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Producer/composer Andrew Lloyd Webber talks about how the 'Phantom' musical sequel, 'Love Never Dies,' came about. It will be performed at the Fisher Theatre, Oct. 19- 29. He also discusses his musical 'School of Rock.' Daniel Mears, The Detroit News

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Detroit — An energized, enthusiastic Andrew Lloyd Webber spoke Thursday about the importance of music in education, about how deeply he cares about the characters in his “Phantom of the Opera,” and, of course, about “Love Never Dies,” which had its North American premiere Tuesday night at the Fisher Theatre.

The composer of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “Cats” and so many other works talked with The Detroit News at the Fisher. During the interview, Lloyd Webber said he wanted to go somewhere to explore Detroit music and asked where the Motown Museum was (he made it over there for a tour within the hour).

“Love Never Dies” is

the sequel to his 1986 blockbuster “Phantom of the Opera,” the longest-running show in Broadway history, according to Guinness Book of World Records.

‘Phantom’ has been such a big part of my life,” the composer told The Detroit News. “I thought, ‘I’d love to take the story further and close it.’ And for me, that’s as far as that story can ever go.”

Without giving away the ending, let it be said that yes, the ending is very final.

“Love Never Dies” had a long and winding road to this Detroit premiere (it runs at the Fisher until Oct. 29). Its first iteration was presented in London’s West End in 2010.

The story takes up with Phantom — a disfigured, masked musical genius who haunted the Paris Opera House, obsessed with the singer Christine Daae — 10 years after he fled for America. There he lives under a seedy Coney Island amusement park. The plot involves his attempt to lure Christine across the ocean, to force her to choose once and for all between him and Raoul, her husband. Oh and, there’s a 10-year-old who might be his son.

“With the London production, it was one of those unfortunate things where, despite the very talented people who were working on it, it didn’t coalesce,” Lloyd Webber explained. “I, unfortunately, got cancer during the middle of it, so I can’t say I was at my best, rehearsing when I could, in a tracksuit. It wasn’t great.”

“Luckily there was another production in Australia that was mooted, where it was a completely different design, a completely different approach, a completely different director (Simon Phillips), and that’s what we’re seeing now,” he said. “It came together in Australia with a production design that absolutely fits the material.”

The show moved to Germany and picked up Gardar Thor Cortes, who played the Phantom there, and now sings it in English at the Fisher. Meghan Picerno portrays Christine Daae.

In terms of design, Lloyd Webber recalled something the great Broadway producer, Hal Prince, told him back in the early 1970s. “He said that you can’t listen to a musical if you can’t look at it.”

Happily, this American launch of the production has lived up to his hopes.

“All I can say is, based on what I’ve seen, like last night, I had one of those nights that you rarely get as a composer, that you say gosh, it’s all there,” said Lloyd-Webber, 69.

“You’d be pleased if this was being presented on [London’s] West End,” he added. “You have two great Phantoms, and two great Christines in this company. The Christines give very different performances, but they are both fabulous. I can’t wait to see it with another combination of this cast.”

“Love Never Dies” is, in many ways, darker and more adult than “Phantom.” Most of all, it resolves a story that Lloyd Webber had worried left audiences dangling.

“Obviously, I’m 20 years older than I was when I wrote the original ‘Phantom,’ and I think the music has moved on,” Lloyd-Webber mused. “But I think anybody who knows me will understand what I mean, in wanting to close the book on this one. In doing so, I think I’ve put more of myself in it, because those characters have been such a part of my life, whether I like it or not. I really, really, really feel for them.”

Randall Buck, one of the producers of “Love Never Dies,” said Thursday at the Fisher that the hope is that “Love Never Dies” will eventually go to Broadway, although there are no firm plans yet.

“He wasn’t bringing his full force into the production,” Buck said of Lloyd Webber’s bout with cancer while putting the 2010 London show together. “He’s back in spades, now. He’s so vibrant and on his game, it’s been a fabulous experience.”

What can a generation addicted to screens and YouTube videos find in live theater? As a live event, every night is different, Lloyd Webber said.

But for young people, he has a deeper interest in the transformative power of music in general. To that end, his foundation funds musical education in Britain and in the United States, via the American Theater Wing.

“One of the things we’ve discovered is that in schools in very deprived areas, if you give a child a musical instrument, say a violin, and they learn that for a week, it has the most astonishing effect,” the composer said. “If they then have music lessons in the instrument every week, music empowers them in a way that nothing else can, because music has no boundaries, has no race, no creed, nothing.”

The point isn’t to produce musicians, although he’s happy if that happens, but in the intellectual and emotional benefits to the young.

“There’s a school in London that we would call ‘special needs,’ and after three years of a music scheme of this kind, they got their first child into Oxford, which is the equivalent of Harvard,” Lloyd Webber said happily.

Susan Whitall is an author and longtime contributor to The Detroit News.

‘Love Never Dies’

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton, additional lyrics by Charles Hart

Through Oct. 29

The Fisher Theatre

3011 W. Grand Blvd., Detroit

(313) 872-1000

broadwayindetroit.com

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