After years of rumours and rewrites, and months of anticipation, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new tale about the Phantom has finally opened in the West End.
Before attending one of the most speculated about West End openings in years, I participated in much discussion about whether you need to see The Phantom Of The Opera before taking in Lloyd Webber’s continuation of the story. The answer is no.
This is not the same Phantom, you see, that terrorised the Paris Opera House, bringing murder and misfortune to those who opposed him. This Phantom, 10 years later and living in the vast fairground of New York’s Coney Island, has matured and abandoned his psychopathic tendencies in favour of building a carnival empire and pining endlessly for the love he left behind in France, his protégé Christine.
After much plotting and money-making he has the funds to bring his favourite singing sensation across the Atlantic to perform a very special gig. Does she suspect anything when she receives the invitation to sing at Phantasma from the strange Mr Y? No, she needs the money as she is riddled with debt accrued by her now alcoholic husband Raoul. Of course, when she arrives with her 10-year-old son in tow, the classic love triangle is reformed, the current headline act – Christine’s old friend Meg Giry, who has spent the last decade desperately trying to win the Phantom’s affections – has her nose put out of joint, and everyone starts jostling for position.
Lloyd Webber has had a hard time living up to the success of Phantom, against which every one of his new musicals has been measured since its premiere in 1986. In Love Never Dies he hits those musical heights again with songs including the ballad of aching love ‘Til I Hear You Sing, with which the audience is introduced to Ramin Karimloo’s effortlessly rich tone as the masked antihero, and the title song, which showcases Sierra Boggess’s soaring, heartfelt vocals as Christine.
Among the big, swelling, ear-catching numbers that raised woops of enjoyment from the first night audience is lighter fare; songs like hymn to Coney Island Heaven By The Sea, and Meg Giry’s show number Bathing Beauty, in which Summer Strallen works her way through numerous costume changes, put one in mind of golden era musicals where everything was swell and there was never a threat from a masked madman.
While the gothic menace of subterranean Paris has gone, Bob Crowley’s set and Jon Driscoll’s projections combine to create another dystopian environment. Long dark piers and low moons create a noir feeling, exacerbated by distinctly hallucinogenic projections and given just a twist of the macabre by the Phantom’s new henchmen who could have stepped out of a Tim Burton film. Though the Phantom’s lair may no longer have enough lit candles to make a health and safety officer cry with panic, it now has more fun-inducing mechanical gizmos than a young boy’s bedroom.
With its striking design, a score that grows on me every time I hear it and much-loved and recognised characters, Love Never Dies is sure to make an impact on the West End stage. Will it emulate its predecessor’s success? Only time will tell, but that mask is as iconic as ever.