I’ve written in the past about the fun that is a bad review (if you don’t remember, you can look here or here, or especially here). Most of those are related to the stinker that was “Lestat”. However, there’s a new stinker on the horizon, and it was reviewed by the New York Times today (which I read at lunch).
“Love Never Dies” (NY Times review by Ben Brantley)
This is the sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera”. That should say it right there. I cannot think of a single sequel that has worked in Musical Theatre. Oh sure, there have been sequels: “Annie 2/Annie Warbucks”, “Bring Back Birdie”, “The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public”. Some have even had good music (I particularly like some songs from “Whorehouse”). But they usually haven’t even had long, let alone sustained, runs.
But who am I to speak. Let’s look at the review itself. Some choice quotes:
To think that all this time that poor old half-faced composer hasn’t been dead at all, just stewing in his lust for greater glory. Being the title character of “The Phantom of the Opera,” the most successful musical of all time, wasn’t enough for him. Oh, no. Like so many aging stars, he was determined to return — with different material and a rejuvenated body — to the scene of his first triumph. So now he’s back in the West End with a big, gaudy new show. And he might as well have a “kick me” sign pasted to his backside.
Of course, bad advance word on the Internet has sometimes proved false. (Ever hear of “Avatar”?) And I would be delighted to tell you that’s what happened here, especially since “Love Never Dies” is scheduled for Broadway this fall. But how can I, when at every opportunity Mr. Lloyd Webber’s latest sets itself up to be knocked down? Directed by the protean Jack O’Brien (“Hairspray,” the New York production of “The Coast of Utopia”), choreographed by a seriously underused Jerry Mitchell and designed by Bob Crowley (“Mary Poppins,” “The History Boys”), this poor sap of a show feels as eager to be walloped as a clown in a carnival dunking booth.
For starters, the title, with its promise of immortality, was just asking for trouble. And its breathless solemnity pervades the show’s every aspect. This production keeps such a straight face, it’s as if the slightest smile might crack it. It never acknowledges that in a musical in which no one could exactly be described as animated, it might be a mistake to introduce your leading lady in the form of an automaton in her image. Or that it’s probably not a good idea to have your hero, in his first solo, sing “the moments creep, but I can’t bear to sleep” to a melody that moves like a sloth in quicksand.
The book is credited to four writers: Mr. Lloyd Webber, the comedian Ben Elton, the novelist Frederick Forsyth and the show’s lyricist, Glenn Slater. And its plot is so elaborate and implausible it makes the libretto of “Il Trovatore” read like a first-grade primer. If you don’t know the first “Phantom,” you will be very confused; if you do know the first “Phantom,” you will also be very confused.
While lushly orchestrated (by David Cullen with Mr. Lloyd Webber), the score is, for the most part, so slow that you have time to anticipate Mr. Slater’s next leaden rhyme. Each of the songs — which range from bathing-beauty frolics to power-chord operetta ballads — spins a single tune until it loses its tread.
Since the lead singers are required to haunt demanding, throat-taxing upper registers, it is perhaps too much to expect them to act as well. As the Phantom, Mr. Karimloo sings with all the force that artificial amplification allows. Vocally, the pretty Ms. Boggess (who starred in “The Little Mermaid” on Broadway) combines the more mechanical qualities of Jeanette MacDonald and Julie Andrews. Mr. Millson glares handsomely. And Ms. Strallen, as the unappreciated Meg, has a spark of something like personality.
Those are just examples. Perhaps this doesn’t eclipse “Carrie: The Musical”, perhaps it does. Then again, perhaps the phantom is a true theatrical zombie: it never dies.