We’ve had the bitter blogs, the Lord’s rebukes and hysterical Phans. We’ve had the angst over reviewing before the opening night, the power of bloggers to bring down a show, the puns, the clogged forums and the slightly desperate clamour of the press to seek out a good old-fashioned theatrical disaster story.
And now, following tonight’s glittering first night at the Adelphi Theatre, the national newspaper critics give us their thoughts on Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s latest musical, Love Never Dies.
The Telegraph ★★★★
The Guardian ★★★
The Independent ★★★★★
The Times ★★
GU: There is much to enjoy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical…. the problems lie within the book, chiefly credited to Lloyd Webber himself and Ben Elton, which lacks the weight to support the imaginative superstructure.
IN: [The] mix of the heart-stopping and the stomach-lurching (a true kinaesthetic experience) characterises some of the best sequences in Love Never Dies,
TE: What I have no doubt about whatever is that this is Lloyd Webber’s finest show since the original Phantom, with a score blessed with superbly haunting melodies and a yearning romanticism that sent shivers racing down my spine.
DM: Love may never die but West End shows will come perilously close to disaster unless they have some oompf and bongo — and preferably a decent tune — in the first 15 minutes. Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to Phantom Of The Opera, is as slow to motor as a lawnmower at spring’s first cut.
TI: Oh, how time and a dismally implausible plot have altered him [the Phantom] and his life.
VA: The trouble with “Love Never Dies” is that while a couple of melodies deliver, the show doesn’t. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” wants to be a tragic romance, but it’s simply torpid. Only a radical rewrite will give it even the remotest chance of emulating its predecessor.
ON THE CREATIVES
TE: [Jack O’Brien’s production] seems entirely in tune with Lloyd Webber’s vision… Bob Crowley’s designs, though not as opulent as those of Maria Björnson in the original, and lacking the breathtaking panache of the collapsing chandelier and the candlelit boat-trip across the underground lake, are nevertheless constantly inventive, including clever use of video, a riot of writhing art nouveau, and splendidly creepy animated models in the phantom’s eyrie.
IN: What is in no doubt is the technical excellence of Jack O’Brien’s seamlessly fluent, sumptuous (and sometimes subtle) production… Bob Crowley’s design and Jack O’Brien’s direction have a beautiful kaleidoscopic fluidity.
GU: While offering a spectacular eyeful, O’Brien’s production is also unafraid of simplicity: the staging of the climactic number, with Christine advancing down to the shell-shaped footlights, could hardly be more direct… Crowley’s designs offer a beguiling mix of new technology and art nouveau… Paule Constable’s lighting adds to the show’s visual appeal: she lends a Hopper-like gloom to a sub-pier bar and gives a broadwalk vista a Renoiresque glow.
TI: Visually, there’s nothing to match the marvels that Maria Bjornson created with murk, candles and vast curtains in the original Phantom, but Bob Crowley successfully evokes much of Phantasma, helped by projections of spooky horses on carousels.
ON RAMIN & SIERRA
IN: Ramin Karimloo may not be a physically imposing enough presence as the Phantom, but his marvellously supple voice can run the gamut from a seductive guttural whisper to the full blare of frustrated passion. Looking gorgeous in a range of stylish period-outfits, Sierra Boggess’s Christine boasts a voice that can pool and purl quietly and then knock you dead with her towering rendition of the climactic title number.
TE: Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess sing superbly as the Phantom and Christine, with a real spark between them. Boggess is especially fine in the soaring title song, and Karimloo deftly combines menace and vulnerability throughout. Meanwhile Joseph Millson memorably captures the self-destructive Raoul.
GU: From my distant seat in row O, the performances seemed fine. Ramin Karimloo’s Phantom may not have the tragic quality of Michael Crawford’s prototype but that is hardly his fault: the character is now more a mildly disabled Kane (of the Wellesian variety) than a social pariah. Sierra Boggess also displays a strong, vibrant soprano as Christine. Summer Strallen as the vengeful Meg and Liz Robertsan as her creepy, Mrs Danvers-like mum are both strongly defined.
DM: Sierra Boggess, as Christine, is the production’s great joy — its show saver. She has a soprano of porcelain precision and her scene 4 duet with 10-year-old Gustave (excellent Harry Child), brushed by harp, is the first of three quick songs which rescue the evening.
TI: Even though Sierra Boggess’s sweet but never sickly Christine gets a bit piercing when her high-note flutterings hit the vocal stratosphere, it also pleases the ear, as do several other numbers — though usually with a major-key lilt, never with the danger and dissonance that the Phantom tale would seem to demand. Beside, say, the Elephant Man, Karimloo’s urbane, melodic, not-so-sinister Phantom might be Cary Grant.
GU: The score is one of the composer’s most seductive… At his very best – as in Joseph, Jeeves, The Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard – Lloyd Webber’s melodic inventiveness matches the material; here you have a welter of great tunes in search of a strong story. But at least the American setting gives Lloyd Webber the chance to explore a variety of musical idioms.
IN: the splendour of the orchestra which pours forth Lloyd Webber’s dark-hued, yearning melodies as if its life depended on them.
TE: The music is a constant pleasure, lavishly orchestrated and ranging from deliciously pert vaudeville numbers to those thrillingly romantic love songs, by way of an eerie dissonant waltz and a sudden unexpected blast of full-on prog-rock.
DM: The Entr’acte asserts Lloyd Webber at his most soupily sumptuous and the second half is far better. His music crests in a breaking chord when Christine is staring into her dressing-room mirror, trying to decide between her loves.
ON THE BLOGGERS
GU: I should say that I have no truck with those ghoulish groupies who’ve seen The Phantom of the Opera 852 times and regard any sequel as equivalent to painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa. No masterpiece has been besmirched
TE: I have received furious emails from fans or, as they style themselves, “Phans” of the original Phantom of the Opera, still running in the West End more than 23 years after it first opened, telling me that the new piece is a travesty. And there is no doubt that Love Never Dies seems like a relic of another age. Gloomy-doomy, largely through-sung musicals like this have in recent years been superseded in public affection by a welcome return to musical comedy in such shows as Hairspray, Sister Act and the latest hit, Legally Blonde. In the midst of a recession, will audiences fork out top dollar for two-and-a half hours of dark Gothic imaginings, seething passion, and in the final scene, sudden violent death?
TI: The blogosphere has been teeming with views of Lloyd Webber’s long-awaited Phantom II. For some, Love Never Dies is “Paint Never Dries”, and for others the composer is at his musical best. I tend to agree with both factions.
ON THE BOOK
GU: What the show lacks, in a nutshell, is narrative tension. For Christine, having discovered her employer’s true identity, the big question is “to sing or not to sing?”. The result is a foregone conclusion.
TE: It seems extraordinary that it should have taken four hands to write the not especially complex book, among them Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, and Frederick Forsyth, while Glenn Slater’s lyrics strike me as serviceable rather than inspired.
DM: That core justification — the romantic gubbins — is badly lacking. In the end you conclude that she simply seeks out suffering to improve her art.
TI: So where’s the tension in Ben Elton and Lloyd Webber’s book? That’s not helped by a narrative that might have been part-written by Ibsen’s ghost, there’s so much earnest poring over the past. But mainly it comes from Christine’s one-time friend Meg (Summer Strallen) who has also moved to Coney Island and aims to be the belle of all this balls.
ON ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER
IN: In a sense, Lloyd Webber has become hoist by his own petard. Having over-petted the public, he is now being badly mauled by a section of it – the Phantom fanatics who feel that they own the original more than he does. On both counts (casting and the right to do what he likes with his own material), Lloyd Webber has, for once, the moral high ground here.
TE: There is something personal about Lloyd Webber’s relationship with the Phantom, as if in the character of the tortured and deformed composer he is confronting something of his own inner darkness. The character might just be a terrifying self-portrait, hanging in the attic of his imagination.
IN: It’s revealing that Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has cast leading roles in his most recent ventures by public vote on reality TV talent show, has not allowed the public anywhere near his casting decisions for Love Never Dies. This rather exposes how low-risk those TV experiments have been, geared as they have been to fairly safe properties such as The Sound of Music and Oliver!.
IN: The ending (which I won’t give away) feels phoney in the unconvincing completeness of its resolution. It makes what has preceded it abruptly feel a good deal less than the sum of its parts and cries out for more ambiguity. In short, it should be “phixed”.
GU: The show has much to commend it and the staging is a constant source of iridescent pleasure. But, as one of the lyrics reminds us, “diamonds never sparkle bright unless they are set just right”. Although Lloyd Webber’s score is full of gems, in the end a musical is only as good as its book. With a libretto to match the melodies, this might have been a stunner rather than simply a good night out.
TE: The show may ultimately prove too strange, too dark, too tormented to become a massive popular hit, but I suspect its creepy allure will linger potently in the memory when frothier shows have been long forgotten.
DM: The night ends with a death scene so long that it may only reignite the euthanasia debate… So: a hit? Not quite. It is too much an also-ran to the prequel, and its opening is too stodgy. But if it is a miss, it is — like Christine — a noble miss, noble because Lloyd Webber’s increasingly operatic music tries to lift us to a higher plane.
TI: Where’s the menace, the horror, the psychological darkness? For that I recommend a trip to Her Majesty’s, not the Adelphi.
VA: At the moment, watching the sequel only makes you appreciate the achievement of the original.
KEY TO CRITICS:
BL: Bloomberg – Warwick Thompson
TI: The Times – Benedict Nightingale
VA: Variety – David Benedict