Ghost of a chance

London reacts to Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to the Phantom of the Opera.

London reacts to Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to the Phantom of the Opera

Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, left, poses with Sierra Boggess, centre, and Ramin Karimloo, stars of Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera sequel, Love Never Dies. ((Matt Dunham/Associated Press))

The Phantom of the Opera is the most successful musical of all time. In light of that fact, some of the reviews it received following its London opening in October 1986 seem, in retrospect, surprising.

The theatrical newspaper The Stage complained of a distinct lack of "fizz" and said the production was plagued by technical difficulties. Some audience members even asked for a refund after the musical's now-iconic chandelier failed to crash to the floor as expected.

Love Never Dies, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's resurrection of the Phantom, was panned even before its opening night. London theatre bloggers West End Whingers dubbed it "Paint Never Dries" after seeing preview performances, branding it "dull" and "po-faced." Phantom loyalists set up Facebook groups to derail the sequel. The anonymous mastermind of the Love Should Die campaign told the Times that Lloyd Webber had "underestimated the intelligence of his audience."

Nevertheless, as the curtain came down on London's Adelphi Theatre on Tuesday night, the show's first audience leapt to their feet. The standing ovation itself is not terribly surprising — the audience was, after all, packed with Lloyd Webber's celebrity friends — but it was also followed by a more positive critical reception than many expected.

Paul Taylor of the Independent went all-out and gave it five stars, calling the production "seamlessly fluent" and "sumptuous" and praising, in particular, the "dark-hued, yearning melodies" of Lloyd Webber's score. The Telegraph's Charles Spencer was almost as flattering, describing it as "Lloyd Webber's finest show since the original Phantom."

Not all critics were as forgiving, however, and many echoed the bloggers' complaints. Several reviewers simply found the story dull or confusing, and the Guardian accused it of having a lack of "narrative tension."

The Phantom of the Opera is now the longest-running musical on Broadway. (Seth Wenig/Reuters)

It does seem to be true that unless you have seen the Phantom, following the convoluted plotline of Love Never Dies might prove difficult. Ten years after he was thought to have perished in Paris, the Phantom has relocated to New York's Coney Island, where the fairground provides a perfect excuse for an impressively lavish and colourful set. Of course, the sequel's title rather gives away what happens next. Still consumed by his love for soprano Christine, the Phantom lures her and her unfortunate family (including a 10-year-old son of suspicious parentage) to his new theatre. Romantic intrigue, melodrama and a lot of stirring tunes follow.

Canada's own Ramin Karimloo plays the Phantom in this incarnation. He had significant experience in the original role – he told the Observer newspaper last weekend that he felt the part was his "destiny." It's a destiny that critics weren't entirely sure he fulfilled. While the Telegraph applauded the "real spark" between the two leads, the London Evening Standard's Henry Hitchings thought he lacked "a certain charisma." Most reserved their praise for the show's leading lady, Sierra Boggess, in her turn as the decade-older Christine.

Whether it can equal the success of its predecessor remains to be seen, but Love Never Dies is sure to be another money-spinner for Lloyd Webber. The elaborate stagecraft means the show will need to make £30 million ($45 million Cdn) in London just to break even, but it's already taken £10 million ($15 million Cdn) in advance bookings. Following its stint in the West End, it moves to Broadway in November and from there to Australia in 2011. Lloyd Webber told CBC News that productions were being planned in the future for Canada as well. The love for the Phantom Part 2 might not quite stretch to true critical acclaim, but it is unlikely to die when it comes to ticket sales.

Elizabeth Davies is a producer at CBC London.