‘Phans’ will rejoice, but most likely alone as this fails to match Phantom’s excellence.
Daniel Ross 2010-03-10
As the most anticipated musical of the millennium, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies is almost guaranteed a lukewarm reception. Being the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, the most successful musical of all time, tends to have that effect. Indeed, the ‘phans’ have already shown online support of what little they’ve been allowed to hear, but as the show takes up residence at the Adelphi there’s sure to be an increasing gulf between them and all other consumers. In truth, this cast recording inevitably falls somewhere in the middle of the two camps.
Immediately, the obvious plot asserts itself as a weaker aspect of Love Never Dies – even the title assures the audience that they’re unlikely to be too bleary-eyed as they leave. The action begins around ten years after Phantom, in Coney Island, where the Phantom (Ramin Karimloo) has risen to lead a freak show. Without divulging too much, the love he lost at the end of Phantom returns with her ghastly husband and all necessary plot twists (involving paternity issues, among others) are present, if rather hackneyed.
Lloyd Webber shows no musical progression since Phantom, and the emotional content is disappointingly broad and impersonal. There is not enough menace in the freak show sections, and the attempts at rock during The Beauty Underneath are laughably leaden (especially given the rollicking numbers that pepper Jesus Christ Superstar). Perhaps most damagingly, the female lead of Christine is underwritten and terminally fixated on the Phantom’s magnetism.
Memorably, this male dominance is accentuated by an entertaining display of bravado early in the second act as the Phantom and Christine’s husband trade insults in a bar, making the crucial female parts seem almost forgotten by the composer. Likewise, in the musical’s most memorable song, ‘Til I Hear You Sing, Karimloo’s performance is full-blooded, but the melodies are not as immediately recognisable as, say, The Music of the Night.
Themes from Phantom are reprised occasionally, with The Point of No Return featuring prominently – however, harking back to the original only highlights the inadequacies of the whole. Simply put, the songs aren’t there and the dark emotional milieu of the original has been lost in favour of confusion. It’s not as loveable and not as shattering in purely musical terms. That’s not to say that it’s without highlights, but it gives Lloyd Webber a problem: phans will rejoice, but most likely alone.