Will the magic of the Phantom strike twice for Andrew Lloyd Webber?
The professional critics' reviews haven't yet come in, but audiences at Tuesday's world premiere in London of "Love Never Dies" — the sequel to Lloyd Webber's global hit "Phantom of the Opera" — gave the show a standing ovation.
The star-studded audience, including actors Michael Caine, Rowan Atkinson and musical singer Elaine Paige, rose to their feet and cheered as the show ended, while Lloyd Webber bowed and blew a kiss to the audience.
"Phantom" is a tale of gothic romance set in the Paris Opera that has been seen by 100 million people around the world since it opened in 1986. It is still playing in London and New York, where it is the longest running show in Broadway history.
"Love Never Dies" picks up the story 10 years on, with disfigured genius the Phantom relocated to the bright lights of New York's Coney Island and still besotted with beautiful soprano Christine Daae.
Many "Phantom" fans have trashed the show in Internet reviews based on preview performances. Some say the score has nothing to rival the earlier show's catchy, romantic ballads such as "The Music of the Night" and "All I Ask of You," and the set design has come in for criticism.
Widely read theater bloggers the West End Whingers dubbed the show "Paint Never Dries."
Lloyd Webber says he's not concerned.
"A musical takes a while to grow and come together," he said Tuesday. "Last Wednesday I sat for the first time and I thought, you know what? 'Love Never Dies' is a really, really good show."
The composer said the negative reviews were from "three or four people" writing on the Internet, and said the Web amplified the teething problems experienced by any musical in the run-up to opening night.
"There was one night when the chandelier in 'Phantom' failed to rise ... We did half of the show with the chandelier right in the way of most of the audience," Lloyd Webber said. "You think back on it and you think, 'If that was on the Net, what would have happened?"
"Love Never Dies" has been in the works for years and carries high expectations.
Lloyd Webber has been developing the show since 1997, working for a while with thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, then with comedian and novelist Ben Elton. The final product has lyrics by Glenn Slater, whose work includes "The Little Mermaid" and "Sister Act."
Director Jack O'Brien has acknowledged the stakes are high, saying he warned the cast that "no one's going to thank us for doing this."
He said Lloyd Webber — who has been recovering from prostate cancer while preparing for the London run — was brave to revisit his biggest success.
"This is kind of his 'Tempest,'" O'Brien said during rehearsals. "He's revisiting aspects of his youth, of his own journey. That's very touching to me. He's got a lot of money and a lot of prestige. ... He doesn't have to, but he is compelled to."
"Love Never Dies" is scheduled to open on Broadway in November, and in Australia next year.