March 10, 2010
Ben Todd, Katie Glass & Quentin Letts
Link to actual article
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