Whether you see them together or not, just don’t refer to the new musical as a sequel. Press materials released today don’t and, in the media-only briefings that followed the industry launch, Andrew Lloyd Webber made the point himself: “I don’t regard this as a sequel, I regard it as a completely standalone piece,” he said. “If you hadn’t seen the original, you wouldn’t think twice.”
Starting with story
The composer told journalists that the only reason he wanted to do Love Never Dies is because “it’s a fantastic story” and one that picks up on “the unfinished business” created by Phantom’s “enigmatic” ending. “With everything that I’ve done that’s really worked in musical theatre, it’s the story that’s driven it. It’s the story that drove this.”
Love Never Dies is set in 1907, ten years after the conclusion of the original, and the Phantom, using the name Mr Y, is now living and thriving amongst the other “abhorrent freaks” on New York’s Coney Island, to where he’s escaped with Madame and Meg Giry. He persuades his old ingenue Christine Daae, now a huge star and married to her old flame Raoul, with whom she has ten-year-old son named Gustave, to sing for him once more.
No one was giving much more plot detail away today, though director Jack O\'Brien promised that “you’re going to be amazed” by the exceedingly “good yarn” that has a “really interesting, unbelievably unforeseeable turn of events”. According to O’Brien, it is a “very considered piece” that has benefitted from a necessarily “long gestation period” - some 17 years since the initial idea, with the past three years in intense development, including nine weeks of workshops. Because “we’re playing with people’s memories that are sacrosanct” and that everyone is “going to be listening astutely ... we can’t be cavalier with this story.”
O’Brien likens Lloyd Webber’s sung-through score to operas by Mozart, Puccini or Verdi. It’s “glorious music that no one else seems to be writing” these days, he said. “I think people are hungry for a nice big steak, we’ve been nibbling at cocktail napkins for awhile.”
American Sierra Boggess, who as Christine Daae sings the title song, an aria written especially for her, describes the music as “incredibly passionate. Every fibre of passion that man (Lloyd Webber) has in his body is in this score”.
Apart from a few motifs, the music for Love Never Dies does not repeat anything The Phantom of the Opera. For his part, having tested the complete score in the recording studio for the concept album which will be launch on 10 March 2010, a day after the world premiere, Lloyd Webber said today: “I’m very happy that it stands as a piece of music. The challenge now is to realise it in the theatre.”
Boggess and Ramin Karimloo will lead the 33-strong cast in the premiere production, joined by Summer Strallen as Meg Giry. The other principals – Madame Giry and Raoul, as well as a rotation of boys to play Gustave – have yet to be announced.
Both Boggess and Karimloo are already well acquainted with their characters. Karimloo has been playing the Phantom for two year at Her Majesty’s, where he continues in the role until 7 November (and prior to that, he play Raoul for four years). Boggess was hand-picked by Lloyd Webber to play Christine in the Las Vegas production of The Phantom of the Opera.
“We’re both very excited and very grateful for this opportunity to recreate such iconic figures in musical theatre,” Karimloo said today. Boggess added: “Everybody loves the Phantom and Christine, everybody’s rooting for the Phantom and Christine.”
While in The Phantom of the Opera, the title character is only on stage for just over 40 minutes, the role’s requirement in Love Never Dies is “a lot more demanding”, said Karimloo, and the “hardest thing I’m ever going to sing”. There are some constants, however. The Phantom will still sport a mask. “His deformity didn’t go away!” Boggess told the press.
Despite having to tackle such “daunting” and “vocally punishing” as well as iconic roles, neither performer appeared too worried today. “There isn’t much to be nervous about: we’re ready!” Boggess declared.
Global launch revisions
Had Lloyd Webber been able to clone the confident Boggess, his initial plan to launch Love Never Dies simultaneously may even have been possible. Today, he admitted: “It didn’t work because we didn’t have the cast. Your first casting is so crucial. We didn’t want to take the risk.”
On the same three-pronged launch notion, O’Brien laughed: “You know what, it was nuts ... a ridiculous idea”. After trying to make it work, “we said, wait a minute, why are we hurting ourselves? Wouldn’t it be better to just to get it right now and then move it on gently?” Instead of all at once, the Broadway opening will follow on 11 November 2010 – possibly with Boggess and Karimloo, who are “in negotiations” for the transfer – and then Australia and other territories.
Rehearsals for the London production begin on 4 January 2010, ahead of previews scheduled from 20 February. Tickets are on sale from today.
Whatsonstage.com’s full coverage from today’s Love Never Dies launch includes: