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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Adelphi


  Ramin Karimloo/ Ph: Catherine Ashmore

Can it be 24 years since Phantom of the Opera opened? Several return visits, half a lifetime and four children later, I find it’s still there, a reassuring landmark in London and any middle-aged London critic’s life. As much as the music, the late Maria Bjornson's designs for the lair of old half-face remain unforgettable.
Love Never Dies is the long-awaited sequel, which has been greeted with Olympian snootiness by the New York Times and mostly damned with faint praise by British newspapers. The musical's book (the work of an unlikely trio – Frederick Forsyth, Ben Elton and lyricist Glenn Slater) was singled out as being in urgent need of an overhaul. 
But why? It works as it is. And anyway who cares about the book? If books mattered that much Hair certainly wouldn't be regarded as the brilliant milestone show that it is. Besides, the night I went to the Adelphi I took along two very elderly musical-loving friends, banking on the fact that they had seen Phantom. They hadn't. But they picked up on the story no problem, gathering that half-face had holed up in Coney Island and that Christine, lured to New York by a mysterious impresario, now had a 10-year-old boy in tow and that her husband Raoul had gone to the bad. 
My friends’ unstinting, genuine enjoyment of the evening was a great relief. I can only rave about the show myself because in my view it casts the same romantic spell as the original, the music if anything stranger and richer.
Jack O’Brien’s production is also visually quite astonishing. Bob Crowley’s creation of the Phantom’s Art Nouveau penthouse, the immensity of the airy nightscapes, the electric vistas of Coney Island – all of it mesmeric. And then there is the grotesque magic of Phantom’s cabaret. Hats off here to Scott Penrose, the effects guy who recently gave the chiller play Ghost Stories what little scariness it has. 
The obsession with female loveliness is a theme of both this and Phantom. On the night I went, Celia Graham was singing the part of Christine (Sarah Boggess was on holiday) and glorious she was too. Liz Robertson and Summer Strallen provided the wonderfully creepy mother-daughter combo. Ramin Karimloo was a dashing Clark Gable-ish Phantom.
Love Never Dies comes with a persuasive passion and a great dollop of the old L.W. genius. This is a stand-alone show. But this and Phantom are also just two halves of the same yearning, musical creation, born a quarter century apart but twins all the same.

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