Unlike lightning, Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom does strike twice. More than 23 years after Phantom of the Opera became a worldwide sensation, the British composer has delivered a sequel in Love Never Dies. As handsome as the original and filled with infectious melodies, startling images and wonderful performances, it's running through October 23 at the Adelphi Theatre in London, so there's plenty of time to catch the show if you're planning a trip to the UK.
The sequel is set in the early years of the 20th century, a decade after the ending of the original, with the key players from the first show caught up in a Gothic drama set in a spooky theatre on Coney Island. Soprano Christine (Sierra Boggess) arrives for a special performance bringing along her gambler husband Raoul (Joseph Millson) and their 10-year-old son Gustave. Unknown to them, the show's impresario is the Phantom (Ramin Karimloo). It is revealed in the first act that the scarred composer and his muse shared a night of passion before she got married and went away, and the question of who is the boy's father drives the story.
Further complications come from the current star of the Phantom's show, Meg (Summer Strallen), whose mother Madame Giry (Liz Robertson) fears that Christine's arrival will lead to their being abandoned. Lloyd Webber gives credit to comedian/writer Ben Elton for coming up with the plotline for the show and he brings not the guile of Blackadder but the simplicity of another hit stage musical he wrote, the Queen show We Will Rock You.
It's pure romantic melodrama but the lack of complexity leaves Lloyd Webber free to concentrate on the music, which he does with extraordinary vigor. His melodies radiate immediately and Glenn Slater's no-nonsense lyrics don't get in the way at all.
Iranian-born and Canada-based Karimloo has the strut and posture the Phantom needs and he has full command of a rich and subtle voice. Colorado-born Boggess' delivery of the title song alone is worth the price of admission. Its simple lyric becomes heart-rending as Boggess caresses and sculpts the song in a spotlight moment that in times gone by would have been called a showstopper. Millson, Robertson and Strallen also have their moments to shine as Lloyd Webber shakes up the musical tone with lively dancing girls and even some prog-rock.
His rousing and moving orchestrations with David Cullen lean less to his traditional keyboards and more toward strings and brass with exceptional playing by seasoned professionals including one of Britain's top flugelhorn players John Barclay, familiar from many James Bond movie scores.
The whole thing is rendered in a magnificent design that combines video projection; smoke and mirrors; beguiling illusions; and mischievous devices to create a vital atmosphere where love, jealousy and death can play out with sumptuous musicality.