Love Never Dies
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lyrics by Glenn Slater, Book by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Ben Elton with Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth
Lord Lloyd Webber has always been strong on marketing and developing his musical brands so perhaps the major surprise is that he has taken so long to write a sequel to one of his earlier hits.
Since there is little doubt that Love Never Dies will prove lucrative, both in its own right and as a marketing tool for its progenitor The Phantom of the Opera, the only question is whether we can now expect Dogs or Herod the Hero to follow.
Love Never Dies has much to praise and a fair amount that does not come off so well. On the plus side, the design is so good that at times it can overshadow the show's main attractions.
Bob Crowley has mixed sensational, dreamlike computer graphics with more old fashioned props such as a haunting, centaur-pulled carriage; and magical illusions to create a Coney Island funfair and House of Horrors that is unforgettable.
The tale that this design so spectacularly embellishes is of old flames reigniting. Ramin Karimloo as The Phantom is given ample opportunity to exercise his powerful tonsils, while his leading lady, American import Sierra Boggess, gets her moment of glory, threatening any passing chandeliers while hitting the high notes in the title song.
Coney Island is the place to which the sadder, older Phantom has fled from Paris after losing the woman with whom he is still obsessed ten years later, Christine, to bitter Raoul, the handsome but profligate Viscomte, now played by Joseph Millson.
In an effort to replenish the lost family fortune, Christine agrees to play a gig at the funfair bringing hubby and their 10-year-old son Gustav along for the ride (pun intended).
There, they encounter not only the dreaded Phantom, who still fantasises wildly about his lost love, but other old friends too.
Liz Robertson's stony-faced Madame Giry and her lovely, intellectually-blonde daughter Meg have been keeping the show alive for a decade selling bland, end-of-the-pier variety, exemplified by a rip-off Salome seven veils song perhaps inspired by Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.
The daughter, the only character anything like fully drawn, is, for whatever reason, driven by a constant desire to please their never seen mentor and portrayed with spirit by the peppy, winning Summer Strallen
In true melodramatic style, predictable skeletons emerge from the cupboard, none anything like as interesting as the evening's best illusion from Scott Penrose, a woman with shapely human legs but a skeletal upper half.
All builds to a series of showdowns and a death scene so prolonged that it might rank an entry in next year's Guinness Book of Records.
It does not help a limp plot to have an evening of trite lyrics that seem written purely to rhyme rather than emphasise the beauty of what we see and hear, as not only is the design of the highest quality but much of the score shows variety and imagination.
While the title song may be sub-operatic, the three best tunes - Devil Take the Hindmost, The Beauty Underneath and Heaven by the Sea - are respectively Kurt Weill pastiche, heavy rock and musical standard.
So what to make of a flawed classic? On balance, for anyone that loves Lord LW and more particularly Phantom, this is a must see. That should also extend to musical fans who are not looking for too much intellectual stimulation. In other words, Love Never Dies is an inevitable hit that is bound to prove popular and triumphantly travel the globe in the wake of its Parisian parent.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher