Andrew Lloyd Webber doesn't wring his hands when things go wrong. Well, maybe he does, but he takes action as well. Some years ago he closed down his show Sunset Boulevard, had the direction spiced up and then reopened a slicker version. He's now performed the same trick with his latest, the Phantom of the Opera sequel Love Never Dies. Deciding after several months that he was unhappy with parts of the (and possibly with the number of bums on seats) he invited the canny West End impresario Bill Kenwright to tweak Jack O'Brien's original direction.
Kenwright's tweaks have given both added focus and added dramatic tension to the show. Gone is the distracting opening with a sub-plot seeming to dominate proceedings, and we are thrown straight in to the coming together of the two principals, the Phantom and his beloved Christine.
The sequel is set in Coney Island, 10 years after the events in Paris of the original. The Phantom now runs a variety palace in Coney Island, cue for some marvellous sets and beguiling projections of carousels. The Phantom's assistant, Madame Giry, played as a disturbing manipulator by Liz Robertson, looking remarkably like Mrs Danvers from Rebecca, and her actress daughter Meg, try to become indispensable to their master, but he has eyes only for Christine. The increasingly unhinged Meg, played by reality-show graduate Summer Strallen, takes an inevitable revenge.
Kenwright seems to have brought a more intimate, even claustrophobic feel to the drama, which is not only deeply romantic but both scary and haunting. The principals shine, Ramin Karimloo a threatening and unpredictable Phantom, Sierra Boggess, a troubled Christine who makes the title song a showstopper, and Joseph Millson, bruising and bruised as her drunken husband.
Lloyd Webber's score is one of his best, not just in the romantic sweep of the title song and at least one other, but in the range of musical styles. The use of Christine's young son, played by Harry Polden, as pivotal to the plot brings eerily haunting music for the young voice reminiscent of Britten's Turn of the Screw in its ghostly quality.
It's a good musical that has got better and rewards a second viewing.
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