Broadway-bound musical divides London critics

Love Never Dies

Adelphi Theater, London

The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear likely candidates for further life on Broadway and/or elsewhere.

The Main Stem transfer of new musical “Love Never Dies,” which opened on the West End Tuesday, isn’t just likely; it’s already been set. The London preem is the first step in an ambitious global rollout for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to his enduring global smash, “The Phantom of the Opera.”

Opening on Broadway in November, “Love Never Dies” follows the characters of “Phantom” as they reunite at Coney Island a decade after the events of the original. With music by Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater, the story is credited to Webber and Ben Elton with Slater and Frederick Forsyth. Jack O’Brien (“The Coast of Utopia,” “Hairspray”) helms.

With no out-of-town tryout, limited technical rehearsal time and, following the cancellation of the first public performance, a unusually brief 13-show preview period, “Love Never Dies” has had a rocky first few weeks on the boards, during which it’s stirred up a much-reported onslaught of online vitriol from “Phantom”-loving “phans.” (One oft-quoted quip retitles the show “Paint Never Dries.”)

But reaction from critics was split right down the middle, with the show earning everything from a full five stars down to an underwhelmed two. How much will it matter to auds? Possibly not a lot: The London production has reportedly racked up $12 million or more in advance sales. And besides, “Phantom” didn’t get particularly good reviews, either.

Here’s what the London critics said:

  • Paul Taylor in the Independent gave the show the highest praise it got, bestowing a five-star rating. “What is in no doubt is the excellence of Jack O’Brien’s seamlessly fluent, sumptuous (and sometimes subtle) production, or the splendor of the orchestra which pours forth Lloyd Webber’s dark-hued, yearning melodies,” he wrote, going on to laud leading actress Sierra Boggess. The one issue he had was with the ending — an issue raised in several reviews.

  • In the Telegraph, Charles Spencer gave “Love” four stars. There is no doubt, he wrote, “that ‘Love Never Dies’ seems like a relic of another age.” But he deemed the musical “Lloyd Webber’s finest show since the original ‘Phantom,’ with a score blessed with superbly haunting melodies and yearning romanticism.” On the other hand, he called the book merely “serviceable.”

  • At three stars, Michael Billington’s review in the Guardian was evenly mixed. “There is much to enjoy in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new musical,” he wrote, calling the score “one of the composer’s most seductive.” He also praised the design and direction, but he gave the story the thumbs-down: “The problems lie within the book,” he wrote, later opining that what “the show lacks, in a nutshell, is narrative tension.” He summed up “Love” as “a welter of great tunes in search of a strong story.”

  • Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard penned one of two two-star reviews, blaming the problems on a “predictable” book that “lacks heart.” He also called the tone of the music “uneven.” “Admirers of ‘Phantom’ are likely to be disappointed,” he wrote, “and there’s not enough here to entice a new generation of fans.”

  • In the London Times, Benedict Nightengale also went with two stars. He lamented of the Phantom — and, by extension, the show itself — “oh, how time and a dismally implausible plot have altered him and his life.” Still, he found a few kind words for the music: “The title song has pretty clunky lyrics,” he noted, but “it also pleases the ear, as do several other numbers.”

  • In the Daily Mail (which does not give star ratings), Quentin Letts derided the production’s slow pace but had high praise for Boggess. “So: a hit?” he asked. “Not quite. It is too much an also-ran to the prequel, and its opening is too stodgy.”

  • Ben Brantley of the New York Times also was in London for the opening, at which he too noted the slowness of music and story. “This poor sap of a show feels as eager to be walloped as a clown in a carnival dunking booth,” he wrote. And like several others, he hated the climax, which he described as “what feels like the longest death scene of all time.”

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