In an attempt to regain the glory he lost with such shows as Whistle Down the Wind, The Beautiful Game and The Woman in White, Andrew Lloyd Webber returns to the source of his biggest hit, The Phantom of the Opera.
But someone should have told him that sequels rarely work. Love Never Dies, which was 20 years in the making, is no exception. A quartet of writers – Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth – collectively proves that four heads are not better than one, especially when the one is Gaston LeRoux, the creator of the enduring novel.
What LeRoux created was the kind of fail-safe plot that claws into the imagination and refuses to let go. What Lloyd Webber and company has wrought is six characters in search of a workable storyline that will move, engage and convince an audience.
In the absence of any such thing, we're left with a tepid situation (it really can't be called a plot) in which, ten years after the events depicted in Phantom, soprano Christine Daae, her now impecunious hubbie Raoul and their ten-year-old son Gustav travel from Paris to New York at the request of a certain Mr Y, who makes them a financial offer they cannot refuse. All Christine has to do is sing for him in a show he produces at Coney Island.
What she doesn't realise until her arrival in New York is that Mr Y is none other than the erstwhile Phantom of the Paris Opera, and, because, umm, love never dies, he is still besotted with her.
Oh, there's a mini sub-plot of sorts involving ex-ballet mistress Madame Giry and her jealous dancer-daughter Meg, neither of whom is a barrel of laughs. But then nothing in this musical is.
Gustav turns out to be the Phantom's son, though why and how Christine allowed him that brief moment of passion ten years earlier is never explained. Nor are we given any reason why Raoul, who, if memory serves, had pots of money in Phantom, is now down on his uppers.
More damagingly, it is never explained why the Phantom of the original, a psychopathic killer who indulged in some pretty anti-social behaviour, like dumping chandeliers on unsuspecting paying customers in the stalls, should become almost as wealthy as Lord Lloyd Webber and have morphed into a harmless eccentric with a passion for theatrical gadgets? Was he lobotomised? We need to be told.
More questions arise with the odd way that the final scenes play out. With so many questions to ask, and, frankly, with so little interest in the answers, all that's left to enjoy is the music.
Ah, the music. Well, in common with most of Lloyd Webber's shows, there are, to be sure, a couple of good tunes. And if they sound familiar, it's because they are. I thought I detected a hint of Noel Coward's A Room With A View in the "Coney Island Waltz," but the most blatant plagiarism is the composer stealing (or, to be more charitible, recycling) from himself.
The ubiquitous title song – and the best i