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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The evil genius behind a mask is back on the London stage, though he never actually left. Tonight, more than two decades after the mega hit, "The Phantom of the Opera" premiered, Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel opens in the West End.

And reporter Jeff Lunden says "Love Never Dies" will probably be coming to a stage near you.

JEFF LUNDEN: When we last saw the Phantom, he had mysteriously disappeared from his lair underneath the Paris Opera. But he's back.

(Soundbite of "Love Never Dies")

LUNDEN: Lush and romantic, "Love Never Dies" picks up the story 10 years after the chandelier-crashing events of "The Phantom of the Opera," a love triangle between the deformed genius behind the mask, his beautiful muse, opera-singer Christine Daae and a dashing count named Raoul. The new show is set in New York's Coney Island, where the Phantom has become a rich impresario running a freak show. Christine now has a 10-year-old son, who's a musical genius himself.

Andrew Lloyd Webber says the idea of writing the sequel came out of a conversation with the set designer of the original 15 years ago.

Mr. ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER (Composer, "Love Never Dies"): I remember saying to her, You know, I think it's slightly unfinished business, because all we do is we just leave a mask on a chair, and what happened? What did happen? Did Christine really live with Raoul happily ever after? I doubt it. So, there had to be a continuation of the story.

(Soundbite of song, "Love Never Dies")

Mr. RAMIN KARIMLOO (Actor; Singer): (As the Phantom) (Singing) Once there was a night, beneath a moonless sky, too dark to see a thing, too dark to even try.

LUNDEN: The original "Phantom of the Opera" isn't just the most popular musical of all time. It may be the most popular entertainment of all time. It's still running in London and on Broadway. It's been seen by over 100 million people in 27 countries, and the show has grossed over $5 billion worldwide. International Herald Tribune critic Matt Wolf says the anticipation for "Love Never Dies" has been almost impossibly high.

Mr. MATT WOLF (Critic, International Herald Tribune): I think people are very interested, because it's been a very long time since Andrew Lloyd Webber had a big global smash hit, and he probably hasn't really had a global smash hit since the original "Phantom," which was in 1986.

LUNDEN: American director Jack O'Brien says following such a global smash has been both intimidating and irresistible.

Mr. JACK O'BRIEN (Director, "Hairspray"): I realized, right at the outset, that no one would thank us for doing this. I realized that we probably would never get, critically, a fair evaluation, because how can we? So what you're thinking about is being consistent, being honest, honest to the characters, honest to Andrew Lloyd Webber and his music. In other words, you don't think about the rest of it. You just don't.

(Soundbite of song, "Til I Hear You Sing")

Mr. KARIMLOO: (As the Phantom) (Singing) And weeks pass and months pass seasons fly, still you don't walk through the door and...

LUNDEN: Andrew Lloyd Webber says he has poured himself into every note.

Mr. WEBBER: And I think "Til I Hear You Sing" is probably as strong a song as I've ever done. And I think it's a stronger song than "The Music of the Night." I actually think that the score, overall, for me, goes a lot further than the original Phantom.

(Soundbite of song, "Til I Hear You Sing")

Mr. KARIMLOO: (As the Phantom) (Singing) I always feel no more than halfway real till I hear you sing once more.

LUNDEN: Director Jack O'Brien says the evocative turn-of-the-century Coney Island setting provides a perfect backdrop for the new melodrama.

(Soundbite of musical, "Love Never Dies")

Ms. SUMMER STRALLEN (Actor, Singer): (As Meg Giry) (Singing) I took a little trip to Coney Island.

Mr. O'BRIEN: It was phenomenal and it was Sodom by the Sea, and it was permissive and it was a fertile ground for criminality. It was all of the best and worst early nascent hot stuff in America, rolled up in one area. And what a great playground for the Phantom to come to.

(Soundbite of song, "Bathing Beauty")

Ms. LIZ ROBERTSON (Actor; Singer): (Singing) Bathing beauty on a beach, bathing beauty, hey, hello.

Ms. STRALLEN: (Singing) Bathing beauty on a beach, bathing beauty, hey, hello.

Ms. NIAMH PERRY (Actor; Singer): (Singing) Bathing beauty on a beach, bathing beauty, hey, hello.

LUNDEN: Still, it's the rekindled romance between the Phantom and Christine that drives the new show. Sierra Boggess played Christine in the Las Vegas production of "Phantom" and plays her in the sequel. She says the characters have matured in the new show.

Ms. SIERRA BOGGESS (Actor; Singer): This is high romance, but more grown up. It's not fantasy anymore. She's not singing on the rooftop to this beautiful man in a tuxedo, you know? It's sort of damaged love.

(Soundbite of song, "Love Never Dies")

Ms. BOGGESS: (Singing) Love never dies, love never dies and (unintelligible).

LUNDEN: Jack O'Brien says that at this point in Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber's career, he's already more than proven himself - but in many ways, "Love Never Dies" is the riskiest thing he's ever done.

Mr. O'BRIEN: It's like a late, great romantic work that he is trying to deal with himself, his own self-knowledge, his own ghosts, his own past. I mean, you cannot not see him in the pigment of this piece, because he's back there behind his own musical mask, pulling the strings and hoping for, I think, acceptance.

LUNDEN: "Love Never Dies" opens tonight at the Adelphi Theater in London. It opens on Broadway in November and in Australia next year.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in London.

(Soundbite of music)

MONTAGNE: Andrew Lloyd Webber tells Jeff Lunden why he didn't want to quote from his own hit in the sequel to "The Phantom." You can hear that and the title song, beginning to end, at npr.org.

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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