By Frank Scheck
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Despite some savage reviews when Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to "Phantom of the Opera" opened in London, the British composer believes that "Love Never Dies" will still one day likely make it to The Great White Way.
After a planned Broadway showing was scuttled after the London production closed prematurely, the fate of the musical has taken an upswing since a reworked version of the show opened last year in Melbourne, Australia, to acclaim.
Now, a filmed version of that production is debuting in the United States next week.
"I think it will inevitably come, at some point," Webber, 63, told Reuters in an interview on the show's Broadway prospects. "But in many ways I now feel like I've closed the chapter on it. The film that's being shown is something I'm very, very proud of. So in a way it doesn't really matter if it comes tomorrow or five years' time."
He added with an air of confidence, "But I'm sure it will."
The film of the Australian production will debut in nearly 600 cinemas in the United States on February 28. It follows other performances projected onto movie screens in the past several years, including several from The Metropolitan Opera in New York and The Royal National Theatre in London that have been popular with audiences.
Lloyd Webber, the composer of musical hits including "Evita", "Starlight Express", "Cats" and "Jesus Christ Superstar", first envisioned "Love Never Dies" more than two decades ago, only to have it undergo numerous stops and starts during its troubled development.
The award-winning composer had surgery for prostate cancer in 2009 and it wasn't until 2010 that it finally opened in London's West End, only to receive withering notices and close within a year-and-a-half.
Compare that to the original, with both its West End and Broadway incarnations tallying over 10,000 performances and grossing more than $5.6 billion.
In "Love Never Dies", The Phantom has left his lair at the Paris Opera House and, 10 years later, is haunting the fairgrounds of New York's Coney Island, fitting in well amidst the freaks and side shows and has begun a new life as a theatrical impresario.
Desperate to be reunited with his lost love, Christine, he lures her -- along with her husband Raoul and their young son --with the promise of making her a star in America. The score showcases Lloyd Webber's trademark brand of lush, operatic melodicism.
Speaking after a preview screening of the new film, Lloyd Webber admitted that he had doubts about the show early on.
"The reaction to the score was very positive, but I became very worried about the show during dress rehearsal," he says. "It wasn't quite there . . it just didn't firm up."
After the show's mixed reception -- an online blog famously dubbed it "Paint Never Dries" -- it later closed for a few days so that changes could be incorporated. But critical praise for the revisions wasn't enough to lift the sagging box-office.
When a new production of the show opened at Melbourne's Regent Theatre to raves, it suddenly seemed as if the project had a new life.
"I saw a relatively early preview, and I thought that they got it absolutely right," Lloyd Webber says. "It was very well cast, and very well sung. And when the people at Universal saw the production and said they'd like to film it, I thought, why not?"
Unlike London's National Theatre's NT Live series, "Love Never Dies," which was pre-recorded, has been given a decidedly cinematic treatment. There's no intermission, and the live audience is shown only once, at the end of the prologue.
"We took the decision that we wanted to treat it as a film rather than as an exact record of the stage production," Lloyd Webber said.
He said that his enthusiasm stemmed from the success of similar ventures by the National Theatre. "Its extraordinary, really," he points out. I don't think this level of technology existed even five years ago."
The film will be released on DVD in May.
(Editing by Christine Kearney)