December 22, 2010
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Phantom Still Lacks Spirit in Love Never Dies
When Andrew Lloyd Webber’s latest musical opened in March, its reception was what one might politely call ambivalent.
Since then, numerous minor changes have been made to the production, and recently some larger ones too. Love Never Dies therefore merits a fresh viewing.
The positive news is that this rather lachrymose companion to The Phantom of the Opera is now more fluid and coherent, as well as more emotionally satisfying. But it is still repetitious, lacks real suspense and suffers from the fact that several key characters feel one-dimensional.
Some of the most obvious alterations stem from the recruitment of lyricist Charles Hart to adjust the cadences of the original clunky lines written by Glenn Slater.
There are also lots of bracing directorial touches; the show is credited to Jack O’Brien, but it is new choreographer Bill Deamer and producer Bill Kenwright who have added the zest. The result is a more atmospheric production that does justice to Bob Crowley’s flamboyant, largely gothic designs and Jon Driscoll’s dreamlike projections.
The opening has been rejigged so that we begin with the Phantom himself — a superb Ramin Karimloo, whose polished baritone combines seductiveness and vulnerability. It’s a more confident, engaging start, and immerses us in the psychological drama of this sweeping work.
We are plunged much sooner than before into the emotional tussle between the Phantom, his erstwhile love Christine (a touching Sierra Boggess, on luminous vocal form), her brittle husband Raoul and their young son Gustave. We sense more viscerally the contest for Christine’s affections. And while the lushly operatic music at times sounds synthetic, it often soars.
Yet the relationship between the new work and the beloved old one proves problematic. Although we are emphatically told that 10 years have elapsed since Phantom, the principal character seems a good deal younger than in that show. And we’re never given a convincing explanation of how he’s ended up in Coney Island — a setting that, for all its vivid realisation, appears incongruous.
There are other problems: some of the lyrics are still cloyingly saccharine, and there are elements of kitsch. The first half remains confusing. True, the second now packs a bigger punch, but even with all the revisions that have been made Love Never Dies, though elegant, doesn’t feel sufficiently dynamic.