March 10, 2010
Ben Todd & Kate Glass
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Standing ovation shows love for Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom will never die... even if critics want to retitle sequel 'Paint Never Dries'
Andrew Lloyd Webber was in defiant form last night at the premiere of his Phantom Of The Opera sequel, which has come under fire from fans of the original.
So-called 'phans' have panned Love Never Dies after watching previews, a Facebook campaign has been set up to voice its animosty and a critic on one website said the show was so bad it should be retitled Paint Never Dries.
But 23 years after the first Phantom opened - and it's still running in the West End - excitement was as high as the celebrity turnout for the 'first night' at the Adelphi in London.
Love Never Dies is set ten years later, the boardwalks and amusement rides of New York's Coney Island the setting for a creepy spectacle fitted together with music ranging from opera to prog-rock.
Sierra Boggess plays Christine while Ramin Karimloo stars as the Phantom, who have previously played the roles in the original stage show. They are joined by Summer Strallen, who plays Meg Giry and who previously starred as Maria on stage in The Sound of Music.
The opening night audience wasn't disappointed. Lord Lloyd Webber took to the stage to a standing ovation after the show, blew a kiss to the crowd and kissed the cast. The professional critics were split down the middle.
Actor Gerard Butler who plays the Phantom in the film and singer Michael Ball who starred in the stage production also turned up for the opening night. During the interval, Lloyd Webber said the audience reaction had been 'great'.
Ben Elton, who worked with Lloyd Webber to finally bring the show to the stage after almost 20 years in the making, said he was 'thrilled.' 'It's a wonderful night in the theatre,' he said.
'I'm very pleased to have played a small part in what is a fabulous, fabulous show. 'I think the set was truly incredible and the music is sublime.' Sir David Frost, who went to see the original Phantom eight times, said Love Never Dies was 'terrific'.
He said: 'It has some of Andrew's greatest ever music.
'The great advantage is that even if it was half as successful as Phantom, it would still gross 1.5 billion and be a mega, mega hit anyway. I think the prospects are great.'
Cilla Black said it was an 'unbelievable' show. 'Everything was incredible - everything was in there,' she said.
'There's something there for everybody, especially the children with the unbelievable special effects and technology.
'I was in tears at the end, and I like happy endings.
'It's going to be a gigantic hit. In fact, I don't think this theatre is big enough for it. I would have thought it should have been in the London Palladium.' Lloyd-Webber will hope audience excitement and ticket sales eventually paper over the disappointing response from die-hard 'phans'.
Most irksome is without doubt the Facebook group called Love Should Die, set up as a platform to voice animosity.
Their mission statement reads: 'We feel strongly that Love Never Dies is a completely misguided venture that is a detriment to the story of the original The Phantom of the Opera novel and musical of the same name.
‘Virtually everything about the show strikes us as illogical, irrational, offensive and frankly stupid.' Another site labelled the show Paint Never Dries. Scott Matthewman, assistant editor of renowned theatre journal The Stage, was the first person to review the show, immediately after the first preview performance on February 22 - two days after the original preview show had been cancelled.
Using his Twitter account, he wrote simply: ‘Love Never Dies = S*** Never Flushes. Just Awful.’
As a result of their words, it appears 61-year-old Lloyd-Webber - who has a fortune estimated to be worth £750million - has turned against them.
He described them as ‘a sad culture' of people 'who live only by the old Phantom of the Opera'.
But as he arrived at the premiere last night, he refused to be drawn on the controversy. He said: 'I am looking forward to the show. It's great to have my family with me.'
He said the production was 'an expensive show' and revealed that producers will need to make £30million just to break even. However, he also revealed the show has now taken £10million in advance bookings.
Phantom Of The Opera, which premiered in 1986, has gone on to be the world’s most successful musical. To date, it has been seen by more than 100 million fans. It has generated around £3.3billion for Lord Lloyd-Webber's Really Useful Group.
Love Never Dies is set in 1907 Manhattan where the Phantom - now played by Karimloo - has escaped 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 (Boggess) now a huge star and married to her old flame Raoul, to sing for him once more. The production contains dreamlike fairground sequences of carousels and circus acts and became a rock opera at some points.
But there have been a series of huge setbacks in the build-up to the opening night. When he first announced the sequel in December 2008, Lord Lloyd-Webber said the show would premiere on three continents simultaneously – in London, New York and Shanghai.
However, by last October, when the date of the world premiere of the show was made public, plans had been scaled back to more traditional theatrical models. The show would open initially in London before Broadway followed soon after. Shanghai was then replaced by Australia.
The negativity surrounding the show comes after Lord Lloyd-Webber battled back to health. It was less than five months ago that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and immediately had surgery. In mid-January, he announced he had been given the all-clear. But that left him with less than two months to prepare for, arguably, his most important professional event since Phantom Of The Opera premiered more than 23 years before. Love may never die but West End shows will come perilously close to disaster unless they have some oompf and bongo — and preferably a decent tune — in the first 15 minutes.
Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to Phantom Of The Opera, is as slow to motor as a lawnmower at spring’s first cut.
It doesn’t really smoke into life until the 20th minute and even then it splutters for a while. Finally, the singing and the ingenious staging combine to show the Lloyd Webber orchestration to its full glory, but, boy, it takes an age.
The story makes assumptions. It assumes that theatregoers are familiar with the story of ‘Phantom’ and the love triangle between diva Christine Daaé, her handsome husband Raoul and the mysterious, masked Phantom (here played efficiently but, well, just a little facelessly by Ramin Karimloo).
It also assumes that we understand the attraction these two dullards have for the beautiful Christine. Could she do no better? That core justification — the romantic gubbins — is badly lacking. In the end you conclude that she simply seeks out suffering to improve her art. Last time Lloyd Webber fans saw the Phantom he narrowly escaped being lynched. Now he is a reclusive impresario (do such creatures exist?) in New York’s Coney Island.
He anonymously offers Christine a large fee to cross the Atlantic from France with hard-drinking Raoul (Joseph Millson) and her son Gustave. The first scene is memorable only for an expensive backdrop of the Coney Island shore, with exaggerated perspective and projections of a horse dancing through smoke.
There is repeated use of this technique: moving images thrown on to a gauze screen at the front of the stage. It may be clever but it has little to do with dramatic art and can not compensate for the lack of solid story-telling. There is altogether far too much bouncing about.
Sierra Boggess, as Christine, is the production’s great joy — its show saver. She has a soprano of porcelain precision and her scene 4 duet with 10-year-old Gustave (excellent Harry Child), brushed by harp, is the first of three quick songs which rescue the evening. We are left in no doubt about the bond between mother and son. Pity the same devotion is lacking between Christine and her lovers.
Spectacle is plentiful: Coney Island fair girls with vast peacock dresses, a quayside backdrop with ocean liners’ prows at fantastic angles, and a horror-movie style lair for the Phantom.
This has a tremendous chandelier of singing human heads with serpent hair, as well as a skeleton with stockinged, female legs. But still the thing lacks human connection.
The Entr’acte asserts Lloyd Webber at his most soupily sumptuous and the second half is far better. His music crests in a breaking chord when Christine is staring into her dressing-room mirror, trying to decide between her loves.
Then comes the show's biggest number: Christine on stage at the Phantom’s theatre, with Miss Boggess so back-lit that the downy hairs on her arms are accentuated.
The title song here may have been used before in The Beautiful Game but it claims its rightful place here.
The night ends with a death scene so long that it may only reignite the euthanasia debate.
So: a hit? Not quite. It is too much an also-ran to the prequel, and its opening is too stodgy. But if it is a miss, it is — like Christine — a noble miss, noble because Lloyd Webber’s increasingly operatic music tries to lift us to a higher plane