It strikes me that your appreciation for Love Never Dies may depend on your thoughts about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera, with the slightly odd thing being that the sequel may best be appreciated by those indifferent to the original. The reason for that is that those in love with Phantom will rile at the lack of the classic score and the rather different tone, while those who hate it tend to do so for reasons that have little to do with the show itself (and more to do with the sort of supposedly spectacle over substance musical entertainment it represents) and Love Never Dies will do nothing to change that.
I was always rather on the fence about Phantom, feeling it was okay but failing to understand what people loved about it so much and which has kept it running in the West End for 26 years. I think it was because of that that I was pleasantly surprised by how absorbed I was by this filmed recording of the Melbourne production of Love Never Dies. That said, while on its London debut the musical met some pretty harsh reviews, in Australia it goes a completely different staging which has generally been seen as being much more successful.
The plot moves the story from Paris to New York’s Coney Island, where the Phantom, Madam Giry and Meg now live and work amongst the freaks and sideshows, with the Phantom owning and operating a show called Phantasma. The masked man’s former protégé, Christine Daae, arrives in New York, desperate for high paying singing job, as her feckless, gambling addicted husband, Raoul, has run through all their cash. When the Phantom discovers Christine has arrived in the city, he devises a plan to get her to come to Coney Island, which will inevitably lead them to meet one more, a decade after Christine believed her mentor burned to death in the Paris Opera fire. And then there’s her son, born not too long after the Phantom disappeared.
Although there are echoes of the original Phantom musical, for the main part Love Never Dies is its own beast, especially in this new staging, which retains a sense of the gothic but brings a brighter, more modern feel of the electric boardwalk with it. Indeed, if it weren’t for Lloyd Webber having written the score, it would be easy to ignore that there ever was a Phantom to compare it to. The music may not feature as many instantly memorable songs, but it’s a more sophisticated score, which is cleverly put together to tell the story through music, avoiding the histrionics of the Phantom music but still drawing you in. Indeed, considering Lloyd Webber has spent much of his career being criticised for using bombast over artistry, the music has some surprisingly subtle touches where you can hear the influence of Sondheim.
Although it’s a filmed production of a stage show and was shot in a theatre, the production design is very filmic, which coupled with Simon Phillips direction results in something that feels surprisingly movie-like. It’s certainly one of the best filmed productions I’ve seen, and you can see why Lloyd Webber is so pleased with it, as while he now admits the problems with the original London production, this shows that actually Love Never Dies is a very good show.
The stage version has now closed in London after a disappointingly short 18-month run (although to be fair, that’s not bad by West End standard, it’s just not great compared to Phantom), but if you want to see what you missed out on, this release is well worth a watch. In this form it’s certainly one of Lloyd Webber’s better musicals, and like the underrated Sunset Boulevard and Whistle Down The Wind, deserves a critical reappraisal.
Overall Verdict: If you’ve only heard the rocky reports of the London show, take a look at this as in a reworked version Love Never Dies may actually be a better show than Phantom.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac