We are in Coney Island, and if Lloyd Webber’s claim that the events are set ten years after Phantom of the Opera is accurate, it’s about 1891. The Phantom has become a sideshow illusionist, bringing with him Madame and Meg Giry, and three henchpersons suggestively called Fleck, Squelch and Gangle whose sole purpose is to strut about in Cirque de Soleil costumes. In a barely comprehensible plot, he invites now-famous Christine Daae to sing in his theatre and she arrives aboard the Lusitania with Oscar Hammerstein (who would have been four years old at the time), Nancy Astor (eleven) and Cornelius Vanderbilt (born 1898). Improbable or what?
Christine’s son turns out to be fathered by the Phantom who entertains the ten-year-old in what looks like Michael Jackson’s bedroom, complete with Bubbles the ape maniacally playing a pipe organ. Other elements of scenery are like an Art Nouveau explosion in a resin factory, interspersed with trapeze and rope twirling from a provincial circus.
The whole of the first act is exposition, and in the second the lead-up to Christine’s performance of the theme song also gives you time to reflect it’s not a new tune. Setting aside the internet gossip which invites comparison between ALW’s composition and the theme from 1960’s Shirley MacLaine movie ‘The Apartment’, ‘Love Never Dies’ is itself a re-vamp of ‘Our Kind of Love’ cut from his musical ‘The Beautiful Game’, stripped of its contextual lyrics, jacked up an octave and given grandiose operatic pretensions drowning in lush orchestration.
Whilst Sierra Boggess looks stately - the pink crystal-studded frock is simply gawjus - and sings right to the top of her soprano range, it’s a soulless performance made less engaging because it’s so difficult to care about any of these characters.
It’s tantalizing to wonder what might have happened if Christine had been made fully three dimensional, and the piece sung in a normal register with emotion by Hannah Waddingham - as she did on Parkinson some years ago - then this could have been the most electrifying sequel.
Ramin Karimloo’s voice seems to have only one setting: ‘stentorian’, and all his interactions with Christine are overblown and overloud. The recitative sounds directly snatched from ‘Sunset Boulevard’ and is loopingly repetitive, whereas a few lines of spoken dialogue and a couple of jokes would have been more than welcome.
The counterpoint popular numbers like Summer Strallen’s leggy vaudeville routine, a fatuous rock anthem, and a chronically forgettable ‘beach’ ensemble seem jarring, as if they belong in three different musicals.
In response to a request we've removed the climactic spoiler here but can tell you *it* takes six minutes and four different tunes before the orchestra tests the limits of the sounds system with its final chords.
Lloyd Webber probably thinks he’s written Carmen. You be the judge.
This review is based on a full-price preview perfomance on 2 March, and there may be changes and improvements before its official opening on March 9, from when it will run Monday to Saturday at 7.30pm with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2.30pm, probably for ever. Tickets are £25 to £67.50 including booking fee, from the box office on 0844 412 4651 or online from SeeTickets