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A CurtainUp London Review
Love Never Dies
Love Never Dies is so full of visual clichés and references to other works that it feels like one of those quizzes where you have to spot the allusions. It opens with The French Lieutenant.s Woman with a figure resembling Mrs Danvers from Rebecca looking out to sea alongside the harbour wall. The sea is shown as computer generated crashing waves with real horses galloping onshore and immediately we are in the Guinness advertisement. Mrs Danvers is greeted by a Goth-like figure, maybe one of The Addams Family or one of Tim Burton's sinister movie characters. She is one of the three freaks, Fleck (Niamh Perry), Gangle (Jami Reid-Quarrell) and tattoo faced Squelch (Adam Pearce), henchmen to the Phantom.
The story is set ten years after all that underground cavorting between Christine and her Phantom. The Phantom (Ramin Karimloo) has escaped to the United States where he is the impresario of Phantasma, a Coney Island attraction. Christine (Sierra Boggess) has married her Raoul (Joseph Millson) who has not turned out at all well. He's still dashingly handsome but has a nasty gambling habit and bullies his wife. Christine is lured to the United States to sing with the offer of a large fee and she brings with her, husband Raoul and her nine year old son Gustave (Harry Child).
The Freaks turn up in a wonderful computer generated crystal carriage drawn by horses to collect Christine and take her to her hotel. The Statue of Liberty floats past. Raoul has no time for the boy and Gustave is taken to Phantasma by his mother where he is shown round by the Phantom. It turns out that on hearing the divine voice of young Gustave, the Phantom realises that only his genes could have produced this beautiful sound and not Raoul.s. Now that consummation of their relationship ten years ago is news to Phantom fans! Unfortunately Gustave doesn't react well when the Phantom, minus wig and mask, reveals his true appearance to the boy.
The little Degas ballerina Meg (Summer Strallen) from the chorus line at L.Opéra in Phantom has come to New York where she is now the lead singer dancer in "end of the pier" type shows and her ambitious mother Madame Giri (Liz Robertson) - yes Mrs Danvers - is hoping the Phantom will marry Meg and secure their future. Madame Giri will do everything she can to frustrate the Phantom's rekindled romance with Christine.
Some of the sets are tributes to the Phantom's obsession with Christine. Huge art nouveau gold figures of Christine dominate the hotel room and the Phantasma set where there is a perfect waxwork automaton of the young Christine in a shrine. In between we are treated to a moon which spins into the big wheel at the fairground attraction in sophisticated video and computer generated footage which I found admirable. In Phantasma itself a dragon fly nymph is suspended high above with a huge circular art nouveau surround, numerous disembodied Medusa heads sing while hanging from the ceiling and there is an automaton version of a gorilla who plays rock music, a giant version of the little chimpanzee automaton that opens Phantom. There is a table which has human legs that walk and the torso is skeletal so that it appears that the person is half dead and half alive.
The orchestrations are soaring but struck me as contrived and rather self consciously over the top but as the tunes grow on one, this will matter less. The Phantom still switches from the rough low almost spoken lyrics to high operatic notes as did the original. Like most Lloyd Webber musicals the choreography is not particularly strong.
I found the first act a bit of a yawn but things greatly improve in the second act. The overture starts the second act rather than the first and is pleasant and tuneful. The scene set in the Edward Hopper inspired bar between the Phantom and Raoul has a lovely song, "Devil Take The Hindmost" as the men agree a life changing wager. We have to wait almost to the end of the show to hear Christine sing the title number "Love Never Dies" and it is preceded by a quartet reprising "Devil Take The Hindmost" when Gustave and Madame Giri join the leading men. Gustave has some of the best music in the show with the unbroken voice of a brilliant boy soprano. Meg leads an end of the pier piece of girls in bathing costumes and the three freaks fly in by air balloon as if there wasn.t enough spectacle.
American Sierra Boggess as Christine is ravishingly beautiful, looks not unlike the young Sarah Brightman, and her exceptional voice renders "Love Never Dies" unforgettable. A trio of spotlights light her on a bare stage as this beautiful melody is the one we have all been waiting for. There is a dramatic finale. All I'll reveal is that it's set on the pier at Coney Island.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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