Andrew Lloyd Webber sets 'Phantom' sequel

'Love Never Dies' scheduled to open next year in London

LONDON -- 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 "The Phantom of the Opera," one of the world's best-loved and longest-running musicals.

"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," Lloyd Webber said.

The new musical will be called "Love Never Dies." It is due to open in London in March. It will be staged also 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 said. 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 said.

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 eponymous French novel by Gaston Leroux, the play is the longest-running show on Broadway, beating Lloyd Webber's other masterpiece, "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.

Lloyd Webber avoided trying 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. Lloyd Webber abandoned a previous attempt at a sequel more than decade ago, saying the story wasn't right. Frederick Forsyth, who 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.

Arts critic Norman LaBrecht said Lloyd Webber was taking a risk by putting on such a massive show in the middle of a recession.
"This is a very difficult time to go putting something on in the West End," he said.

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 750 million pounds ($1.2 billion), according to The Sunday Times of London Rich List.

So could there ever be a sequel to the sequel?

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."

Lloyd Webber 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."

Tickets for the London shows at the Adelphi Theatre were placed on sale Thursday, and fans also were told they could pre-order the album of the show's tunes. Top-priced tickets are going for 67.50 pounds (about $109).