Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel, Love Never Dies was cruelly dubbed ‘Paint Never Dries’ by fans of the original when the show opened in March of last year. Just months later, the press reported that tickets were selling for as little as £3 and the show was heading for disaster. No surprise then that the good Lord saw the need for a re-think, controversially closing the show for a few days over the Christmas period for readjustments. Noting the teething problems, I approached my visit to the Adelphi with mixed feelings, concerned that this allegedly underwhelming follow-up would sent me running back to Her Majesty’s Theatre where the original is still packing in the tourists. That said, I believed that Lloyd Webber was not foolish enough to put on a sequel to a renowned original if it was not up to scratch. The rearranged show now begins with one of the big songs: ‘Til I Hear You Sing. There is no lead-up, just bam, there it is before you’ve even had time to get comfortable. I found this confusing, it was like going to see The Sound of Music and starting with the Nazis, but despite this, I believe it worked.
Many have asked whether Love Never Dies is an accessible watch to a Phantom virgin and the answer is unquestionably yes, though the content of the sequel will mean less. The plot is touching, rather than taxing. We meet Christine and Raul ten years on, now with a son named Gustav. The family are captured on arrival in New York by the Phantasma Freaks (go with it) and are taken to Coney Island, a down-at-heel land of sleaze and mystery. The Phantom reappears to haunt Christine and demands she sing for him one last time, whilst Raul insists he will leave Christine if she does. In addition, there is the added intrigue of the subplot involving Meg Giry, now a washed-up dancer for the Phantasma troupe, and her mother, still bitter that the Phantom fails to notice Meg’s talent. Reading that back, it is easy to see where all the criticism has come from with such a thin-sounding plot. However, I would argue that the music saves the show; unquestionably Lloyd Webber’s greatest achievement since the Phantom of 1986.
The set is a feast for the eyes with big projections, acrobatics and impressive costumes creating a sense of life at Coney. The moments between Christine and Gustav in the first act are endearing; Look With Your Heart is a heart-warming number; and she and the Phantom share some thrilling romantic arias. In a peculiar role reversal, Love Never Dies encourages us to side with the Phantom as we see Raul’s character take on a new darkness in his dejected, drunken state. Never have I seen so much tension injected into a title song as in this show’s climax, but Sierra Boggess’ talent makes it worth the wait.
I loved it, there’s no denying. It is obvious that Love Never Dies is a show that has had a lot of money thrown at it, but I believe that after a nervy start, this is a wonderful and genuinely spooky show that can run the course. It is a show with heart, intent and meaning, and after all, if the insipid tackiness of shows such as Dirty Dancing can still pack in the punters, why can’t this?