The Whingers could think of many reasons not to see Love Never Dies, the long-awaited (although by whom is unclear) sequel to The Phantom of the Opera.
Phil was impressed with the spectacle of the original when he saw its first preview a zillion years ago but when he when revisited it with Phantom virgin* Andrew years later he was shocked by how, well, tedious it actually is.
On the plus side if you really must do a follow-up then a storyline set in Coney Island sounds just up the Whingers’ alleys. Just think of the visual possibilities! The Whingers’ inner juries were definitely going to examine all the evidence before deciding whether or not another crime against musical theatre had been committed. Phil even admitted to being quite excited about going.
But word-of-mouth from die-hard Phantom wasn’t encouraging: there are 53 pages (and still counting) of largely negative comment on the WhatsOnStage forum, largely from Phantom fans. If they didn’t like it what chance would the Whingers have?
Still, there obviously IS a demand from the press at least because the nice people at Peter Thompson Associates who are handling PR for the show wrote a very nice email back to the Whingers to say that “due to the extremely high demand and a strictly limited ticket allocation we will not be able to provide you with press tickets for this show”.
How cruelly dashed on the rocks of pecking orders were our dreams of endless first nights, unlimited free drink and casual hob-nobbing with celebrities at after-show parties. Bet Biggins got an invite.
So anyway, it was down to the Whingers to fork out their own money like the ordinary theatre-goers they once were, and are apparently again, for £37.50 EACH in the UPPER (oh, the shame of it) Circle of the Adelphi.
So let us examine the case for and against Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s latest opus.
For: The title. Hacking the Bond movie producers off, one imagines, ALW has come up with a title that gets both love and death into it. We can just see Ms Broccoli taking a thick marker pen and crossing it off her list of potential titles, wishing she’d got in there first. On the other hand, what does it mean? Nothing. Of course love dies. Of course it does. What bollocks. But no, this is a “For”. Good title. Good title.
Against: Merchadising. Andrew’s first words on entering the Adelphi Theatre were “Let’s go and look at the merchandising”. The Whingers love having a look at a show’s merchandise. Where was it? Nowhere. Not a mug nor a pinny in sight! We don’t buy it ourselves of course, but it’s comforting to know that it’s there if we ever change our minds. Very disappointing.
For: The Prologue. Those very words bring back happy memories of Frankie Howerd squeezing them through pursed lips in Up Pompeii! Sadly there is no Frankie here but the opening scene looked rather spookily lovely with some marvellous forced perspective, some clever use of old bedsheets and held no little promise.
Against: It was a bit gloomy. So was the next scene and the one after that. In fact the whole thing was gloomy. Andrew’s advice to people with contact lenses: take eye-drops and a high beam torch.
For: Forbidden Broadway summed it up brilliantly with their song about projected scenery. You don’t really feel as though you’re seeing your money up on stage, which here frequently looks a bit empty. No Phantom of the Opera here. But both Whingers confessed to finding the projections dynamic, depth-filled, impressive and indeed just about the best thing in an otherwise disappointing (and gloomy) design.
Against: The book. OK, Coney Island a great idea, but it took four people – Lord ALW, Glen Slater, Frederick Forsyth, and Ben Elton (who apparently “unlocked the story”) to come up with it. That makes a contribution of one plot point each by our reckoning. Sometimes it didn’t really make sense, or was that because we couldn’t hear a lot of the lyrics? If Raoul is a drunken gambler doesn’t that rather pull the rug out from under those who loved the original and went away thinking it had a happy ending? Ben Elton should have thrown away his key.
For: The scene in the Phantom’s Aerie at the top of what looks like Blackpool Tower and which is dressed with freakish oddities such as a Medusa like singing chandelier and a half woman-half skeleton walking a hostess trolley (the Whingers really liked that), all played out to an appalling rock-ish music score. It’s the most fabulous overwrought mess currently on view on the West End stage and Wicked is still running apparently! The Aerie’s design over-wrings the worst excesses of Art Nouveau to produce the bastard child of sexual congress between a peacock and an owl in a Notting Hill antiques shop.
Against: The Phantoms’s sidekicks, Fleck, Squelch and Gangle (or is it Guangle? – the programme** can’t really decide) weren’t established as characters at all. Fleck looked like she’d stumbled in from a ritzy production of The Rocky Horror Show. If only she’d done the time-warp again. With Biggins. We may be wrong but we imagined that they were supposed to be freaks. There was a lot of talk of Coney Island freaks but not one bearded lady, not one midget, not two Siamese twins. What kind of Freak Show was this? The Whingers would have been demanding their money back.
For: Raoul’s line to Christine (Sierra Boggess) as she bangs out a few bars of the dreadful title song, “Must you make that racket?”. At last, Lord Webber has got a sense of humour. But why were the Whingers the only ones who laughed?
Against: The Phantom’s lyric “Time keeps moving on” had Phil looking at his watch. Was the Phantom sure? Surely it had stopped.
For: Poor Ramin Karimloo (as the Phantom) has a terrific set of lungs. Very impressive singing. Even if when he whips off his mask Phil was reminded of Frasier‘s Niles Crane.
For: Poor Liz Robertson as Madame Giry, channelling Mrs Danvers.
Against: The climax to the end of act one involves Madame Giry throwing a jacket down a stair well. As climaxes go, it’s not really up there with the bit in the film of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when the car goes off the cliff before anyone knows it can fly. If it hadn’t been such an eagerly anticipated event the Whigers would have thrown their towels in the stairwell after the jacket and departed to the nearest pub.
For: The bar scene at the beginning of Act 2. The combination of projection and scenery actually looks quite good and Raoul’s drunken scene with the Phantom actually had bit of the tension which was sadly lacking elsewhere. But then lines like “one more drink sir” and “another drink” were playing to the Whingers in their Aerie seats.
Against: The big moments. The first appearance of the Phantom, his first meeting with Christine, the Phantom’s unmasking. All thrown away. Christine’s surprise suggested that the Phantom had bought a new pair of trousers since she last saw him rather than the fact that a disfigured kidnapper she thought was dead was in her bedroom.
For: Phil had another laugh at the interminably drawn out finale where little Gustave slips his fingers in the Phantom’s disfigurement. Phil made a mental note that it’s a while since he’s handled a bowling ball and must book a ten-pin bowling lane soon.
Against: What a shameful waste of talent. Director Jack O’Brien did such a brilliant job on Hairspray, choreographer Jerry Mitchell similarly on the same show and with his direction and choreography of Legally Blonde. There’s hardly any choreography in LND, but you can’t blame them for accepting an offer to leap aboard an ALW cash cow, even if the udders appear to be somewhat dried up and the milk very much on the turn.
For: The very helpful expositionary snippets of dialogue – “I say that not just as your mother but as your producer” and “They say she’s still pitch-perfect but it’s like the flame went out or something”. And the monologue – “That boy! His music! He plays like me!”. We would have been lost without them.
Against: Sung-through shows in general and this one in particular. The Whingers want fun and LND is sooo po-faced. The Whingers only laughed at things which weren’t meant to be funny. Note to selves: best stick to shows like Legally Blonde.
For: The bit where Christine performs her big number (can’t remember what it was called or how it went) while the Phantom and Raoul watch from either Wing and the whole thing revolved. Andrew knew it reminded him of something but couldn’t quite put his finger on it…
Against: The music. Obviously one doesn’t go to an ALW in search of tunes but this one is particularly devoid of anything that might become hummable after repeated viewing. Even the heavy-handed repetitious leitmotif from Phantom began to seem desirable to the Whingers after half an hour. Andrew did enjoy one moment when he recognised the first four notes of the the very beginning of the Star Trek theme but by this time his mind – desperate for melody – may simply have been playing tricks on him.
For: Poor Joseph Millson (as Raoul) for mustering all his dignity and gamely going on and not pulling a sickie every night. We would have.
Against: Did we mention the po-facedness of it all? Just wait until you see the attempts at the “lighter” numbers involving squeaky chorines led by poor Summer Strallen. Shocking. There’s an attempt to make life a bit interesting for the audience at one stage with a quick-change routine which hopefully will be competent by opening night. In the meantime, here’s what a quick change routine looks like:
Verdict: Dull. Like watching paint dry, and as we all know, paint never dries***.
* That’s as in “new to Phantom” rather than “phantom virginity” a la “phantom pregnancy”. Although actually…
** Against: The programme is a bit on the sloppy side. Gangle/Guangle isn’t the only mistake: director Jack O’Brien’s CV lists him as artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre in Sandiago rather than San Diego. You can get quite a lot of proof-reading done when you’ve nothing to distract you and Phil spotted oodles of mistakes during Love Never Dies.
*** Yes, alright paint DOES dry eventually but love does die too so we’re quits with ALW.