Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater
Book: Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, Frederick Forsyth and Glenn Slater
Director: Simon Phillips
A few negatives have attached themselves to the reputation of Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to his mega-hit musical, The Phantom of the Opera. Therefore this streaming of a 2012 production, filmed at the Regent Theatre, Melbourne, provides a welcome opportunity to re-evaluate the show prior to a United Kingdom tour planned to begin in Autumn 2020.
Opening in March 2010, Love Never Dies ran in London’s West End for less than 18 months, while its predecessor’s run of more than 33 years will resume after the current lockdown. Lloyd Webber, along with bands such as Queen, pioneered a style of rock-opera fusion that reached a peak of popularity in the ‘70s and ‘80s and Phantom spawned hits in the pop charts even before the show itself reached the stage; however, apart from one song (Beautiful), its sequel jettisons rock and finds no alternative contemporary connection, opting deliberately for the musical styles of the early 20th Century, when the story is set.
Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel, upon which Phantom is based, would seem to be self-contained, not naturally inviting a sequel. The first show ends with the Phantom disappearing, leaving Christine, the soprano over whom he has obsessed, to live happily ever after with Raoul. This show begins 10 years later with Christine (Anna O’Byrne), her marriage to Raoul (Simon Gleeson) all but over, arriving in New York with her 10-year-old son Gustave. Waiting on Coney Island is, yes you guessed it, the Phantom (Ben Lewis).
The book, written by Lloyd Webber himself with Ben Elton, Frederick Forsyth and lyricist Glenn Slater, dives even deeper into the waters of romantic melodrama than the original and director Simon Phillips’ production does not hold back in matching its style. The Coney Island circus shows provide the opportunities for spectacular routines, choreographed by Graeme Murphy and performed by a company of 36. Gabriela Tylesova’s sets and colourful costumes serve them well. This recording captures the performance vividly, cameras moving in on the action and panning out to take in the production’s epic scale. However, this reviewer experienced difficulties with sound synchronising throughout the streaming.
There can be no disputing the quality of Lloyd Webber’s lush, melodic score, played here by a 21-piece orchestra, but it has little variety. The composer was once one of musical theatre’s great innovators, but here is Lloyd Webber assuming the role of a modern day Puccini, forsaking all traces of originality or invention. This is highlighted by the show’s title song, key to the story and sung by O’Byrne. It is undoubtedly beautiful, but Lloyd Webber is merely recycling the melody of Our Kind of Love from his earlier musical The Beautiful Game, which hints at laziness.
Sequels are not common in theatre, but the rule, often quoted and ignored in cinema, that a hit is best left alone, seems to apply here. The show is not without its merits, but, too often it comes across as ill-conceived and overblown.