Time Out London
March 18, 2010
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'Ten long years wasting my time on smoke and noise,' laments the half-masked hero in the much-anticipated sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera'. After enduring this interminable musical monstrosity, I knew just how he felt. With its sickening swirls of video imagery, pointless plot, and protracted, repetitive songs, 'Love Never Dies', directed by Jack O'Brien, is punishingly wearisome.
'Phantom' oozes overblown gothic romanticism; fatally, that's replaced by soapy banality in this mongrel creation, collectively by composer Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, Frederick Forsyth and lyricist Glenn Slater. The deformed denizen of the Paris Opéra (Ramin Karimloo) has relocated to Coney Island, where he's proprietor of fairground attraction Phantasma. But he's still mooning over soprano Christine Daaé (Sierra Boggess) with whom, 'Phantom' 'phans' will recall, he enjoyed a mist-wreathed encounter in a candlelit punt. So, using the pseudonym Mr Y, he summons her to become his new star-turn. This irks his current aspiring leading lady, ex-Opéra chorus girl Meg Giry (Summer Strallen), and her scary Mrs Danvers-esque mother (Liz Robertson). And when the truth of her new employer's identity dawns on Christine, her husband Raoul (Joseph Millson) - formerly dashing, now a boozy gambling addict - isn't pleased either, especially as it seems she and the Phantom made more than music back in that punt, throwing the paternity of Christine's son Gustave into doubt. Who will she choose - hubbie? Or Svengali?
As a dramatic linchpin, Christine's dilemma is inadequate - and as a character, she's a pallid sap. There's little Boggess can do, and though an accomplished singer she can be shrill. Karimloo has a huge vocal talent but a diminutive stage presence.
For all the hectic, garish CGI visuals, Bob Crowley's art deco sets are too sparse and sanitised to convey fairground thrills. And there are some weird aesthetic inconsistencies. Christine swishes about in turn-of-the-century silks and Strallen's perky Meg leads a leggy vaudevillian troupe; yet the Phantom's freakshow sidekicks look like refugees from 'The Rocky Horror Show'. Similarly, the act one finale sees Lloyd Webber's score, otherwise comprised of Richard Rodgers-esque waltzes and lachrymose opera-lite arias, take a ludicrous nosedive into guitar-bristling 1980s cock rock. It's an excruciating low-point in an extraordinarily ill-judged show. Ghastly.