Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies was cruelly dubbed Paint Never Dries by hard-to-please fans of the original when the show opened in March of last year after much anticipation. Just months later, the press reported that tickets were selling for as little as £3 and the show was heading for disaster. No surprise then that the good Lord saw the need for a re-think, controversially closing the show for a few days over the Christmas period for some readjustments.
Noting the teething problems, I approached my visit to the Adelphi with mixed feelings; concern that this allegedly distinctly underwhelming follow-up would sent me running back to Her Majesty’s Theatre where the majestic original is still packing in the tourists, but on the other hand, I believed that Lloyd Webber was not foolish enough to put on a production to an original that is renowned worldwide if it was not up to scratch.
The rearranged show now begins with one of the big songs, ‘Til I Hear You Sing. There is no lead up, no introduction, just bam, there it was before you even had time to get comfortable in your seat. At first I found this confusing, it was like going to see The Sound of Music and starting with the Nazis rather than ending with them. Despite this conscious decision, I believe it worked, the orchestra effortlessly fill the theatre with a genuinely haunting feeling as we first see the Phantom, now ten years on, the hairs on the arms began to stand up … and as the show continued, it transpired there was far more emotive blackmail to come.
Many have asked where Love Never Dies is an accessible watch to the Phantom virgin and the answer is unquestionably yes, although the only difference to someone who has never met these characters before is that the content of the sequel will inevitably mean less. The plot is touching, rather than taxing for the brain: We meet Christine and Raul ten years on; they now have a son of the same age named Gustav. The family are captured on arrival in New York by the Phantasma Freaks (go with it ….) and are taken to Coney Island, a down at heel land of sleaze and mystery. The Phantom reappears to haunt Christine and demands he sings for her for one last time, whereas Raul insists he will leave Christine if she does. In addition, there is the added intrigue of the subplot consisting of Meg Giry, now a washed –up dancer for the Phantasma troupe, and her mother, still bitter ten years on that the Phantom fails to notice Meg’s talent.
Reading that back it is easy to see where all the criticism has come from with such a thin seeming plot that would seem to lack the depth of the original, and to an extent it does, but I would argue that it is the music that saves the show, unquestionable Lloyd Webber’s greatest achievement since the Phantom of 1986.
The set as well, is a delight with big projections, effortless acrobatics and impressive costumes creating a sense of life at Coney – these scenes are a feast for the eyes if nothing else. The moments in the first act, shared by Christine and Gustav are endearing, containing some heart warming moments, most notably, Look with Your Heart, just as she and the Phantom share some thrilling romantic arias.
In a peculiar role reversal, Love Never Dies encourages us to side with the Phantom as we see Raul’s character take on a darkness of the former Phantom in his dejected, drunken state. As the show draws to a climax, never have I seen so much tension injected to a title song, but Sierra Boggess’ talent makes it more than worth the wait. If the goose bumps haven’t come yet they will now.
In essence, I loved it, there’s no denying. It is obvious to see Love Never Dies is a show that has had a lot of money thrown as it to make it work but I believe after a nervy start this is a wonderful and genuinely spooky show that can run the course. It is a show with heart, intent and meaning, and after all, if the insipid tackiness of shows such as Dirty Dancing can still pack in the punters, why can’t this one?