Love Never Dies: The return of The Phantom

Twenty-four years after his first outing, The Phantom is back in Andrew LLoyd Webber’s latest musical, Love Never Dies. Fresh from its world premiere in London’s West End, Sarah Hiscock reports on the man behind the mask…

Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess as The Phantom and Christine Daaé

It’s very easy to pour scorn on Lord Lloyd Webber. Many argue that his recent
deluge of find-a-star TV shows – including The
Sound of Music
, Oliver and soon-to-be
Wizard of Oz – has transformed the
West End into nothing more than a reality experiment, albeit a profitable one.
However, let’s not forget that this is the man who brought us shows such as Joseph,
Sunset Boulevard and The Phantom of the Opera. The latter has
gone on to become the world’s most successful musical, awards aplenty and still
playing to packed houses in the West End after 24 years.

such, eyebrows were raised among critics, the die-hard ‘phan’ base and myself
(who grew up listening to the original cast recording on my grandparents record
player) when Lloyd Webber announced he would be writing a sequel. And produce a
sequel he has. Love Never Dies had
its world premiere at the Adelphi Theatre last night. However, while just
streets away at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Haymarket, The Phantom is an elusive,
terrifying figure, a musical genius with psychotic tendencies who kidnaps, kills and
brings chandeliers crashing to the ground, here at the Adelphi he has gone
public, fled the confines of the Paris Opera House and is now ‘Mr Y’, the rich impresario
owner of a Coney Island pleasure ground. It does require a certain suspension
of disbelief but granted this is ten years in the future, and the sideshow of
‘freaks’ does seem a plausible new home for our anti-hero.

thing that has not diminished with time is The Phantom’s love for Christine, and
in his first number, ‘Til I Hear You Sing
, Ramin Karimloo’s heart-stirring performance demonstrates both menace
and vulnerability, perfectly capturing his desperation for his past songbird.
This forms the premise of the show, which sees Christine, lured to
Phantasma by a mysterious
employer, along with her now embittered husband, Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny
– an intelligent performance by Joseph Millson – and son, Gustave.

Summer Strallen (far right) as Meg Giry

There wasn’t quite the dramatic reunion I was hoping
for when Christine finally discovers the identity of her employer but it does
lead to, in my opinion, one of the best musical numbers of the night, Beneath a Moonless Sky, during which we
discover that The Phantom and Christine did in fact share one night together
back in Paris. Bursting with breathy tension this is Lloyd Webber at his best,
perhaps only topped by the title number, which almost had me out of my seat for
Sierra Boggess.

Also well worth a mention is Summer Strallen who
takes the character of Meg Giry from a young backing dancer in the original
Phantom, to vaudeville lead, whose desperation for her master’s approval proves
the show’s denouement.

With only the briefest of musical references to the
original, the score isn’t as full of instant classics, and yes, the narrative
could be much stronger – with four people credited for the book, blame this on
the fact it was written by committee (including Ben Elton). The staging will
always be compared to
Maria Björnson’s original production design, no misty catacomb boat trips I’m afraid.
However, allow yourself to get lost in Love
Never Dies
and you will be rewarded. Its creative team is second to none
and moments such as the clever creation of Coney Island, with Jon Driscoll’s
projected carousel horses leaping through the air to the strains of Lloyd Webber’s
haunting Coney Island Waltz is just magical and will remain in your memory long
after the curtain falls.

Without doubt Lloyd Webber’s finest piece of work since the original Phantom. Thank the lord. 

Love Never Dies, Strand, London WC2. Tel: 0844 412 4651;