Honorable mentions: meh
The premise of Love Never Dies is, at best, distasteful: a decade after the events of The Phantom of the Opera, we find out that the Phantom has escaped to Coney Island, where Raoul and Christine show up, and we are treated to a sermon about which man Christine should have chosen. I don’t believe in biographical criticism unless it’s unflattering; Andrew Lloyd Webber’s weird personal connection to the Phantom as a human being is a little unseemly.
Remember when Hamlet 2 was a movie, and the title was at least hysterical, because the concept of a sequel to Hamlet is ludicrous. The Phantom of the Opera is rather less holy than Hamlet, but there’s a reason that this play isn’t called The Phantom of the Opera 2. As far as I can tell, Love Never Dies is notable for two reasons: it employed Webber’s “I’d Do Anything” alumna Niamh Perry on the stage (in a role somewhat less exciting than the ones that fellow alumnae Rachel Tucker and Samantha Barks picked up), and it gave us “Til I Hear You Sing,” which is a genuinely good song in a genuinely mediocre musical.
In the summer of 2012, when I discovered Les Miserables, I was closing at the Wendy’s by my house. At that point, Les Miz was still probably my second or third favorite musical of all time, and in a much smaller field to boot, but I had spent nearly all of my Les Miz time (since 2008) with the Tenth Anniversary Cast. Everyone’s favorite cast is the one they first heard, but after four years of only having the TAC, I was ready to branch out. By the end of the summer, after having listened, in essence, only to different Les Miz casts, I had added four more to my repertoire. I’d learned something important along the way: a good Enjolras can totally change the show.
Anthony Warlow, the Complete Symphonic Recording Enjolras, and for my money the absolute best male voice on Broadway in the past fifty years, can hardly be imitated; any attempt to do so would be little more than Charlie Morton aping Roy Halladay. But Ramin Karimloo of the 25th Anniversary Cast, who is merely spectacular, could be the subject of impressions on the brief drives to Wendy’s around 5:00, and home again around 3:00.
Karimloo, of course, is the one singing Love Never Dies; the same year that Love Never Dies came to the West End stage, the 25th Anniversary performance of Les Miserables came there likewise. A year later, Karimloo was the Phantom in the 25th Anniversary cast of The Phantom of the Opera, which I cements him as the most important Phantom of the 21st Century.
His voice is so distinctive. He takes his vowels and pumps air into them as consistently as anyone else: listen to him sing “core” here. No one else grabs the first phoneme or two of a word like he does; in the last verse, from about 3:28 to 3:45, he all but attacks “hopes,” “let,” and “for.” And more than just about anyone else removed from the Alps or country music, Karimloo incorporates an almost yodeling quality. For someone who was raised on Michael Crawford-Phantom (I know, ugh) before running into Gerard Butler-Phantom (I know, ugh), someone like Karimloo (or Colm Wilkinson or John Owen-Jones or, of course, Anthony Warlow) is a revelation. He brings immense personality and individuality to a character that, at least from where I was sitting, rarely delivered on the strange promise that a lasso-throwing, music-writing, tenor-killing character ought to fulfill.