Theatre: Love Never Dies

I had the opportunity to catch a preview of Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, Friday  night at the Adelphi Theatre in the West End. It is the show with the really creepy artwork that is starting to appear around town, and which has its opening night this week...

I have yet to get around to seeing Phantom on stage, but I would like to think that I know enough about the story and the music to make sense of any follow up. I also recall many years ago playing the Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman cast recording on a family road trip which caused my grandmother to throw up. The free association of the show with grandma's sick probably hasn't incentivised me to rush out and grab a ticket.

Anyway arriving tonight at the theatre with Johnnyfox there was a buzz of activity. It was either excitement, or the sounds of people scrambling to pick up tickets from the shambolic box office. Normally at one minute to the curtain up you don't see a line of people stretching to outside the theatre waiting to pick up tickets, but someone was mumbling about problems due to the first night cancellation. The delay gave me a chance to observe the audience, which seemed to mostly consist of gay men and their mothers. I think this is a wonderful trend as it relieves straight men from having to endure what passes for musical theatre these days, but perhaps a sad indictment of what mothers will let their gay sons take them to.

The show starts with a great opening number full of spectacle and a little bit of excitement. It is Coney Island New York at the turn of last century and the Phantom is there running a show. It must be a bit of a come down from the Paris Opera but he doesn't seem to mind much. But after the opening number we then start getting hit with the plot... And there is plenty of it. This is a sequel like Jewel of the Nile is to Romancing the Stone. It's kind of nice to see the characters again but you still are left wondering what's the point of it all. It would have helped if there was some comic relief or greater sense of spectacle. Instead we get marital problems, drinking and scene with the Phantom and Christine's son (complete with some chimp-like creature), that had me wondering if this was what it was like at Michael Jackson's ranch...

By the time intermission limped around (after some dramatic jacket throwing down the stairs by Madame Giry), it all felt a bit gloomy and I was grateful for the opportunity for a drink.


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Returning after intermission, following a robust discussion about the merits of a movie version of the musical Cats and whether Sidney Poitier should direct it, I had high hopes for a change of pace. There was less exposition thankfully, but there was plenty more gloom. Who could have known that Coney Island could be so dreary? The drama hinges on will Christine go on stage or not to sing a song the Phantom has written for her...  So there isn't much tension... Given she is a performer... And we're watching a musical...

The music is pretty much the standard to be expected from Andrew Lloyd Webber, which people either love or hate. I think it was the title song that reminded me of main theme to the movie The Apartment (albeit without a satisfactory resolution). It doesn't help that most of the music doesn't seem to be written to showcase the vocal talents of the cast (or be in their range). Sierra Bogges, who plays Christine, has a lovely soprano voice. Too bad that she is often forced to sing in some gravelly register. The music and the amplification felt as if it gets in the way of the performances. The lyrics and libretto deserve particular ridicule for their basic rhyming or pointing out the bleeding obvious.

But even if love never dies, all shows do end. The audience leapt to their feet with applause. I was less enthusiastic. Some minor tweaks, including fixing some technical issues and delivering a proper end to the first act, might help with the pacing of this show. It would also help to have it lit so you could see the actors faces. Still, I suspect that Ken Mandelbaum's observations that no musical sequels have ever worked still holds true.

All told however I wonder (and the spoilers are below) if there is a long term audience for a show that kills the leading lady, makes the hero of the first show an alcoholic, and turns Christine's best friend Meg into a mad crazy woman. What is left is Phantom and son...  It might run as a double act on Coney Island... Who knows what the public would like these days? A night out at the theatre strictly for those who just can't help themselves to find out what happened to Christine, Raoul, Madame Giry and the Phantom... I couldn't quite work out what happens to Meg Giry, apart from going a little crazy...

I think she should throw herself off the pier at the end (there's plenty of time to do it)... It might give us all a bit of a thrill...

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