Amongst Lloyd Webber’s many other blockbuster musicals are Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Sunset Boulevard, Starlight Express, Aspects of Love, Whistle Down the Wind, The Beautiful Game and The Woman in White, his last new musical, which premiered in London in 2004.
His myriad awards include seven Tonys, seven Oliviers, three Grammys, a Golden Globe, an Oscar, two International Emmys, the Praemium Imperiale, the Richard Rodgers ward for Excellence in Musical Theatre and the Kennedy Centre Honor. He was knighted in 1992 and created an honorary life peer in 1997.
The following is an edited transcript of the video interview above...
What’s the story of Love Never Dies?
I have to be careful about what I say about this story because it has so many twists and I don’t want to give it away. But, what I can say is it’s set in America ten years roughly after the original The Phantom of the Opera and is set in Coney Island. Coney Island is a fantastic place – Sigmund Freud once described it as the ‘only reason to go to the United States.’ It was beyond anything that anybody had ever seen – the great eighth wonder of the world and it was the place where all the freaks and oddities went and of course the Phantom could be absorbed in there. Now, our story finds him ten years afterwards and he’s gone to Coney Island. He’s gone with Madame Giry, his old friend, he’s gone with Meg, her daughter, and he’s now the big mogul of Coney and is now running the whole place and that’s where our story starts.
Why did you decide to follow The Phantom of the Opera and why now?
I’ve often thought that we left the original The Phantom of the Opera with a little bit of a cliff hanger and I thought, well, why not to do a sequel to it at one point. It took a very long time coming. I mean quite frankly, I thought about it 15 years ago, perhaps a little bit more. At that time I’d come up with the idea about the Phantom going to America and I talked about it with Freddy Forsyth, the novelist who obviously wrote things like The Day of the Jackal – a very very successful and fine writer. We talked about it and we came up with a plot which he subsequently published as a little book called The Phantom of Manhattan but it just simply didn’t gel for me and I couldn’t find a way through it and it was left alone. The only one thing that I took away from the book would be this time the Phantom would live above everything and he shouldn’t live below like he did underneath the opera house. So, I abandoned it frankly and I forgot about it.
But, about three years ago I thought about it and came back and I thought ‘you know, there is the germ of an idea here’ and I worked on it again with a couple of writers and again it didn’t happen. But, I then worked with Ben Elton on a project and Ben who is a very very clever story teller said ‘you know what – this whole thing is really all cuckoo – you’ve got a fantastic basis this idea of him going to America, the idea of him perhaps going to Coney Island, it’s wonderful but you’re not developing all of the original characters, you’re not taking them with you, you’re putting in new characters and I’m going to do a plot which comes up with the original characters transported.’
So, we have all of the five: Raoul and Christine, Meg, Madam Giry and The Phantom. They all appear in our piece and there’s only one new character who’s a ten-year-old child of Christine and Raoul’s called Gustave and that’s what we came up with. Now, I’m not going to give the story away but Ben unlocked it. I’m very story driven and anybody who writes for musical theatre has to be very story driven and I couldn’t write it when the story wasn’t right. But the moment I had this outline, which was about just over 18 months ago, I was away and so the first thought was ‘who’d be a really great lyricist for this?’ Everyone had been telling me about Glenn Slater, who wrote the notes for The Little Mermaid and who’s written Sister Act now, and we clicked immediately so we got started.
Tell us about the two leads you have cast.
Our lead is the present Phantom in London who’s been playing it for a long time and has been a really popular and very sexy Phantom, I have to say, called Ramin Karimloo and he’s just great. We’ve just finished the recording of the complete album and it’s all done now, unusually for a show. Our other principal, Sierra Boggess, who played the Little Mermaid in New York, I’ve known for a while. She also played Christine as a young girl – well, she’s very young now – but she was only 21 when she played Christine in Vegas for me in the Las Vegas version of Phantom of the Opera. She’s a terrific actress and having just now recorded the whole thing and finished it I know they are an incredible fit. The passion that there is between the two of them, it’s almost unbearable at sometimes -- it’s so strong.
How will Love Never Dies roll out internationally?
Originally, we thought that we’d roll out Love Never Dies internationally very quickly, and in fact, we thought about doing three production at the same time. We drew back from that because I wasn’t absolutely certain that we could cast it sufficiently well immediately like that. I thought that we must get the initial cast completely right which is why we’ve got this unique thing of an album already recorded which contains our original cast and I don’t think that’s ever been done before. We are going to open in London in March, then in New York in November. All the plans now are pretty advanced for certainly the Far East, Canada is way on slate already and we hope that it will roll out around the world rather quicker than usual. But, it all depends on the cast.
Are you more excited or nervous about how Love Never Dies will be received?
Well, of course, I’m nervous – I’m following up my own biggest success and there’s no question about it. I mean, The Phantom of the Opera really is the biggest thing I’ve ever done – even bigger than Cats, which in itself I never thought we’d top it. This is a piece I’m very proud of, I have to say. I think it’s maybe more three-dimensional in terms of the characterization than the original piece was which really is a version of Beauty and the Beast with a bit of a twist. But, this one really does develop the characters in a way that I didn’t have the opportunity to do in the old one and therefore it was a very exciting thing for me to write musically. So, yes, of course I’m nervous about it but I’m very proud of it and I’m very, very much looking forward to seeing it on stage.
When you look at the phenomenon that is The Phantom of the Opera, did you ever have any idea that it would be so successful?
Well, I must say when I wrote Cats and Catsbecame the longest-running musical on Broadway, I thought I’ll never ever succeed in getting near this one, and then nobody thought The Phantom of the Opera was going to be quite what it was. I remember when it opened in London it wasn’t the favourite of the season in the sense that it was Chess the musical that everyone thought would be the absolute huge one that year. We came in as the sort of slight underdog and it just took off. I mean, I remember the first preview we knew we had something which was special, but we didn’t know that we had anything that would quite do this. We didn’t know that we were going to have people changing their name to Christen Daae by deed poll and the whole thing that went with it. I mean it was way before the internet, of course, and you begin to wonder when we had these fan clubs that grew up all over the world. Every single performance at one point they reviewed you begin to wonder what on earth would have happened if the Net had been around.
Anyway, yes, it’s a very tough act to follow and nobody ever thinks that the work they’re going to do could ever be bigger than the one they do before, especially if you’re lucky enough like I had to have such a huge thing as The Phantom of the Opera was.
What are your plans for the release of the album?
Although the album is completely finished and recorded, we’re going to issue a couple of songs from it before the show opens but I want to keep the album until the show is finally on and we know exactly what it is. But, it will be out and available I think within days of the opening which is somewhat unusual I know, but it’s all there, all done and we’re keeping it under wraps at the moment.
Tell us about the creative team you’ve brought together for Love Never Dies.
Well, as I said, the story was unlocked by Ben Elton who did a wonderful synopsis which is the reason I’m sitting here. Glenn Slater is my lyricist who I suppose is of the new young lyricists coming along, I mean, the most exciting I think. In fact, we’re going to be working together again on The Wizard of Oz, but that’s another story.
Our director is Jack O\'Brien, who of course is one of sort of America’s legendary Broadway names. I was incredibly impressed by the fact that he managed to come up with Hairspray, came up with his version of Il trittico by Puccini at the Metropolitan Opera House which is one of the most difficult operatic evenings to stage and Tom Stoppard’s The Coast of Utopia. In fact, it was through a friend of Stoppard’s that I came to him because Tom was so pleased with what he did. He’s been fantastic joy, great fun and has been a rock in pulling it all together.
We have Bob Crowley designing who is probably, I suppose, our foremost designer at the moment. One of the sadnesses about the whole thing is that Maria Bjornson, who designed the original The Phantom of the Opera, died very strangely and mysteriously very young only a few years ago. Of course, I did talk about the idea of the new Phantom of the Opera with Maria, but Bob was a very, very close friend of Maria’s, and in fact, was a little of a mentor to her and I think, that in a way, we all feel the production is dedicated to her.
Love Never Dies receives its world premiere on 9 March 2010 at the West End’s Adelphi Theatre, before opening on Broadway on 11 November 2010 and in Australia in 2011. The Phantom of the Opera opened on 9 October 1986 at the West End’s Her Majesty’s Theatre, where it’s currently booking until 27 February 2010, with Ramin Karimloo in the title role until 7 November 2009.
Whatsonstage.com’s full coverage from today’s Love Never Dies launch includes: