Since honesty is rarely the best policy, I'm going to take my life in my hands and admit that I am not one of Andrew Lloyd Webber's greatest fans. In fact, I've suffered for that stance when numerous devotees of Lloyd Webber's music have contacted me to spit venom and fury in response to my reviews of some of his other shows. One angry lady wrote from Australia accusing me of being a member of 'the Mauve Mafia', whatever that might be.
However, I am – at least in part - able to rectify matters with respect to 'Love Never Dies'. Time indeed for another admission: I left the theatre last night humming the title tune - unheard of with any previous forays to Lloyd Webber's shows, as well as lots of the competition too I might add.
'Love Never Dies' is actually a rather peculiar commodity. It's at one and the same time a modern musical with stunning visual effects and a rather old-fashioned kind of show which tends towards the melodramatic and sentimental. In a sense, that is no bad thing because it's a combination that some fine musicals have laid claim to and succeeded with. Perhaps as time goes on, Lloyd Webber is coming to appreciate the more traditional approach, though I still find the sung-through modus operandi grates in terms of character development and storyline.
The plot is a continuation of the story begun in 'Phantom of the Opera'. The idea of a sequel to that show has apparently been dogging Lloyd Webber for the best part of 20 years and he's had help from a variety of sources to come up with a suitable follow-on story. Ben Elton seems to have been the key to unblocking Lloyd Webber's difficulties, but even so it's not really the greatest idea ever dreamt-up. The whole thing actually starts with a bit of a whimper as two women discuss the old times at Coney Island. But then the effects kick-in and we're treated to some superb projections which do exactly what effects should do – they enhance the show rather than make up for its shortcomings.
It's 10 years since the Phantom has seen his beloved Christine. And time has turned his cravings for her into frantic desperation. He uses his power as an impresario at Coney to lure Christine with a huge fee to sing at his theatrical emporium. However, Christine has her gambling husband and son in tow which complicates the Phantom's plans.
Three basic ingredients make 'Love Never Dies' an impressive show. First, the orchestrations – by Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Cullen - really are outstanding. At times delightfully delicate, at others well-rounded and emotional. There's a fine orchestra under the direction of an excellent musical director, David Charles Abell. Second, Bob Crowley's set design is stunning, particularly in its use of perspective, for example when we're at the docks and huge ships form the backdrop, or the seedy bar lurking ominously under a pier. And the projections, designed by Jon Driscoll are awe-inspiring in both their originality and complexity. Finally, the singing from Ramin Karimloo (as the Phantom) and Sierra Boggess as Christine is pretty-well faultless. Ms Boggess's rendition of the title song is spellbinding and mesmerizing.
I've paid little attention to the furore which has been stirred up among the many devotees of 'Phantom of the Opera' who seem to have thrown their toys out of the pram presumably concerned that their beloved musical might be knocked off its perch by the upstart. I don't think anyone needs to worry – there's room in the musical world for all kinds of shows and I'm sure that both Phantom and 'Love Never Dies' will continue to draw-in huge numbers of punters for years to come.
I have to admit that 'Love Never Dies' is far better than I had expected. What's on offer is a more musically mature Lloyd Webber but, as with most of his other musicals, nothing is left to chance in the sense that the production values are of the highest standard, and there's a huge amount of original creativity in the design. It all makes for a great night out.
"There is much to enjoy in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical. The score is one of the composer's most seductive. Bob Crowley's design and Jack O'Brien's direction have a beautiful kaleidoscopic fluidity. And the performances are good. 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 short, 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."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"Dismally implausible plot...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....Bob Crowley (Designs] successfully evokes much of Phantasma, helped by projections of spooky horses on carousels. Yet that’s all rather cursory, as is the choreography, which doesn’t amount to a lot more than the inevitable bathing beauties bouncing about on the beach. "
Benedict Nightingale for The Times
"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....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. "
The Daily Telegraph
"What is in no doubt is the technical excellence of Jack O'Brien's seamlessly fluent, sumptuous (and sometimes subtle) production, or the splendour of the orchestra which pours forth Lloyd Webber's dark-hued, yearning melodies as if its life depended on them."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"It doesn’t really smoke into life until the 20th minute and even then it splutters for a while. Finally, the singing and the ingenious staging combine to show the Lloyd Webber orchestration to its full glory, but, boy, it takes an age."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"While Lloyd Webber’s music is at times lavishly operatic, the tone is uneven. There are no more than a couple of songs that promise to live in the memory, the duets don’t soar, and the ending is insipid. Admirers of Phantom are likely to be disappointed, and there’s not enough here to entice a new generation of fans."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"Sets and special effects cannot be faulted, the singing is terrific...a stunning ending. But phantastic? Afraid not."
Bill Hagerty for The Sun
"Musically, it is pleasing enough...Visually, the show is stunning in places."
Matthew Hemley for The Stage
"This is an elegant and clever sequel to Phantom...It is a great night out."
Paul Callan for The Daily Express
"While lushly orchestrated (by David Cullen with Mr. Lloyd Webber), the score is, for the most part, so slow that you have time to anticipate Mr. Slater’s next leaden rhyme. Each of the songs — which range from bathing-beauty frolics to power-chord operetta ballads — spins a single tune until it loses its tread."
Ben Brantley for The New York Times
"Frequently clunky and clumsy...Lloyd Webber's score, too, seems like a rehashed parade of pastiche and throbbing crashing-chord melodies."
Mark Shenton for Entertainment Weekly
"Watching the sequel only makes you appreciate the achievement of the original."
David Benedict for Variety
"The musical is impressive and enjoyable, even with its heavy hokum and creakiest of plots."
Warwick Thompson for Bloomberg News