Phantom sequel launched

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Andrew Lloyd Webber launched the long-awaited sequel today to his global smash hit Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, which will see the action move from Paris to a New York fairground.

The show was unveiled at Her Majesty's Theatre in London, where Phantom, which has been seen by some 100 million people worldwide, opened 23 years ago tomorrow.

The new production, which has been almost two decades in the making, will continue the story of the Phantom, who has moved from his lair in the Paris Opera House to haunt the sinister and exotic world of New York's Coney Island.

The tale is set 10 years after the mysterious disappearance of the Phantom from Paris.

Ramin Karimloo will star as the Phantom in Love Never Dies, having already taken on the role in the Phantom of the Opera in London.

Sierra Boggess will play Christine, having made her Broadway debut creating the lead role of Ariel in Disney's The Little Mermaid.

Summer Strallen, who was planted by Lord Lloyd-Webber in teen soap Hollyoaks before playing Maria in The Sound of Music, will play Meg Giry.

Lord Lloyd-Webber said that the idea for the sequel had been around 17 years in the making, but it was Ben Elton who helped him create a story that would work three years ago.

The theatre impresario said: "It is the love story that is the essence of the piece. I tried to develop that story as much as I can."

He continued: "I don't regard this as a sequel. I regard this as a completely stand-alone piece ...

"There are practically no quotes from the original show at all. It's a completely new show."

Asked if there was room for more Phantom shows, Lord Loyd-Webber said: "No, there's not going to be a sequel set in Tahiti... I can't give away the ending but I can't see that the story could possibly continue."

He said the music had some reference to Coney Island, with a "little bit of Vaudeville".

Love Never Dies will have its world premiere in London at the Adelphi Theatre on March 9 2010 and in New York on November 11 2010.

The Phantom of the Opera, based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, is the most successful entertainment entity in history, according to those behind the show.

The production originally starred Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford.

It has won around 50 awards worldwide and spawned more than 40 million album sales.

Lord Lloyd-Webber declined to name the venue in New York where the show will play and said it was possible that more productions will open worldwide at around the same time.

"We did have the idea of opening the show simultaneously in three different countries... But your first casting is so crucial that we didn't want to take that risk," he said.

Asked if he missed The Phantom, he said: "Not particularly. When we were beginning to talk about it again I thought there was unfinished business. But I really would not be sitting here now if I did not think this was a great story."

He said he enjoyed setting the story in the new context of Coney Island, which was like an "eighth wonder of the world" 100 years ago - "exotic ... sinister and slightly macabre".

He said that in the new tale the Phantom "arrived as one of the freaks but built himself up to being the A1 man".

But he said the Phantom was also "pining for the love of his life".

He also gave reassurances that the production would not clash with his commitments to the new BBC1 talent search for his West End show The Wizard of Oz. The search for Dorothy will begin with auditions early next year.

Lord Lloyd-Webber said: "It doesn't clash ... It's not an issue."

He also told journalists he had "no idea" what the budget for the show was.

Asked how he would measure the new production's success, he said: "I'm very happy with it as a piece, that's enough for me."

A Love Never Dies album will be released the day after the world premiere in London.

Lord Lloyd-Webber raised piracy fears about releasing the accompanying album beforehand.

He said it is a "totally different world today ... This is the real difficulty".

Original Phantom producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh and Brightman had heard the new piece and Sir Cameron was "incredibly supportive", he said.

"Sarah gave us some really excellent notes about a couple of things. She loved it."

Karimloo performed a new song from the show called Til I Hear You Sing.

Boggess was previously chosen by Lord Lloyd-Webber to play the role of Christine in a production of Phantom - The Las Vegas Spectacular.

The 27-year-old, who lives in New York, said of herself and her co-star: "Neither of us are nervous, we're really excited."

She said she had had "a lovely aria written for me which is the title of the show Love Never Dies.

"It's beautiful and it's incredibly passionate."

Karimloo, who performed without make-up and the Phantom's mask today, said prototypes for the mask were being developed.

The star, 31, said he thought of his character as someone with Asperger's Syndrome.

Rehearsals for the show will begin in January and tickets are priced at £25 to £67.50.