March 11, 2010
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Love may never die, but Andrew Lloyd Webber's eagerly awaited sequel to The Phantom of the Opera never flies, either. (The show opened at London's Adelphi Theatre; a Broadway production is scheduled to open on Nov. 11.) Already retitled ''Paint Never Dries'' in some online quarters, Love Never Dies inevitably invites comparisons with its predecessor, a global phenomenon that is still running in London after 24 years, remains the longest-running show in Broadway history, and has become the highest grossing entertainment of all time (outstripping even Titanic and Star Wars).
Love Never Dies picks up 10 years after the events of the first show. It finds the Phantom (Ramin Karimloo) relocated to Brooklyn's Coney Island, where he is now the impresario of an amusement park called Phantasma that he runs under the name Mr Y. You can only ask ''Why?'' as he laments aloud early on that he has spent ''ten long years living a mere façade of life/ten long years wasting my time on smoke and noise.'' It's tempting to apply the same verdict to Lloyd Webber's own long years spent trying to bring this frequently clunky and clumsy sequel to the stage.
While author Gaston Leroux's classic novel provided the plot for the earlier show, this time the source material is an inferior 1999 pulp novel by Frederick Forsyth, The Phantom of Manhattan. (Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton sharing top billing for the new show's book, with lyricist Glenn Slater also contributing.) The Phantom uses an assumed name to lure his beloved opera star Christine (Sierra Boggess, who starred in Broadway's The Little Mermaid) to appear in his Coney Island show. She arrives with her drunken husband, Raoul (Joseph Millson), and her 10-year-old son, Gustave (played by a rotating cast of boys) — much to the chagrin of the Phantom's very jealous aide-de-camp Madame Giry (Liz Robertson), whose daughter, Meg (Summer Strallen), is a budding singing star in the show.
In the process of recycling both characters and plots from the original, though, much of the Phantom's allure and essential mystery has been excised. He's demystified into a yearning, love-sick obsessive. His musical mastery has also largely deserted him: Instead of ''Music of the Night,'' we get a piercing succession of key changes through ''Til I Hear You Sing'' as he longs for Christine to be restored as his muse.
Lloyd Webber's score, too, seems like a rehashed parade of pastiche and throbbing crashing-chord melodies. The title song is a direct lift, note for note, of ''Our Kind of Love'' from Lloyd Webber's 2000 musical The Beautiful Game, while other numbers quote or invoke earlier scores by the composer, from Phantom to Whistle Down the Wind (like a bizarrely inappropriate rock number ''The Beauty Underneath'').
Lloyd Webber's score isn't the only element of the production that's unable to shake the ghosts of Phantoms past. Bob Crowley's garish, suggestive designs (augmented by video projections by Jon Driscoll) are no match for the sumptuously opulent theatricality of Maria Bjornson's work on the original.
The performers at least are up to the task — that is, within the confines of the characters they've been asked to animate. Of course, three of the five top-billed actors have performed the same role in productions of the original Phantom. Karimloo brings a full-voiced vigour to the Phantom, and Boggess offers a shimmering soprano that threatens to pierce the eardrums. Sadly, though, the show never manages to pierce the heart.