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5.0 out of 5 stars ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER DARES AND COMES UP WITH A WORTHY FOLLOW-UP, 21 Mar. 2010
This review is from: Love Never Dies (2CD+DVD Special Edition) (Audio CD)
When in spring 2007 Andrew Lloyd Webber announced that his next musical will be a follow-up to his most successful work, `The Phantom of the Opera', many eyebrows were knitted and almost instantly many online theatrical forums were swarmed with bashing and hostile comments, continuing well until today. Yet the composer took this project quite seriously and took his time, carefully recording and re-orchestrating the cast recording that we have in front of us today. By and large, the finished work presents itself as a worthy sequel to the 1986 smash musical hit.

The plot has moved from the candle-illuminated Paris opera house ten years forward to 1907 and takes place at Coney Island, USA, famous for its fairground rides, resort beaches and freak shows in late 19th and early 20th century. This setting enabled ALW to mark his newest score with the stamp of that particular time. The principal characters of the first show (The Phantom, Christine, Raoul, now her husband, Madame Giry and her daughter Meg, with one addition, that of a 10-year old Gustave, their son) are all back and their fates are interwoven once again. Some choices have yet again to be made and some revelations from the past come to light. Most of the characters show different traits this time around and The Phantom is now living comfortably on the surface as a human rather than mysteriously below things as it was in the first show, feeling free `to walk among men', as one of the show lyrics puts it.

ALW composed a rich and diverse score for his latest work and it has all been recorded on this double CD. The setting has allowed him to compose in different fashions, from lushly orchestrated waltzes and classical ballads to ragtime, vaudeville and even progressive rock, the last one once again having the signature of the main male character. As this cast recording shows, the whole score is wonderfully orchestrated by ALW and his long-time associate David Cullen. My personal highlights include `The Coney Island Waltz' (the opening number), several soaring ballads (`Till I Hear You Sing'; `Beneath the Moonless Sky'; `Once Upon Another Time', the beautifully operatic `Love Never Dies'), a tour de force rock number `The Beauty Underneath' and delicate lyrical pieces such as `Beautiful' or Raoul's pondering of his relationship with Christine `Why does she love me?' The latter has a lovely delicate and discreet saxophone accompaniment just on the edges of the song. One should mention that only several music passages are quoted from the first show, them being in connection with similar choices the characters have again to make. There are also several very melodic ensemble numbers that achieve vocal harmony, such as `Dear Old Friend' and `Devil Takes the Hindmost'. In the end, the score comes across as the best ALW has composed in recent years.

The lyrics by Glenn Slater tell the main plot with basic simplicity, which is enough, despite the fact some might yearn for craftsmanship of Tim Rice.

The leads give one good performance. Ramin Karimloo, who played the main character in London for more than two years, is a powerful Phantom, boasting his vocal skills in the variety of songs this score presents. He has an equal partner in Sierra Boggess, Las Vegas's Christine of the first show, whose passion is best evident in her rendition of the title song. The supporting cast are also good in their roles: Joseph Millson's Raoul gives a touching performance in `Why Does She Love Me?, plus we have Summer Strallen playing Meg Giry and Sally Dexter, one of Britain's diverse actresses of stage and screen giving a voice to Madame Giry. A particular praise goes to young Charlie Manson however, whose angelic voice shines as he brings to life the young boy Gustave.

This deluxe cast recording comes with 2 CDs capturing the whole score and a special DVD that shows the development process and features interviews with ALW, Glenn Slater, director Jack O'Brien, the cast and the rest of the production team. It also shows footage from the London press launch in October last year. The recording includes a booklet with photos of those involved in the project, a note from the composer and a full libretto, the latter always coming in handy for the first listen.

To sum it up, `Love Never Dies' presents a commendable sequel to `The Phantom of the Opera' and reunites us once again with the characters so many people became accustomed with during many years `The Phantom of the Opera' has been playing on both sides of the pond.
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Location: Croatia

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