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LONDON (Reuters) - Comparisons with the original were inevitable when Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to write a sequel to his record-breaking musical "Phantom of the Opera."
After Tuesday night's world premiere at the Adelphi Theater in London's West End, the consensus among critics was that "Love Never Dies" was a mere shadow of the show seen by more than 100 million people around the world since 1986.
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.
Not all reviews were bad, but several prominent critics savaged the sequel, including the New York Times' Ben Brantley who called it a "poor sap of a show (which) feels as eager to be walloped as a clown in a carnival dunking booth."
Brantley was not alone in questioning the storyline, which reviewers said was implausible and confusing.
Four people are credited with the book -- Lloyd Webber himself, theatrical writer Glenn Slater, novelist Frederick Forsyth and comedian Ben Elton.
"If you don't know the first Phantom, you will be very confused; if you do know the first Phantom, you will also be very confused," wrote Brantley.
Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail was less dismissive of Love Never Dies, but concluded:
"So: a hit? Not quite. It is too much an also-ran to the prequel and its opening is too stodgy. But if it is a miss, it is ... a noble miss, noble because Lloyd Webber's increasingly operatic music tries to lift us to a higher plane."
The Times' Benedict Nightingale also said Love Never Dies suffered in comparison to Phantom, which is still playing at Her Majesty's Theater in London 24 years after its opening.
"Where's the menace, the horror, the psychological darkness? For that I recommend a trip to Her Majesty's, not the Adelphi."
At the other end of the spectrum, Charles Spencer wrote in the Telegraph that it was Lloyd Webber's best show since Phantom "with a score blessed with superbly haunting melodies and a yearning romanticism that sent shivers racing down my spine."
The mixed reviews followed an internet campaign by a small number of die-hard Phantom "phans" to attack Love Never Dies even before it opened.
Some wrote to critics before the premiere to tell them what they thought, and others who had been to previews over the last two weeks expressed their views in online forums.
Lloyd Webber was dismissive of the comments, although he acknowledged that they made launching a musical in the digital age more difficult than it used to be.
"If everybody worried about those, you'd go back to the days of Cats, Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera. If there had been the net then, you'd have almost given up," he told Reuters.
"I don't think one worries about that at all. It's a new phenomenon. There's only about five people writing (these comments) you know."
Love Never Dies will hit Broadway in November and Australia in 2011.
Editing by Steve Addison