It’s not everyday a show in the West End closes for a week, gets Bill Kenwright in to do some re-directing on a re-structured and re-worked musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and then invites critics to re-review, but then again Love Never Dies is no ordinary musical. As the sequel to the Olivier and Tony Award winning Phantom of the Opera, Webbers 1988 musical of love, music and a man concealed behind the now iconic half white mask, Love Never Dies is set some 10 years later in Coney Island in an entertainment complex known as Phantasma.
Sadly I was unable to witness the ‘original’ version of the show before the re-work, so this review is based upon a first eye look at Webber’s latest musical, and I have to say, I was disappointed. The original love and emotion found in Phantom, is replaced with an elongated plot, stretched thinly on Christine Daae’s appearance in New York to sing in a Hammerstein show before being propositioned into performing at Coney Island by The Phantom in a song especially written for her. The trials and tribulations of show life, lost love, jealousy and ‘who is the father’ fills the remaining space of the musical.
The first half acts as the setting up of places, times and situations, through some outstanding projection work that fills the proscenium-arch of The Adelphi Theatre. I only wish that the songs, and story could tell the shift in locations rather than the hefty use of projections which act more as a pushing forward of the plot than a visual delight as it should be. Thankfully there is much to be admired in Webber’s use of orchestral music that flows throughout the show – soaring and acting as an emotional force for the piece. At least that’s one thing that is right about the show – too often sloppy orchestrations bring down the best of musicals.
Bob Crawley’s other-worldly set designs mirror that of the orchestrations in their grandeur with gothic structures and statues looming over the cast. Crawley’s staging also allows for some splendid visual moments such as a chandelier of heads moving and singing along with the music during one tripy episode. Visually you can see where the money has been spent, but this alone can not make up for Webber’s distinctive dead story, much like its cast towards the end, lifeless and still.
Thankfully if there is one thing that Love Never Dies does boast is a formidably talented cast whose singing and (although little) acting rises above some of the shows faults. As the angelic Christine Daae, Sierra Boggess is outstanding in her delivery of the shows title song, Love Never Dies, her vocal range extends beautifully and with such power and emotion that you are left breathless for a moment. Boggess truly shines in the song that is clearly meant to lift to character of Daae to dizzy new heights. As The Phantom, Ramin Karimloo is hauntingly racked with emotion, and effortlessly commands the stage throughout. His Till I Hear You Sing which now features at the beginning of the show is wonderfully performed and yes, Webber, is a winner. Not so forthcoming is Gustave’s injections of Beautiful, it’s not that the child actor is poor by a long shot, it’s rather the repetition of “You’re Beautiful” becomes a little waring and yes, if The Phantom doesn’t haunt my dreams then by god that boy will do. “You’re Beautiful” – and so is the ability to learn how much to use a childs voice in songs Mr Webber.
Whilst Love Never Dies features a strong cast and imaginative visuals, it does not bring about anything of Webber’s previous back categelogue that he has become known for. With an obvious plot, little dramatic tension, and an ending that lacks any real emotion, Love Never Dies sadly does die for me and so has a part of my appreciation of what a new musical should bring to the West End. Film sequels rarely live up to their originals, and with musicals, it’s just a no-go area, despite what money and talent you can throw into it.
Love Never Dies is playing at the Adelphi Theatre and is currently booking until the 28th May 2011. For more information and to book tickets, see the official Love Never Dies website.