December 21, 2010
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Love Never Dies
Nine months after opening to considerably less than a chorus of approval, Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" sequel "Love Never Dies" has presented itself again to collective press scrutiny. Why? Because changes have been made, most significantly to the opening and closing of the show. These have resulted in definite improvements to the storytelling. Despite the intermittent effects of well-sung, powerfully orchestrated numbers from a 21-piece band, however, the story itself, and thus the show, remains weak.
The names of Jack O'Brien's creative team remain on the bill, and the only new name is Charles Hart, a collaborator from the original "Phantom," who has provided additional lyrics. Yet there is new staging and rejiggered material rehearsed by incoming producer Bill Kenwright and choreographer Bill Deamer. The overall effect is less that of a rewrite, more that of an effective reordering.
Following the ploy Lloyd Webber used in "Aspects of Love," the show now opens promptly with the best number. Out goes the lumpen expository prologue by Madame Giry (Liz Robertson) and in comes the Phantom (Ramin Karimloo) lurking about his art nouveau Phantasma paradise 10 years after the events of "Phantom," explaining how he will never be happy in "Till I Hear You Sing." "You," of course, is his never-forgotten Christine (Sierra Boggess).
With the world of the show more firmly established and the audience happier having heard a good number so finely sung, it looks as if events might prove more dramatic. But there's a downside. The Phantom's subsequent appearances lose the frisson of excitement. And in a show that already fatally lacks tension since all but the last-minute shooting is a foregone conclusion, that's a problem.
Lack of drama certainly plagued the final showdown in which someone is shot. That, too, has been partially solved. Without giving away the plot, the murderer now mercifully leaves the stage, thus placing tighter focus on the remaining characters. Yet this, too, has problems. A sequence of entrances and exits sees Christine's son, Gustave (Harry Polden), acknowledging his father but in a manner that strains credulity. It attempts an emotional resolution that the show has done precious little to earn.
With so little drama, the staging, albeit now more streamlined, remains largely illustrative rather than dynamic. Tweaks appear to have been made for character clarity, helped by a cast remaining in command of the material. Boggess' soprano voice in particular remains rich, but there's nothing she can do with the one-dimensional woebegone character.
That points to the chief problem. When asked if he might ever make a sequel to "The Graduate," Mike Nichols responded that he thought that a movie was about the very best or worst day of a character's life. What could a sequel be but the second best or second worst day? "Phantom" had engaging mystery and imagination in both conception and execution. "Love Never Dies" has the tired feel of an attempt merely to continue the story.