London
Besuchte Vorstellung: April 2010

Darsteller: Sierra Boggess, Ramin Karimloo, Susan Strallen
Regie / Musik: Jack O‘Brien / Andrew Lloyd Webber
Fotos: Jonathan Hordle / Rex Features