Conservationists will be thrilled to hear that cod is no longer an endangered species. And it never will be while Jack O’Brien is directing. Dramatic pointing, staggering back in fear/horror, clutching throats and striding downstage centre to fix a tortured gaze over the stalls, pretty much make up his entire directorial palette here.
To be fair, he wasn’t given much of a canvas. Ben Elton is credited with the ‘book’. On which he would appear to have lavished at least ten minutes with the back of a fag packet. It has all the narrative depth and emotional nuance of a Cash-4-Gold advert. This skeletal slimness of Elton’s contribution is a big fat problem for the show. Calling it ‘the book’ is a little like calling half a slice of toast The Full English Breakfast.
Love Never Dies is a wonderful, heartfelt, openhearted, honest musical score that hoped to find someone who felt what Andrew Lloyd Weber felt and found only Ben Elton and Glenn Slater (the man credited with the show’s lyrics, which one can imagine came as attachments to e-mails with “will this do?” in the subject box. No, Glen, not really).
Characters are lucky if they get two dimensions to play with and most don’t rise above that. Liz Robertson appears to have come to the party as Mrs Danvers; Sierra Boggess as Christine is fine but not much more and Ramin Karimloo, an actor who would not look out of place in the timber department of B&Q, has hands that live a life entirely of their own, irritatingly upstaging him with their spasms and splayings at every turn. For a couple whose strange and obsessive love has spanned a decade and spawned a child, they have so little chemistry between them you could add Glaxo Smith Kline Beecham to the mix and their relationship would still have all the sexual fizz of Little and Large.
The staging is lavish, with special effects erupting like expensive rabbits from clever hats. Even here, despite the fact that The Phantom has now become Mr Y, a successful impresario who owns Coney Island and masterminds its myriad attractions, O’Brien always has him appear in a ridiculous fog of dry ice. He really ought to try panto, he’d be a natural.
And yet. And yet. The heart and the soul of this show is in the music. And the music has layers and emotional nuance and power. The orchestrations (by Lloyd Webber himself with David Cullen) are glorious and while you are in the hands of the Lord, you are carried safely and, occasionally, away.
‘Til I hear You Sing, the Phantom’s big number is soaring, full of longing, Christine’s sweet advice to her son, Look With Your Heart, is lovely and sung to the most beautiful orchestration in a beautifully orchestrated show and the big duet between The Phantom and his love is fittingly, hauntingly sad. The Love Never Dies theme, sung at the end by Christine (the big cliff hanger in Ben’s book being ‘will she sing it or not’) is one of Lloyd Webber’s soaring, button pressing cadence based Big Songs. Its rescue from another Lloyd Webber/Elton collaboration (the utterly irredeemable The Beautiful Game) is a brave move. And a right one.
Lloyd Webber needs and deserves better, classier collaborators here. His show is plangent with loves lost and unrequited, won but all too fleetingly. Take his advice and Look With Your Heart and you will get the best of this show. Look with your head and you’ll wish you had got a ticket for the original Phantom instead.
Love Never Dies; Adelphi Theatre, London; www.loveneverdies.com for details