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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
LOVE NEVER DIES
at the Adelphi

COMING CLOSER TO HIS TRUE IDENTITY
By MATT WOLF

  Show girls and Summer Strallen/ Ph: Catherine Ashmore

Andrew Lloyd Webber has all the money in the world (and sometimes, it seems, much of the pre-Raphaelite art and the best wine as well), but success doesn’t necessarily buy you a fair shake from the critics. A lot of people are going to hate Love Never Dies – his follow-on from The Phantom of the Opera – on principle, which is a real shame. There’s nothing on display at London’s Adelphi Theatre that a complete overhaul of the book couldn’t put right.
 
In fact, musically, at least, Love Never Dies is infinitely more interesting and rewarding, to this observer at least, than Phantom, and it’s certainly much better served by leading lady Sierra Boggess in her West End debut than Phantom was by a syrupy Sarah Brightman back in 1986, a West End opening that I remember well. I’ve got the odd casting quibble about Jack O’Brien’s production, which suffers further from a narrative that is preposterous at best before going completely to pot in the final sequence. But whereas I have never owned a Phantom CD and have no interest in obtaining one, I leapt upon the arrival of the recording of Love Never Dies, and my anticipation has been rewarded: Whether writing in the vein of Richard Rodgers, Franz Lehar, or even Benjamin Britten, or in his own alternately soaring or growly rock ‘n’ roll modes, Lloyd Webber has invested far more of himself in this music than is generally the case. Small wonder that O’Brien has referred to this project as Lloyd Webber’s Tempest.  Whereas one had every right to fear a venture that would amount to nothing more than the frantic perpetuation of a franchise, the result lands as a decidedly personal act of self-revelation. At show’s end, the Phantom is fully unmasked and so, in his own very different way, is the show’s composer.
 
One’s admiration – which extends to a gorgeous opening sequence in which O’Brien and his designer, Bob Crowley, conjure up a wonderfully strange, shimmering Coney Island ca. 1907 – will for many people matter very little next to the exigencies of a plot that stretches credibility to well beyond breaking point and isn’t always tethered to the performers best equipped to sell it. As the show begins, we learn that the Phantom has vacated his underworld Parisian lair in favour of a kitschy Art Nouveau abode high above Coney Island, where this erstwhile murderer and obsessive has remade himself as the impresario, “Mr Y” (spell it out if you want to get the not very clever joke). The only problem is that our anti-hero still has the none-too-healthy hots for the virginal (or not) coloratura, 28-year-old Christine Daae, whom he has kept a replica of with him throughout all these years – until such point, at least, as he can summon over from Europe at considerable cost not just Christine but her husband Raoul and ten-year-old son, Gustave.
 
Christine, you thought, had gone off happily with the handsome Raoul? Sorry to disappoint. As played by Joseph Millson, who is a far better performer than the role in Love Never Dies really requires (he’d be a terrific Phantom), Raoul over time has become a cranky gambler and drunken layabout, which in turn means that poor Christine finds herself in a foreign country torn between two men, neither of whom represents much of an option, if you ask me. And though Lloyd Webber’s beloved Carousel (who doesn’t love that show?) is adroitly referenced in the gorgeous minor-key waltz with which Love Never Dies begins, Lloyd Webber and his three(!) collaborators on the book can’t complexify the attraction of this demure, gossamer-voiced young woman for either of two improbable male partners. Christine’s fate – not to be given away here – may under the circumstances be a blessing in bel canto disguise.
 
And, boy, can Boggess sing beautifully, the star of Broadway’s The Little Mermaid lending a light, lilting English accent to the spoken stretches of the role and a voice that exultantly swoops in accordance with a title song that has been sung in previous incarnations (different titles) by the likes of Kiri te Kanawa and Hannah Waddingham. Playing Christine’s mother/daughter nemeses – perhaps O’Brien sees the pair as this musical’s equivalent of Velma and Amber in his own Hairspray? – Liz Robertson and Summer Strallen do an engaging bad cop/good cop routine, the former decked out like this production’s resident Woman In Black, comparisons to Mrs Danvers all but inevitable. Strallen gets what passes in the show as light relief and genuinely looks as if she is having a good time.
 
The rabid “Phans” who have besieged critics with preemptive emails might have been more generous about the reach of a show that is as much about parents and children as anything else, and that includes in the Turn of the Screw-worthy “Beautiful” one of the most beautiful numbers Lloyd Webber has ever composed. The show’s belters fall inevitably to the two leads, Boggess’ second-act heights scaled vocally in the first act by co-star Ramin Karimloo, a onetime Phantom in the original

 


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