The Evening Standard

March 10, 2010

Henry Hitchings

Link to actual article


A guerrilla campaign against Love Never Dies began long before its first preview. This companion to The Phantom Of The Opera — billed as a stand-alone work, but manifestly a sequel — seems a strange venture, radically at odds with the spirit of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s earlier cult musical. Hence the firestorm of opprobrium.

Phantom may be the most commercially successful entertainment ever devised. Its aficionados are legion. Love Never Dies is both an attempt to mobilise them and a risky revival of motifs and characters that the original seemed decisively to have put to bed.


The action begins 10 years on from the end of Phantom. The scene is Coney Island, where the Phantasma attraction draws eager holidaymakers, who are intrigued by the reticent impresario behind it. 

This is the Phantom, of course, and despite his success he longs to be reunited with Christine, the singer he once spurred to celestial brilliance. He contrives a way of getting her to come over to new York to perform; she is accompanied by her husband Raoul and their son Gustave.


What follows is largely predictable — and flimsy. The chief problem is the book, which is the work of Lloyd Webber, Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth but above all Ben Elton. It lacks psychological plausibility. Worse, it lacks heart. There’s little pathos or emotional tension. There is also scarcely a moment of humour; earnestness is the keynote, Slater’s lyrics are prosaic, and the flickers of light relief are merely confusing. 

Lloyd Webber’s score contains some compensating moments of mellifluous lushness, as well as grandiose flourishes and lashings of sentimentality. Although there are echoes of Puccini, the main source of melodic inspiration is Lloyd Webber’s own oeuvre.  


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.


Joseph Milson can’t free himself from the exaggerated unpleasantness of the one-note role of Raoul, and other characters are similarly underdefined.

The design, conceived by Bob Crowley, is a thing of lustrous opulence, and Crowley is also responsible for the stylish costumes. There are gothic elements, enhanced by means of Jon Driscoll’s projections, and there’s even a nod to Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. 


As a spectacle, Love Never Dies impresses. Jack O’Brien’s production is aesthetically rich, if perhaps too moody and shadowy to be sure of reaching every corner of the auditorium. 


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.

 

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