Here's a bit of a shocker to the system - Love Never Dies is actually pretty darn good. Definitely not something you necessarily expect when walking in the doors and certainly not some a non-Andrew Lloyd Webber fan was thinking at the start, but somewhere between the projections and the fabulousness of the Phantom's singing voice, something began to give and continued to do so.
Love Never Dies is completely bonkers, but fantastic for it. It's full of mad, brilliant projections, clever ideas that can seem a touch out of place (the walking skeleton) but still delight and wonderful sound, lighting and effects that bring a real atmosphere to the piece, something often lacking in musicals.
The storyline's all a bit crazy and, though this bills itself as a standalone to Phantom Of The Opera, still relies heavily on its source material - those coming to it without Phantom knowledge may be slightly confused. For the Phan, too, there are touches of the original's music littered throughout, which work well to link the two, even if that wasn't Lloyd Webber's intention.
Of the actors, Phantom understudy Tam Mutu really stood out. His stunning vocals and wonderful acting cannot be faulted - his singing brought a tingle and a shiver to the spine. Although from all accounts usual lead Ramin Karimloo is excellent, Mutu more than measured up to him in all departments. Joseph Millson, too, impressed as Raoul, managing to make the behaviour of this now-aggressive, alcoholic man understandable (after all, wouldn't you turn to drink if you knew that your wife really loved another?).
Also worthy of mention was the child (possibly Tyler Fagan) playing Gustave, Christine Daae's son. It must be hard to find young boys able to meet the demands of this music and libretto (incidentally, I stick by my assertion that Ben Elton should never be let near a keyboard, ever), but he managed it terrifically. Boggess, meanwhile, charmed and hit insanely high notes with panache, but the plethora of notes up at the top end of the scale did mean that her words were often inaudible - not really her fault, though.
While Summer Strallen alternately annoyed and impressed as Meg Giry, unfortunately Liz Robertson's vocals as Mme. Giry failed to impress, while the trio of Niamh Perry, Adam Pearce and Jamie Reid-Quarrell as Fleck, Squelch and Gangle also grated - Perry's vocals were too nasal and Pearce's too weak. However, these being smaller roles, the show came out relatively unscathed. What a nice surprise - do go and see this, but see Phantom first.