Sunday, 11 April 2010

Once Upon Another Time

In the last few weeks the show-biz forums have been well and truly buzzing. It seems people were well and truly up in arms! How could Andrew Lloyd Webber have the audacity to produce a sequel to “The Phantom of The Opera?” How dare he write a follow up to the greatest musical ever? How dare he re-use a song he had already put in another show? These questions were only the tip of the iceberg as it seemed that almost everybody had an opinion on the subject. Also, let’s not forget all the armchair critics who had heard this or heard that or had spoken to someone who had seen a preview and they had thought all manner of things. Well everybody is entitled to an opinion I guess so now the dust has settled a little and the show has had it’s glittering premier and been reviewed by the critics I thought I would offer mine.

I would say, in producing “Love Never Dies”, Lord Lloyd Webber possibly has a little audacity but then again writing a rock musical about the gospels in the early seventies was a lot more audacious, as was setting a whole musical on roller skates back in the eighties. However, I do concede that “The Phantom Of The Opera” is a hard act to follow so it was certainly a bold move. I don’t necessarily believe that “Phantom” is the greatest musical ever written (actually I like “Evita” a lot more) and, yes, I do realise that’s almost as controversial as saying Susan Boyle isn’t the greatest singer. Of course, it’s all down to personal taste, but what is beyond dispute is that “Phantom” is one of the most successful musicals of all time and amongst the best loved. For this reason many of its fans feel a real sense of ownership when it comes to the show and have very fixed ideas about what happens next or indeed if anything should.

The real controversy around “Love Never Dies” seems to be that Andrew Lloyd Webber took the chorus of “Our Kind Of Love” from “The Beautiful Game” and re-used it as the title song. Well, as Fraulein Schneider in “Cabaret” once said “who cares, so what!” Almost as long as musicals have been produced composers have recycled tunes – and in many cases lyrics. Back in the thirties the Gershwin’s used “The Man I Love” in “Strike Up The Band” before cutting it and later re-used it in “Rosalie” before cutting it again. Irving Berlin’s “Mr Monotony” had a similar history. In the 1953 Rodgers and Hammerstein show “Me And Juliet” Richard Rodgers used the theme he had written for the previous years NBC documentary “Victory At Sea” as the shows big ballad “No Other Love”. 1958 saw a young Jerry Herman write the little remembered revue “Nightcap” for which he wrote a rather lovely show tune with the rather original title of “Show Tune”, then eight years later he used the tune again in the rather more well known “Mame” as “It’s Today”, and indeed wrote yet another lyric for it as the title song to his compilation show “Jerry’s Girls” in 1985. So whatever the rights and wrongs are on re-using a tune Lloyd Webber is in very good company. Almost every successful composer has utilized a “trunk song” (yes there is even a term for it) at some time or another. Fraulein Schneider, in particular can back this up as “Maybe This Time” was an album track for a young Liza Minnelli many years before it found it’s way into the screen version of “Cabaret”.

So now that I have commented on some of the criticisms levelled at “Love Never Dies” you may be wondering what I thought of it myself. In short I loved it, enjoying it far more than I have ever enjoyed “The Phantom Of The Opera” and believe that it’s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best score since “Evita” full of romantic and sweeping melodies the likes of which are too rarely heard in the West End in these days of rock compilation musicals. Ramin Karimloo gives a towering performance as Paris’s former Opera Ghost particularly in his stunning first act number “’Til I Hear You Sing Once More” that proves he is one of the best voices ever to grace the musical theatre stage. Equally sublime is Sierra Boggess as Christine Daee and I can only hope that this former Little Mermaid’s career has legs and we get to see much more of her in the future. Of the supporting cast Summer Strallen shines and does everything that Summer can do so well and shows us that she has well and truly inherited those Langford genes and Langford legs!

The opening projections which ethereally create the back drop of Coney Island are mesmerising as they magically draw you into the carnival with carousel horses and twinkling lights . Bob Crowley’s set designs are stunning and very much in the spirit of Maria Bjornson’s work on “Phantom”. Where as, I believe, Ms Bjornson took much of her inspiration from the art of the period such as Edgar Degas, Crowley seems to have taken similar inspiration from the Art Nouveaux school and his designs particularly evoke the work of Alfonse Mucha and the architecture of Albert Guimet in sumptuous fashion. Along with it’s majestic score all of these elements combine to provide a lush and dramatic nights entertainment at the Adelphi.

If all the internet chatter is to be believed the show is still likely to be tweaked a little before it makes the journey to Broadway and any attention it receives can only improve on what is already a delightful evening at the theatre. Personally I would have liked the shows final moments to have ended with a couple of bars of the title song to give it the rousing finish it deserves. But listen to me, it seems I am starting to show signs of “ownership” myself. It must be catching!