Love Never Dies: The Launch | Theatre reviews, news & interviews
Love Never Dies: The Launch
Follow-up to Phantom announced with full orchestral fanfare
For 23 years Phantom fans have been wondering what became of him after that “final” exit? Frederick “The Jackal” Forsyth, no less, raised hopes for a sequel with his novella The Phantom of Manhattan but its critical reception was not encouraging and, as we know, the Phantom - sorry - Lloyd Webber, does not back losers. But the seeds had been sown and despite the appalling track record for musical sequels the Lord ploughed ahead with the creation of Phantom 2. Love Never Dies (which sounds like it should be a Bond movie) is now West End-bound, opening at the Adelphi Theatre in March next year. And just as Love Never Dies, neither does powerful global branding.
Which is why we found ourselves summoned to Her Majesty’s Theatre – media and Phantom fans alike, I should add – for a launch such as only the Lord could devise: a show to herald the arrival of a show. I half expected the Lord to emerge Phantom-like from behind the gold angel at the centre of Maria Bjornson’s famous proscenium-arch sculptures but after a brief film chronicling the history of “the most successful entertainment of all time” – productions in 149 cities across 86 countries – the man himself simply strolled on stage to greet us.
The sequel, he explained, had been a long time in the think-tank and it was only when lyricist Glenn Slater and director Jack Hairspray O’Brien came aboard that Lloyd Webber’s own ideas started to gel. The big breakthrough came with the decision to stick with the original characters but to transplant them in America 10 years after the Phantom’s mysterious disappearance.
Why America? Simple: Coney Island. At the turn of the last century – or, to be precise, 1907 when Love Never Dies is set – Coney Island was the godmother of amusement parks, the only good reason, said Freud, for anyone to make the long trip across the Atlantic. At that time it was pretty much the eighth wonder of the world – and perhaps the only place on earth where the Phantom, still pining for his one true love, Christine Daaé, could sell himself as the celebrity freak among freaks whilst simultaneously living the high life. From subterranean to high-rise living – a nice twist. And so, once more, he sends for Christine who travels to New York with her rather dull husband Raoul (remember him?), not knowing who is behind an invitation for her to perform at Phantasma, the newest Coney Island attraction. She always was a little slow, was Christine.
Lloyd Webber acknowledges that attempting to follow a success on Phantom’s scale might be considered one of his more foolhardy career decisions. But the obsession has clearly gripped him as surely as has the Phantom’s for his songbird Christine. Lloyd Webber shares with us one of the more cynical responses to his announcement of a sequel. What are you going to call it? “Ugly Bastard 2”? And with that introduces his two stars, Ramin Karimloo, the West End’s current Phantom, and Sierra Boggess, who scored a big success as Christine in Las Vegas but here merely provided the object of desire while Ramin delivered the money notes.
Lloyd Webber had brought with him the entire Phantom orchestra – as you do – and to the accompaniment of black and white footage of the original Coney Island, his music supervisor Simon Lee launched into the show’s big opener – a sumptuous bitter-sweet waltz in the tradition of the Carousel or the Orient Express waltzes, but shot through a kind of desperate fairground vulgarity. Lee and the orchestra sold it big.
Lloyd Webber has made it clear that Love Never Dies shares none of its predecessor’s musical motifs and is linked to it only by virtue of its title song. So as the screen ascended and the dashing Karimloo led his leading lady on to this stage for one time only, the throbbing bass guitar sample from the earlier show duly underlined his obsession.
According to Lloyd Webber, the score is going to have a more contemporary, rockier sound (a clear nod to its American setting) and he’s already admitted to salvaging one or two morsels from his well-stocked bottom drawer. But the Phantom’s first big number, “Till I Hear You Sing Again”, excitingly hyped by Karimloo, is the kind of stonking ballad that the Lord dreams up at the drop of a hat. Not quite up to the best that Phantom or Sunset Boulevard can offer but grabby nonetheless and blessed with that insidious hook-like memorability factor. Enough, certainly, to whet the appetite.
One of the really glorious things about the Phantom of the Opera score was its affectionate nod to Viennese operetta. Many’s the time I’ve fooled the great and the good into thinking that “Prima Donna”, in German, was echt Lehar or Kalman. I would like to feel that there’ll be echoes of that in Love Never Dies. We shall see.
But for the moment, isn’t the title tempting providence just a tad? Love never dies, but what about the show?
- Previews of Love Never Dies from 20 February 2010, with world premiere on 9 March. The show premieres in New York on 11 November 2010. Book tickets on 0844 412 4651 or online from www.loveneverdies.com.
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