Thursday, October 8, 2009

LOVE NEVER DIES - The Sequel That Gaston Leroux Somehow Forgot To Write. (click here for official website)

Ever since Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical megahit Phantom of the Opera became a money-making juggernaut, the composer has feverishly been consumed with trying to top himself (if not artistically, then - at least - financially).

And so he gave us Aspects of Love (1989), which enjoyed a long (if undeserved) run in London’s West End. However, when the show transferred to the Great White Way in 1990, it received rather lackluster reviews. In fact, New York Times theater critic Frank Rich wrote “Whether Aspects of Love is a musical for people is another matter.” (well...  ouch.)

Aspects of Love closed after only 377 performances, losing its entire $8 million investment and, according to the New York Times, “Making it perhaps the greatest flop in Broadway history.” (Although Cyrano the musical (1993) managed to topple that record.)

Next up for ALW was Sunset Boulevard. Most people are familiar with the famous Billy Wilder film starring William Holden and Gloria Swanson. It is classic cinema of the first magnitude and if you haven’t ever seen it, stop reading this and go rent it immediately. As to the Lloyd Webber incarnation, here was a show where the offstage shenanigans threatened to overshadow the onstage plot.

Originally cast as faded silent film star Norma Desmond was American diva extraordinaire Patti LuPone (Evita). Nobody believes that LuPone is more talented than Lupone herself, so it must have come as quite a shock to her when the show closed down for repairs, (after the London critics savaged it), and she was not asked back for the revamp. Instead, the producers brought in steely-voiced belter Betty Buckley (Cats). Buckley received excellent notices and LuPone sued and received a reported $1 million.

Simultaneously, the producers had a production of the Sunset revamp running in LA starring film star Glenn Close. When the stars of this production were ready to bring the show to Broadway, it was announced that Faye Dunaway would replace Close in LA. But alas, this was not to be. Lloyd Webber deemed that Dunaway’s voice was not up to snuff and he opted to close the LA production. Dunaway deemed this a breach of contract, also sued and won a reported cool million.

In his book The Hot Seat, Frank Rich noted that these lawsuits contributed to Sunset Boulevard setting the record for the most money lost by a theatrical endeavor in the history of the United States. According to The New York Times, operating costs soared far beyond the budget and the “Broadway production has earned back, at best, 80 percent of the initial $13 million”. Running costs and advertising fees exceeded ticket sale intake. The road companies also generated large financial losses. Rich puts the final figure near or above $20 million lost, making the show what he termed a “flop-hit,” as it ran more than two years.

Lloyd Webber’s next two shows (Whistle Down the Wind (1996) and The Beautiful Game (2000)) never even made it to Broadway and it would be five years until Broadway received his next effort, 2004's The Woman in White.

The Woman in White was based on the famous novel by Wilkie Collins. With lyrics by David Zippel and a book by Charlotte Jones, it ran for nineteen months in the West End and three months on Broadway in 2005, making it one of Lord Lloyd Webber’s least successful shows.

And now, God help us, The Phantom of the Opera is coming back - but this time, he'll be haunting the amusement park at New York's Coney Island. Star composer Andrew Lloyd Webber announced Thursday a long-awaited sequel to his massively successful Phantom, one of the world's best-loved and longest-running musicals.

'Till I Hear You Sing' video sung by Ramin Karimloo

Love Never Dies Press Launch

"There's unfinished business," Lloyd Webber told journalists assembled for a teaser - a new song featuring the titular Phantom, played by Iranian-born Canadian Ramin Karimloo, and his love interest, Christine, played by American actress Sierra Boggess - "I don't regard this as a sequel; it's a standalone piece,"

The new musical will be called Love Never Dies. It is due to open in London in March. It will also be staged in New York beginning in November 2010 and will open in Australia in 2011. The musical picks up a decade after the original's conclusion, and has the Phantom trading his customary hideout beneath the Paris opera house for Coney Island, the iconic Brooklyn amusement park known for its roller coasters and "Nathan's Famous" hot dogs.

Lloyd Webber said he wanted to produce a sequel because the original's ending, which sees Christine leave the brooding Phantom for his rival, Raoul, was unsatisfactory. "Christine goes off with this boring guy, the Phantom disappears," Lloyd Webber proclaimed. He said he wanted to set the piece at Coney Island because, at its turn-of-the-century heyday, it was "the eighth wonder of the world." "Think of Vegas and then triple it," he continued.

Lloyd Webber sketched out an outline of the plot, saying the Phantom made his way to Coney Island after losing Christine. The Phantom rises from one of the attractions at a freak show to control the entire complex, without ever losing his love for Christine.

Other characters from the original also reprise their roles. The original hit musical, a longtime fixture on the London and New York stages, featured elaborate staging and songs such as "The Music of the Night," and "All I Ask of You." Based on the French novel by Gaston Leroux, the play is the longest-running show on Broadway, beating out Webber's other dubious hit, Cats, in 2006 and reaching an unprecedented 9,000 performances on the night of Sept. 17. Producers say it has been seen by more than 100 million people worldwide and has been translated into 15 languages and staged in 25 countries, including Brazil, China and Poland. The album of the show has sold more than 40 million copies.

But musical sequels on Broadway have tended to flop.

Annie, which opened in 1977, was one of Broadway's biggest hits, but Annie 2: Miss Hannigan's Revenge closed during its 1989 out of town tryout in Washington. The sequel to Bye Bye Birdie, a Tony-winning hit in 1960, died on Broadway in 1981 after only four performances. And does anyone recall the 1994 sequel to The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas?


Mr. Lloyd Webber avoided trying to predict the sequel's success. "I'm very happy with the piece and that's enough for me," he said.Love Never Dies had a difficult birth. The composer abandoned a previous attempt at a sequel more than decade ago, saying the story wasn't right. Frederick Forsyth, who the Lloyd Webber  said helped him with the idea, eventually published a novel, The Phantom of Manhattan, in 1999.

Director Jack O'Brien acknowledged that tampering with such a wildly popular music and theater franchise was dangerous. "No one's going to thank us for doing this," he said. "We're playing around with people's memories." But he defended the sequel, saying the years of back-and-forth made it a more solid work.

Naturally, a success would be another coup for the musical megastar, whose hits include Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita. Lloyd Webber's entertainment empire has made him one of Britain's richest men, with an estimated wealth of $1.2 billion, according to The Sunday Times of London Rich List

So could there ever be a sequel to the sequel?

Mr. Karimloo, who plays the Phantom, said he wasn't against the idea."Maybe somewhere warm," he said, joking that the Phantom "seems like an L.A. kind of guy." The composer was less enthusiastic. "There isn't going to a sequel set in Tahiti," he said. "I don't see how the story could possibly continue." Unless, of course, Love Never Dies manages to beat the odds and becomes a hit. But given Lord Lloyd Webber's track record since Phantom of the Opera opened, there almost seems little chance of that.


  1. But in the original Phantom of the Opera novel by Gaston Leroux, Erik dies at the end of the book.

    1. I believe that the musical explains that Erik does not die, just simply vanishes from sight- apparently to go off to Coney Island and open an amusement park. That is, until Christine's death when he and Raoul show up years later at the Paris Opera to bid on the music box.

      yes, that old story. ; P


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