|Sierra Boggess & Ramin Karimloo in Love Never Dies|
Review Round-up: Is Love Finest Since Phantom?
Date: 10 March 2010
Critics have now had their first glimpse of Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber's much-heralded follow-up to The Phantom of the Opera, which premiered at the Adelphi Theatre last night (9 March 2010, previews from 22 February), following two weeks of previews that have seen unprecedented levels of Internet chatroom and blog discussion and speculation (See Also Today's 1st Night Photos).
The story is set in 1907, ten years after the conclusion of the original story. The Phantom has escaped to New York with Madame and Meg Giry and found success in the fairgrounds of Coney Island as a magician and entertainer. When he builds a new opera house, he persuades his old ingenue Christine Daae, now a huge star and married to her old flame Raoul, to sing for him once more...
Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess star as the Phantom and Christine, and are joined in the principal cast by Joseph Millson (as Raoul), Liz Robertson (Madame Giry) and Summer Strallen (Meg Giry). Love Never Dies has lyrics by Glenn Slater and is directed by Jack O’Brien, designed by Bob Crowley and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell.
Overnight reviews - on both sides of the Atlantic - run the gamut of opinion, with little consensus in sight. Depending on your choice of critic, Lloyd Webber's latest is either a work of “genius” or an “also-ran to the prequel”. The score certainly fared better than the lyrics and libretto, with more than one critic labelling it musically “one of the composer's most seductive” to date. However, the multi-authored book was heavily criticised by some for its lack of “narrative tension”, while Glenn Slater's lyrics were deemed “clunky” or “serviceable” at best. However, on the positive side, there were at least two five-star raves and no shortage of claims that Love Never Dies is Lloyd Webber's “finest show” since Phantom itself.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (five stars) - “The first thing to say is: this is not just a sequel. The sensational score of Love Never Dies, jagged with yearning, throbbing with melancholy, purple with pain, is both a continuation and a development of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera music, not something manufactured to further exploit the most successful musical of all time. Phantom ‘phans’ and bloggers who have been bitterly pronouncing their rights in the original should instead be counting their lucky stars we have one genius at least in the British musical theatre who, virtually single-handed, is keeping the genre alive and creating new landmarks … Ramin Karimloo’s handsome young Phantom, half-masked in white still (yes, logically he should be older, but we can relax about this, folks, it’s a brand new musical, too) has re-visited his one-night tryst with Sierra Boggess’ ravishingly beautiful Christine 'Beneath a Moonless Sky' … Lloyd Webber has fashioned a deeply personal story once again of re-awakening his own talent.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) - “I must admit I attended Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-awaited sequel to his world-conquering Phantom of the Opera with a degree of trepidation… What I have no doubt about whatever is that this is Lloyd Webber’s finest show since the original Phantom, with a score blessed with superbly haunting melodies and a yearning romanticism that sent shivers racing down my spine… Jack O'Brien’s production … seems entirely in tune with Lloyd Webber’s vision, conjuring a world of bright electric lights and dark shadows, dancing girls and grotesque freaks, unbuttoned hedonism and hearts that have turned septic with jealousy and hatred… It seems extraordinary that it should have taken four hands to write the not especially complex book, among them Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, and Frederick Forsyth, while Glenn Slater’s lyrics strike me as serviceable rather than inspired. But the music is a constant pleasure.”
Paul Taylor in the Independent (five stars) - “The original musical agonised over the possibility of unconditional love in a relationship of beauty-and-the-beast opposites and mutual professional inspiration. Add a child to the equation and (depending on your view of this young character's artistic provenance) it all becomes more tortuously complex or emotionally bogus. What is in no doubt is the technical excellence of Jack O'Brien's seamlessly fluent, sumptuous (and sometimes subtle) production, or the splendour of the orchestra which pours forth Lloyd Webber's dark-hued, yearning melodies as if its life depended on them… In a sense, Lloyd Webber has become hoist by his own petard. Having over-petted the public, he is now being badly mauled by a section of it – the Phantom fanatics who feel that they own the original more than he does. On both counts (casting and the right to do what he likes with his own material), Lloyd Webber has, for once, the moral high ground here. Ramin Karimloo may not be a physically imposing enough presence as the Phantom, but his marvellously supple voice can run the gamut from a seductive guttural whisper to the full blare of frustrated passion.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) - “There is much to enjoy in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical. The score is one of the composer's most seductive. Bob Crowley's design and Jack O'Brien's direction have a beautiful kaleidoscopic fluidity. And the performances are good. The problems lie within the book, chiefly credited to Lloyd Webber himself and Ben Elton, which lacks the weight to support the imaginative superstructure… What the show lacks, in a nutshell, is narrative tension. For Christine, having discovered her employer's true identity, the big question is 'to sing or not to sing?'. The result is a foregone conclusion... At his very best – as in Joseph, Jeeves, The Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard – Lloyd Webber's melodic inventiveness matches the material; here you have a welter of great tunes in search of a strong story … Ramin Karimloo's Phantom may not have the tragic quality of Michael Crawford's prototype but that is hardly his fault: the character is now more a mildly disabled Kane (of the Wellesian variety) than a social pariah. Sierra Boggess also displays a strong, vibrant soprano as Christine.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (two stars) - “Oh, how time and a dismally implausible plot have altered him and his life… The blogosphere has been teeming with views of Lloyd Webber’s long-awaited Phantom II … The title song has pretty clunky lyrics, insisting as it variously does that love is all, endures, never fails, remains, drives you to despair 'yet forces you to feel more joy than you can bear'; but it undeniably soars… But then this Phantom is not the phantom we knew. The 'poisoned gargoyle who burns in hell' has clearly taken an anger management course in New York. True, he fills his eyrie with oddities, like the skeleton who pushes a cocktail trolley, but he’s very much the considerate gentleman, eager impresario and, soon, doting father... So where’s the tension in Ben Elton and Lloyd Webber’s book?… Where’s the menace, the horror, the psychological darkness? For that I recommend a trip to Her Majesty’s, not the Adelphi.” Ben Brantley in the New York Times - "Of course, bad advance word on the Internet has sometimes proved false. (Ever hear of Avatar?) And I would be delighted to tell you that’s what happened here, especially since Love Never Dies is scheduled for Broadway this fall. But how can I, when at every opportunity Mr. Lloyd Webber’s latest sets itself up to be knocked down? ... For starters, the title, with its promise of immortality, was just asking for trouble. And its breathless solemnity pervades the show’s every aspect. This production keeps such a straight face, it’s as if the slightest smile might crack it ... If this show could speed up and loosen up it might be (marginally) more amusing. As it is, only a couple of sequences are campy enough to elicit 'whoa, nelly' smiles ... Relax, I’m not going to tell you who dies (while gasping out a reprise of the title song). Why bother, when from beginning to end, Love Never Dies is its very own spoiler." Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - “Love Never Dies … is as slow to motor as a lawnmower at spring’s first cut... Finally, the singing and the ingenious staging combine to show the Lloyd Webber orchestration to its full glory, but, boy, it takes an age… The first scene is memorable only for an expensive backdrop of the Coney Island shore, with exaggerated perspective and projections of a horse dancing through smoke. There is repeated use of this technique: moving images thrown on to a gauze screen at the front of the stage. It may be clever but it has little to do with dramatic art and cannot compensate for the lack of solid storytelling… Sierra Boggess, as Christine, is the production’s great joy - its show saver. She has a soprano of porcelain precision and her scene 4 duet with ten-year-old Gustave (excellent Harry Child), brushed by harp, is the first of three quick songs which rescue the evening… So: a hit? Not quite. It is too much an also-ran to the prequel, and its opening is too stodgy. But if it is a miss, it is - like Christine - a noble miss, noble because Lloyd Webber’s increasingly operatic music tries to lift us to a higher plane.”
Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard (two stars) - “This companion to The Phantom of the Opera ... seems a strange venture, radically at odds with the spirit of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s earlier cult musical... The chief problem is the book... It lacks psychological plausibility. Worse, it lacks heart... There is also scarcely a moment of humour... Lloyd Webber’s score contains some compensating moments of mellifluous lushness, as well as grandiose flourishes and lashings of sentimentality... In the vocally demanding role of the Phantom, Ramin Karimloo wants a certain charisma. His burnished high baritone stretches impressively, yet physically he’s underwhelming. Meanwhile, as Christine, Sierra Boggess gets to display her silvery soprano voice, but her acting proves limited... The design, conceived by Bob Crowley, is a thing of lustrous opulence... As a spectacle, Love Never Dies impresses... Yet while Lloyd Webber’s music is at times lavishly operatic, the tone is uneven. There are no more than a couple of songs that promise to live in the memory, the duets don’t soar, and the ending is insipid. Admirers of Phantom are likely to be disappointed, and there’s not enough here to entice a new generation of fans.”
- by Theo Bosanquet
|My view is somewhere between great and dismal. Having only heard the music, it is certainly underwhelming, and Karimloo is too dull, and Boggess is a delight, but I'm still looking forward to seeing it in August. John, from Michigan - John||16 Mar 10|
|Having listened to the CD a few times now, I can honestly say that I believe this is one of ALW's greatest scores. These so called 'PHANS' really do need to get a life and stop all this silly 'blogging'. We should be proud of the fact that a British composer keeps raising the bar in musical theatre and ensuring new generations keep attending live theatre. - Andrew||15 Mar 10|
|I saw Love Never Dies and I quite agree with the comments on the production, its such a shame as Andrew Lloyd Webber had a long time to work out a good story line and had help from so many writers,maybe he just lost his way while writing it. - Frances Thomas||13 Mar 10|
|Thanks for printing pro & con reviews. Have heard some of the music. Look forward to seeinbg it in Oct. when I visit. Live in Atlanta, Ga. USA. - willie gaither||12 Mar 10|
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