LONDON The sequel to "Phantom of the Opera", one of the biggest musicals of all time, opens in London on Tuesday amid disquiet among die-hard "phans" who have been posting opinions online since previews began two weeks ago.
Composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was sufficiently worried about the internet chatter -- much of it negative -- to criticize it in a recent newspaper interview, although he remained confident that "Love Never Dies" would have a happy ending.
The main forum for debate has been the website of theater publication What's On Stage.
Over 850 messages have been posted since February 22, when "Steve 10086" described the musical as "boring". Not all of the contributions have been negative, however, and many authors had not been to see the show.
The West End Whingers' blog retitled the show "Paint Never Dries".
Lloyd Webber, who recently underwent treatment for prostate cancer, described those already attacking the new production as belonging to a "sad culture" of people "who live only by the old Phantom of the Opera."
On the musical's own website, one blogger summed up the mood among many "phans": "Not great, well there will never be anything as good as Phantom, that's for sure!
"I went in with an open mind but felt like I was watching a rough cut of the actual thing."
CATS WOULD HAVE CLOSED
Lloyd Webber, creator of a string of hit musicals including "Evita", "Starlight Express", "Cats" and "Jesus Christ Superstar", believes some of his biggest shows may have struggled to survive in the internet age of instant reaction.
"If anybody (with access to the internet) had seen the first preview of Cats I think it would have been closed," he said.
In some ways Phantom is the hardest act to follow, having broken records with more than 9,000 performances in London alone, the longest run in Broadway history and performances before more than 100 million people since it opened in 1986.
Yet it also received some poor reviews early on, including The Sunday Times which called it "masked balls", and Lloyd Webber told the Independent recently: "Musical theater history is littered with bad reviews for now classic pieces."
Love Never Dies opens at the Adelphi Theater in London's West End and will hit Broadway in November and Australia in 2011.
The new musical continues the story of The Phantom, who has left his lair at the Paris Opera House and, 10 years later, is haunting the fairgrounds of New York's Coney Island.
The production team described the new show as a "rollercoaster ride of obsession and intrigue in which music and memory can play cruel tricks."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)