March 10, 2010
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Sequels are always potentially dangerous ground, and this has certainly proved to be the case with Love Never Dies Andrew Lloyd Webber's follow-up to his most popular musical, The Phantom of the Opera, now at the Adelphi Theatre. The new show, directed by Jack O'Brien, turns out to be muddled and baffling, and full of moments of unintentional humor. It is also unlikely to satisfy existing Phantom fans nor attract new ones.
The story is set 10 years after the events of the original. The Phantom (Ramin Karimloo) has fled to America -- specifically to Coney Island, where surrounded by freaks and circus folk he has created his own Barnum-style attraction, Phantasma. Meg Giry (Summer Strallen) and Madame Giry (Liz Robertson) have accompanied him across the Atlantic and Meg is now topping the bill there nightly, desperately seeking his approval.
Without revealing his identity, the Phantom invites his former object of affection, the soprano Christine Daae (Sierra Boggess) to perform an aria he has written for her. Not surprisingly, she accepts, arriving with husband Raoul (Joseph Millson) and young son Gustave in tow. She needs the money, as Raoul is now a drunk with heavy gambling debts. Once more, she ends up caught between the two men, and the lack of suspense in who will win out is one of its most problematic elements: Christine's mind seems made up from the start.
Despite the contributions of four different people to the book -- Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton, as well as the lyricist Glenn Slater and the novelist Frederick Forsyth -- the dialogue is peppered with clunky exposition. As a stream of Vanderbilts and Astors spill off an ocean liner, a well-informed crowd member points out Christine and remarks that though she is still pitch-perfect, it's like "the flame has gone out or something." Later, much is made of the significance of little Gustave being 10 years old in case the slower members of the audience have failed to make the connection.
Musically, it's a mixed affair in every sense. There are rock numbers and music hall pastiches as well as the obligatory ballads. "Devil Take The Hindmost," the Phantom's showdown with Raoul, is suitably peppy, and the Phantom's first duet with Christine, "Beneath a Moonless Sky," is fairly powerful, although more for the strength of their joint vocals then for the song itself. Christine's big emotive number, "Love Never Dies" (which is partly recycled from an earlier Lloyd Webber/Elton collaboration, The Beautiful Game), is rather limp in comparison. Worst of all, hardly any of the music digs its way under your skin.
Karimloo has an impressive voice and a measure of stage presence, yet he comes across as more eccentric than menacing. Boggess has a lovely voice, as well, but her Christine never seems particularly conflicted or troubled by the situation she finds herself in. She seems most comfortable in her scenes with Gustave (the role is split between seven young actors; at the performance I saw he was played, with a strong sense of timing and considerable vocal skill, by Harry Child). Saddled with a sliver of a role as Raoul, Millson has little to do but look cross and slink off.
Bob Crowley's projection-heavy design veers from the effective and elegant, in the moon-lit prologue and a later bar scene, to the ridiculous. The Phantom's tower-top aerie is truly a sight to behold; it's a cross between a Bond villain's lair and the Addams Family's attic.