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NewsOK (Oklahoma News)

June 22, 2012

Brandy McDonnell

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Blu-ray Review: Love Never Dies

Andrew Lloyd Webber proves that unnecessary sequels aren't just for movies anymore with “Love Never Dies,” his woefully undesirable follow-up to his theatrical smash “Phantom of the Opera.”

The critically derided sequel lasted less than 18 months on London's West End and never made it to Broadway. But a revised Australian production played last year at Melbourne's Regent Theatre and was recorded for a limited run in movie theaters and subsequent Blu-ray release. Except for Gabriela Tylesova's striking set and costume designs, though, the rich high-definition picture and crisp Dolby Digital sound are largely wasted on “Love Never Dies.” (Not surprisingly, the fluffy 15-minute making-of featurette glosses over the musical's troubled history.)

Remember the sense of mystery, wonder and redemption that came with the ending of “Phantom of the Opera”? If you're going to bother with “Love Never Dies,” you'd best set those feelings aside before the sequel obliterates them for you. The long-percolating follow-up, which Lloyd Webber reportedly has been pondering since 1990, manages to muss with the original's timeline and more importantly with its familiar characters while still coming off as a been-there-done-that retread.

A decade after an angry mob stormed Paris' Opera Populaire, the enigmatic Phantom (Ben Lewis) resurfaces in turn-of-the-20th-century Coney Island, where he escaped with the help of choreographer Madame Giry (Maria Mercedes) and her dancer daughter Meg (Sharon Millerchip). He now runs a colorful sideshow called “Phantasma” with Madame Giry acting as producer and Meg starring as the “ooh la la girl” who dreams of greater fame. Although he has found a place he can belong among the Coney Island freak shows, the Phantom still longs for his muse, the stunning soprano Christine Daae (Anna O'Byrne).

Christine hasn't made much music in the intervening years, focusing instead on raising her 10-year-old son Gustave (Jack Lyall). But her once-gallant suitor Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Simon Gleeson), has morphed into a drunken gambler of a husband whose mounting debts have left them in financial dire straits. Christine accepts a high-paying invitation to make her American debut in Manhattan, but when the family arrives in New York, a trio of the Phantom's freaks whisks them to Coney Island instead. From there, not even a steady stream of garish oddities and vintage bawdy humor can spice up the predictable plot, although the two-hour snoozefest gives the shocker ending extra oomph. Christine, who hasn't managed to grow a backbone in the past 10 years, again gets caught in a love triangle between the much-changed Raoul and the Phantom, who has been downgraded from menacing to petulant. Before you convince yourself that Gustave's age is just a coincidence, let me dash your hopes and confirm that part of the storyline has been cribbed straight from Maury Povich, only without the DNA testing.

As the record-setting success of the original “Phantom” proved, show-stopping songs can cover a multitude of story sins. Although “The Coney Island Waltz” evocatively sets the scene while “Dear Old Friend” and “Devil Take the Hindmost” briefly ramp up the conflict, “Love Never Dies” never produces a number even a fraction as memorable as “The Music of the Night” or “Masquerade.”

Creating a worthy sequel to an iconic hit is never an easy task, and “Love Never Dies” fails to fit the bill.

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