Ramin Karimloo, Sierra Boggess, Joseph Millson, Liz Robertson, Summer Strallen, Niamh Perry, Adam Pearce, Jami Reid-Quarrell
The lumbering thud of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Phantom sequel heading towards the West End was audible from some distance away. Even before it loomed into sight the internet had started to quiver and ripple like the surface of a glass of overpriced theatre bar chardonnay held by an irate ‘Phan’ of the original.
The resulting production, while not quite the cynical exercise in brand extension it might have been, has a great gaping hole at its centre. Despite no less than four contributors to the book Andrew Lloyd Webber himself, his Beautiful Game collaborator Ben Elton, the shows lyricist Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth it has plot as flimsy as tissue.
Its as if the various writers decided on a couple of key plot points and then forgot to do the next part, the part where you provide plausible dialogue, character credibility or anything resembling narrative tension. This last one is the kicker; its the utter lack of suspense that very nearly sinks the whole enterprise.
The story, such as it is, leaps forwards ten years from the events of the original. The Phantom has fled Paris and is now living in New York, in Coney Island, where he has set himself up as a kind of enigmatic impresario. Known to outsiders as Mr Y he oversees an attraction called Phantasma. Meg and Madame Giry have gone with him and the former now works as one of his showgirls. Despite Megs continual attempts to please him, the Phantom cant forget his Christine and he has composed an aria especially for her; it is with this that he tempts her, anonymously, across the Atlantic to perform.
She duly accepts and arrives in New York with her husband Raoul, now a raging alcoholic who has lumbered them both with gambling debts, and her young son (played by a rotating cast of child actors). The Phantom soon appears in her room leaving Christine in no doubt as to who has summoned her and what would be quite a dilemma were Raoul not written as a one-dimensional jerk who she would be better of without.
There is one major revelation to come, but again its fairly blatantly signposted, and isnt much of a shock in context, even if it sheds new light on the Phantoms previous relationship with Christine.
Lloyd Webbers score skips adeptly from genre to genre, but though ‘Til You Sing Again and Devil Take The Hindmost have their moments, it lacks a really hooky song (the title number certainly doesnt qualify) and is hampered by some pretty ropey lyrics. Jack OBriens production contains some memorable set pieces; the first Coney Island scene, full of aerial grace, is genuinely exciting but the circus element is underutilised (and the same can be said of the Phantoms three curiously interchangeable, black-clad minions with their daft names, Fleck, Squelch and Gangle). The scene in the Phantoms lair, on the other hand, is so excessive and odd as to totally overshadow what could have been a potent emotional moment between the Phantom and Gustave.
Bob Crowleys design mirrors this pattern. It contains moments of elegance (the bar where Raoul goes to drown his sorrows is particularly striking) but also moments of sheer silliness.
The actors are left to struggle beneath the weight of all this. Ramin Karimloo has played the Phantom before and has an impressive vocal ability but he seems better able to convey the characters vulnerability (there are some moments of genuine poignancy under the noise) than any real sense of menace or danger. Sierra Boggess has a clear, beautiful voice but shes awfully passive as Christine and Joseph Millson is stuck with the thankless task of playing Raoul, a character stripped of any charisma or intrigue. He spends much of his time on stage looking miserable, which is fitting. Summer Strallen, as Meg, seems to be straining to make something akin to a character out of her equally underwritten part.
While there are moments when its possible to see a more successful, engaging show emerging, they have all but vanished from view by the end of the rather drawn out, low-key finale, which fails to deliver the emotional depth charge it appears to be aiming for.