December 22, 2010
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First Night Review: Love Never Dies, at the Adelphi Theatre
I confess to being a Phantom virgin. What I know of the hit 1986 musical that made Andrew Lloyd Webber a few billion 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.
Not known for taking criticism lying down, Lloyd Webber has hit back. He recently closed the show to revise every aspect in an attempt to stem the tide of seats flipping up and tickets reportedly going for as little as £3.
But was it worth it? Would it have been better if, like Antarctic explorer Lawrence Oates, Lloyd Webber had admitted defeat and headed into the Arctic winter that now engulfs the Adelphi?
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. It also has little at stake to sustain it until well into the second half – long after the Phantom’s beloved Christine has been lured to his den in the fairground of Coney Island.
Lloyd Webber’s music fares better, but broods and toils with violins sighing and straining as it yearns to give the story a shove. Instead it merely heaves away, experimenting briefly with prog-rock. And all the stringy melodramatic romanticism merely proves it to be a musical out of time.
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.
Ramin Karimloo’s Phantom is a workmanlike monomaniac who takes himself too seriously and Joseph Millson as Raoul (his rival for Christine’s love) has a humourless prig for a part.
It’s Sierra Boggess’s Christine that saves the day, but only with the title number 15 minutes before the end. Her voice soars and her bosom swells, no doubt shattering glass in all the nearby bars. And she had me bellowing the song all the way home.
She is also affectingly devoted to her sweet little boy caught up in her tragic tug of love, but really it’s all too much hanging on too little. Will it survive? Perhaps in a smaller theatre.