Love Never Dies

Officially reopened after chops and changes anonymously implemented by Bill Kenwright, Love Never Dies is very much a sequel to the original Phantom of the Opera, audiences expected to understand the love triangle of the original with little prompting – now seen ten years on.

As the Phantom, Ramin Karimloo‘s launch number, “‘Til I Hear You Sing”, haunts the first act, mainly as it comes from nowhere and disappears just as quickly, the remainder of Act One stuttering forwards without another notable tune for a lengthy spell. The musical plods forwards expectantly waiting for the touch paper to be lit; unfortunately, it never is – characters enter and exit, for apparently little reason, too often to deliver lines from a lightweight book.

The entire production is a visual feast, with New York’s Coney Island created beautifully with a mixture of huge sets, mystifying angled backdrops and stunning projection. However, the animated storytelling stretched between the proscenium never quite makes up for the lack of narrative or emotion delivered on stage.

Despite the tinkering, things still don’t quite mesh, but it is worth noting that the second act is far stronger than the first. It also provides a vehicle for impressive performances – the slowly revolving Sierra Boggess delivering the tremendous operatic aria and title tune, demonstrating that the ingredients of a formidable piece of musical theatre are in there somewhere.

Karimloo also impresses, delivering across the score’s forays into rockier territory and the more standard Phantom numbers and Summer Strallen delivers Meg’s vaudeville numbers with aplomb.

The real issue with Love Never Dies is that it lacks the emotional depth and driving narrative of its predecessor. A strong cast and a handful of memorable tunes don’t make up for a piece that still feels flawed.

– Andrew Girvan

Please Note: This FIVE-STAR review is from the production’s original opening night on 10 March 2010 at the Adelphi Theatre.

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.

For Love Never Dies is a romantic melodrama in a darker place even than the murky candlelit sewers under the Paris Opera. Ten years on, the Phantom has fled to Coney Island where his lavish art deco eyrie in the sky surveys the Sodom by the sea beneath, the sinister fairground literally conjured in Bob Crowley’s amazing design of whirling projections, gymnasts, a silver carriage, skeletons, freaks, bathing beauties and waltzers.

The still unnamed Phantom is atop this poisoned pleasure pile and has invited Christine Daae, now retired, to come and sing once more. His own music of the night has faded without her, and she returns with the now dissolute viscount Raoul (Joseph Millson), wrecked by gambling and drink, and a ten-year-old boy, Gustave; hovering in the wings, like Bette Davis playing Mrs Danvers, is Liz Robertson’s vengeful Mrs Giry, who helped the Phantom escape, hoping to establish her daughter Meg (gorgeous Summer Strallen) in his favour.

The key element is the child, who reveals the Phantom’s legacy as his own natural gift. His pure natal song “Beautiful”, initially distorted by the Phantom’s Dickensian trio of “helpers” (led by Niamh Perry, my preferred Nancy in the television contest), melds with his father’s – that’s the main revelation – pounding rock response “The Beauty Underneath”.

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”.

She goes on to sing the big operatic title song, pulverizing the hopes of Mme Giry and Meg and forcing the climax of confrontation expressed first in the brilliantly written quartet for the protagonists (“Devil Take the Hindmost”) and then resolved at the end of the mist-laden pier, with a plaintive child, an outbreak of madness and a fatal gunshot.

With director Jack O’Brien, lyricist Glenn Slater and co-librettist Ben Elton, Lloyd Webber has fashioned a deeply personal story once again of re-awakening his own talent, which in the Phantom’s case is an expression of sexual love, and meditating on the transmission of that talent from one generation to the next (from his own father, perhaps and onwards… to whom?). Expert musical supervision by Simon Lee, orchestrations by the ever crucial David Cullen, and lighting to die for by Paule Constable all contribute to this outstanding and heart-stopping occasion.

– Michael Coveney