A few years back I read a great op ed in The Independent by Janet Street Porter. It was about how she really wasn't cool. To prove this she admitted she liked the two things it is just unacceptable to admit to liking in Britain: Wagon Wheels and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. Janet, I sympathise. Wagon Wheels are lush, especially the extra jam ones. And Andrew Lloyd Webber has written some of the most startlingly good musicals ever.
Now this is not to say that I think everything ALW does is brilliant. Because it isn't. Woman in White, for example, was cleverly staged with a good cast but musically awful. Bombay Dreams was just terrible. And I don't get Cats. It gave us Elaine Paige, for which I'll never forgive it.
On the other hand ALW has produced some works of genius. From big boys Joseph, Evita, Phantom and Jesus Christ Superstar to the criminally underrated Aspects of Love, Whistle Down the Wind, Tell Me on a Sunday and By Jeeves the man knows his stuff.
I have to confess, though, when I heard he'd decided to write a sequel to Phantom of the Opera my heart sank a little. I, like pretty much everyone else in the universe, was convinced it would join the Woman in White axis of awful. But then it started previews and the reviews - shock horror - weren't all bad. There was particular excitement about the show's star - the fabulously named Ramin Karimloo. I was intrigued, and when an opportunity to see the show for myself arose I jumped at the chance.
Actually that's a lie. You see, going to the show meant missing Strictly. Specifically it meant missing Ann and Anton's tango. Even more specifically it meant missing Ann flying. I was stroppy about this. So the attitude I went into the theatre with was 'this better be bloody good'.
And you know what? It damn well was.
You must go and see this show if you have the chance. You just must. It is amazing, romantic, dramatic, beautiful; ALW at his very very best. I'm not going to give any spoilers - because as I said you must go and see it - but the show takes up 10 years after the original Phantom ended. The eponymous anti-hero is now running a freakshow come vaudeville theatre in Coney Island, NYC, with Madame Giry and her daughter Meg. He's still in love with Christine Daae and successfully contrives to get her to come to Coney to sing for him one last time. She brings husband Raoul (who suffice it to say is not the virtuous young gentleman he was) and son Gustave with her. And, well, I suppose a spoiler free way to describe the rest of the show is all hell breaks loose in an entertaining, musically superb, atmospheric and, ultimately, tragic way.
I really don't want to give anything away about the plot or the music - which is the best that ALW's written for a very long time - in this show, but I will say a few things. There are some standout songs in this score, notably Til I Hear You Sing, The Beauty Underneath (the best song ALW has ever written? Certainly the most ambitious), Devil Take the Hindmost and the title track. The plot hangs together with an amount of credibility very uncommon for a musical, and the ending is in turn genuinely shocking and completely, utterly heartbreaking. I've never been in a theatre audience that simultaneously bursts into tears in the way the LND audience did. The staging, too, is magnificent. There's a lot of clever borrowing of the bits that worked from Woman in White here; indeed in the first scene I couldn't tell which bits of the set were real and which were computer generated.
And then there's Ramin Karimloo who, it turns out, is not just fabulously named but fabulous all round. He has the sort of stage presence that demands attention from the moment he appears. The Phantom is a big part that it would be easy to get swallowed by, but he doesn't. His Phantom is completely his own creation and all the better for it. He has a range and depth that most 'straight' actors, let alone musical ones, would give their right arm for. And his voice. THAT voice. His voice is perfect. Literally perfect. The only voice that has ever made my whole body tingle and every hair stand on hair. Quite simply, he is a superstar. The best actor I have ever seen in the West End. If you think I'm exaggerating, go and see the show. I defy you to reach any other conclusion.
So, is Love Never Dies worth missing Strictly, Anton and Flying Widdy for? Yes it is. Every time.