The continuation of the story would take place in New York with the Phantom living in Manhattan. A documentary about Coney Island gave Lloyd Webber his setting, a place where the Phantom could hide-out among all the other freaks and sideshows in the famous New York fairground. Later on, a discussion with Frederick Forsyth led to the author developing the ideas into a novella called “The Phantom of Manhattan” which is more a sequel to Lloyd Webber’s show rather than a follow-up to Gaston Leroux’s original novel. Other projects, however, came along and Lloyd Webber kept the sequel on the backburner until about four years ago when he brought his friend and colleague Ben Elton on board. With input from lyricist Glenn Slater and director Jack O’Brien, it all gradually came together, the result being “Love Never Dies”.
With all these hands working on the piece, “Love Never Dies” still seems unsatisfactory. The book never really jells to become a credible narrative. Nobody has any motive for doing what they do. It’s not explained why, ten years on, the Phantom is in New York posing as ‘Mr Y’, why Christine, the “most celebrated opera singer of the century”, should leave Paris to sing in a Coney Island sideshow, except for the money, of course, why her husband Raoul the Vicomte is such a villainous drunkard, and why Christine has brought her son Gustave with her, the fatherhood of whom is in some doubt. The whole piece is unrelieved gloom and doom with very little humour to temper the darkness of the staging. Admittedly Scott Penrose’s special effects are quite remarkable while Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes, Jon Driscoll’s projections and Paule Constable’s lighting provide some stunning visual moments in their recreation of the Phantom’s Coney Island attraction called Phantasma. But even with all this going on, the actors have difficulty in bringing their characters to blazing life. With a dull book and just about serviceable lyrics the whole enterprise becomes totally uninvolving.
Ramin Karimloo’s Phantom is not frightening or even strange enough to make us shudder. The actor has a powerful voice capable of reaching long, high notes, but the amplification of the singers and the orchestra doesn’t produce a more dramatic effect – it’s just louder. Sierra Boggess as Christine shows her soprano voice has a good range and can cope with the demands of the composer’s heightened style of music but she is let down by the shortcomings of the book which rarely allow her to show any acting skill beyond looking surprised, shocked or horrified. Joseph Millson’s Raoul is virtually played all on one note, the only missing items being the moustaches he might well be twirling. Summer Strallen as Meg Giry who hopes to be the Phantom’s next star attraction, is wasted in a part that really has little going for it. Liz Robertson as her mother, Madame Giry, is a cross between Mrs Danvers of “Rebecca” fame and Hollywood actress Gale Sondergaard, lurking about as if she has come straight out of a 1940s’ film noir.
That brings us to the score which, for all its sound and fury, could have been written for a Hollywood blockbuster like “Titanic” or “Lawrence of Arabia”. In recent years Lloyd Webber’s stage-shows have come to resemble staged films with short scenes, through sung, to lushly soupy, bombastic music – just think of “Sunset Boulevard”, “Whistle Down the Wind”, “The Beautiful Game” and “The Woman in White”. In “Love Never Dies” the music doesn’t seem too original (the opening of Act two sounds like Puccini), although Lloyd Webber claims he has not repeated anything from ‘Phantom I’, which in a way is a case of ‘more’s the pity’. The big numbers such as ‘Till I Hear You Sing’, ‘Once Upon Another Time’ and the title song all sound like Lloyd Webber rewriting himself. Indeed the title song was in fact written for “The Beautiful Game” but then eventually dropped. Me? I came out whistling ‘With One Look’ from “Sunset Boulevard”.
“Love Never Dies” will have its followers, but it’s doubtful that it will be around in another twenty-five years, to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of “The Phantom of the Opera” which remains the better show.
- Love Never Dies continues at the Adelphi Theatre
- Monday to Saturday at 7.30 p.m.; matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30
- Tickets £25.00-£67.50 bookable on 0844 412 4651
- Love Never Dies