Review Round-up: Was it Love at Second Sight?
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, which received a decidedly mixed critical response when it premiered back in March, has been altered in several ways, most notably the opening - which now features a rendition of “Til I Hear You Sing” - and the addition of new dialogue and lyrics from Charles Hart. The changes will also affect the next year’s Toronto, Australia and Broadway productions.
The West End cast continues to be led by Ramin Karimloo as the eponymous masked man with Sierra Boggess as his muse Christine. 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.
- "Officially reopened after chops and changes anonymously implemented by Bill Kenwright, this is very much a sequel to the original Phantom, audiences expected to understand the love triangle of the original with little prompting - now seen ten years on … The entire musical, particularly the first half, plods forwards expectantly waiting for the touch paper to be lit, unfortunately it never is - characters enter and exit apparently for little or no reason, too often to deliver lines from the lightweight book … This is still a musical which does not quite mesh, but it is worth noting the second act is far stronger than the first … The real issue with this Phantom follow up is that it lacks the emotional depth and driving narrative of its predecessor. A strong cast and the musical's small number of memorable tunes do not make up for a piece which still feels flawed.”
“I sometimes suspect that, even if Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a work as brilliant as La Bohème, Guys and Dolls or West Side Story, he would still get a good kicking in some quarters. He seems to inspire largely unwarranted dislike and resentment, and this has been particularly the case with Love Never Dies … As I reported in March when the show first opened, this is easily Lloyd Webber’s best musical since the original Phantom back in 1986 … The changes clarify the narrative, and, instead of a slow-burn opening burdened with great chunks of back-story, the piece now starts with the Phantom, the chap we have after all come to see, delivering one of the show’s finest songs, ‘Til I Hear You Sing’ … I loved all this the first time around … And, once again, the shivers raced down my spine as the weirdness starts to plumb tragic depths … Scoffers and sceptics, however, are unlikely to be converted. This is still essentially the same show, albeit tightened and tidied up.”
“The positive news is that this rather lachrymose companion to The Phantom of the Opera is now more fluid and coherent, as well as more emotionally satisfying. But it is still repetitious, lacks real suspense and suffers from the fact that several key characters feel one-dimensional … The show is credited to Jack O’Brien, but it is new choreographer Bill Deamer and producer Bill Kenwright who have added the zest. The result is a more atmospheric production that does justice to Bob Crowley’s flamboyant, largely gothic designs and Jon Driscoll’s dreamlike projections … We are plunged much sooner than before into the emotional tussle between the Phantom, his erstwhile love Christine (a touching Sierra Boggess, on luminous vocal form), her brittle husband Raoul and their young son Gustave. We sense more viscerally the contest for Christine’s affections. And while the lushly operatic music at times sounds synthetic, it often soars. Yet the relationship between the new work and the beloved old one proves problematic.”
"Kenwright's tweaks have given both added focus and added dramatic tension to the show. Gone is the distracting opening with a sub-plot seeming to dominate proceedings, and we are thrown straight in to the coming together of the two principals, the Phantom and his beloved Christine … Kenwright seems to have brought a more intimate, even claustrophobic feel to the drama, which is not only deeply romantic but both scary and haunting. The principals shine, Ramin Karimloo a threatening and unpredictable Phantom, Sierra Boggess, a troubled Christine who makes the title song a showstopper, and Joseph Millson, bruising and bruised as her drunken husband. Lloyd Webber's score is one of his best, not just in the romantic sweep of the title song and at least one other, but in the range of musical styles … It's a good musical that has got better and rewards a second viewing.”
"I confess to being a Phantom virgin. What I know of the hit 1986 musical … I absorbed from clips of the film and hit songs. Of the sequel, Love Never Dies, I knew nothing except that someone dubbed it Paint Never Dries when it opened in March this year to a resounding critical whimper … The story devised by Frederic Forsyth, Ben Elton and Lloyd Webber himself came in for a lot of flak first time round, but on last night’s showing it remains phantasmic: exhale too deeply and it’ll fall over. Alright, musicals are licensed to be flimsy, but this one’s got no real oomph to get it going … Lloyd Webber’s music fares better, but broods and toils with violins sighing and straining as it yearns to give the story a shove … Of course it helps that Bob Crowley’s design is a ravishing Art Deco vision of New York. But whatever changes Bill Kenright is said to have made to Jack O’Brien’s direction haven’t had much effect … It’s Sierra Boggess’ Christine that saves the day, but only with the title number 15 minutes before the end.”