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Musicals

May 30, 2011

REVIEW: Love Never Dies | Regent Theatre, Melbourne

"Ten long years," the Phantom bemoans, "living a mere facade of life. Ten long years, wasting my time with smoke and noise." The frustration is palpable. Not of the opera ghoul's

Jason Whittaker

Former Crikey editor and publisher

The cast of Love Never Dies | Regent Theatre (Pic: Jeff Busby)

“Ten long years,” the Phantom bemoans, “living a mere facade of life. Ten long years, wasting my time with smoke and noise.”

The frustration is palpable. Not of the opera ghoul’s lost love, necessarily, but of the puppet-master of global Phantom Enterprises. It’s been 25 years, in fact, since Andrew Lloyd Webber put his stupidly successful rock opera there, inside our minds. After much smoke and noise, and barely a hit, since, the sequel nobody asked for, and social media groups militantly campaigned against, is here — Love, Sir Webber hastens to add, Never Dies.

The tortured genius (in the mask, now) just won’t quit. Heartbreak didn’t kill him in his Paris Opera House lair as he set his muse Christine free, nor rickets apparently in the years since. In fact, he crossed the Atlantic to New York and the bright lights of Coney Island, transforming himself into a self-styled impresario. Now he’s hatched an implausible plot to lure his love, now a mother and married to that sensible Raoul, to the fairground to again capture her heart.

“In my mind I hear melodies pure and unearthly, but I find I can’t give them a voice without you,” the masked one seethes in the opening scene. He is grotesquely mortal now, stripped of the alchemy, the hypnotic allure, of the original.

Much like this sequel.

The tune, ‘Till I Hear You Sing — a genuinely stirring show-stopper — comes at the very start of the show (part of the significant revisions Webber and his Australian collaborators have made to the widely-panned London production) and is, rather ominously, endlessly echoed but never matched for the next two and a half hours. You can’t build a show on one great song. Or the memories of an old fantastical piece of musical theatre.

Critics will use Love Never Dies as the blunt instrument to beat Webber over the head for crimes against the stage (and the Victorian government for topping up his fortune to bring the show Broadway rejected to Melbourne). They’ll say it’s an exercise in commercial greed (though the multi-billionaire hardly needs the cash). They’ll point to the banal lyrics (arguably no worse than any other show he’s penned); the implausible plot (even by musical theatre standards?); the gaudy celebration of sheer style over substance (nothing but a spectacle under director Simon Phillips and designer Gabriela Tylesova). And they’ll be right.

But he did write it. Many people will come to see it. Most will leave happy enough. It showcases a host of quite exceptional Australian talent. It is, frankly, not awful. Nothing to eulogise, perhaps, but nothing to demonise either. Let’s all remain calm.

Ben Lewis took around five minutes on opening night to become a star. On paper he is miscast: far too young (the years have been kind to the Phantom) with barely a lead role on the resume. But his prodigious ‘Till I Hear You Sing was pulsating; his portrayal of torment the most convincing aspect of most scenes.

And as he rises to the rafters the sparkling vision of Tylesova — perhaps the other star of this show — spills out, earning an applause of its own. A rickety rollercoaster laps the stage, colourfully-costumed circus freaks emerge, energetically choreographed by Graeme Murphy no less, and Webber’s rousing and richly orchestrated Coney Island Waltz, tightly performed under the baton of musical director Guy Simpson, paints a vivid picture of a bygone era of entertainment.

As Christine, Anna O’Byrne returns to the role and, as she did in the original, handles the musically demanding soprano parts well. Her big number (and perhaps the only other memorable tune) Love Never Dies is crisp and assured. Simon Gleeson is Raoul, a more challengingly unsympathetic role than the original, Sharon Millerchip also returns as Meg, now a thoroughly accomplished stage performer, and Maria Mercedes is the wily Madame Giry. Rudely talented Kurtis Papadinis had the honour of playing Christine’s son on opening night (five boys share the role).

All do their best to flesh out roles that only really manage to be whole with the context of the original. Don’t bother coming if you aren’t one of the 5 million Australians who saw Phantom. This is an addendum, however unsatisfying, for them; nothing more than a visual spectacle for anyone else.

After the exciting opening the carriages quickly run off the rails. Regular musical cues to the original Phantom score only serve to underline how much more entrancing it was; one number, act one closer The Beauty Underneath, attempts a synthesised timewarp to the 1980s that jars in an otherwise inoffensive if rarely inspiring score. As for the narrative, from a witless book co-written by comedian Ben Elton (and extensively revised since), its soapy revelations suck much of the romance from the rewound love triangle.

What Melbourne audiences will experience is a production significantly better than the West End. A beaming Webber took to the stage for his curtain call on Saturday and declared to the star-studded audience: “I wasn’t really happy with this in London and here it is exactly as I wanted it to be.” The creative ingenuity of this Australian team deserved its enthusiastic standing ovation. And the tortured composer? There’s undoubtably more smoke and noise to come.

Phans will lap this up. And there’s plenty of them to ensure a long and successful run.

The details: Love Never Dies plays the Regent Theatre. Tickets through Ticketmaster. The show is expected to tour to Sydney next year.

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7 comments

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7 thoughts on “REVIEW: Love Never Dies | Regent Theatre, Melbourne

  1. Jason Whittaker

    Great comment, Jeni. Visually spectacular, certainly. But problems with plotting and character as you say.

    I watched the filmed DVD version on the weekend (available in shops now). It’s really beautifully filmed and captures the staging really well.

  2. Jeni Robinson

    Having read the comments above I thought I’d add my bit to the mix.
    The Phantom of the Opera was my first professional theatre outing back in the early 1990s with Anthony Warlow at the helm, after being involved in three amateur musical theatre companies in the 80s myself. This musical had a profound affect on my soul and up until last year, when Doctor Zhivago – A New Musical came to our stages, was my all-time favourite. Consequently I was eager to witness the long-awaited sequel when I heard it was coming to our shores.
    The sets and costumes were spectacular, as were the actors themselves – congratulations for your wonderful portrayals of the characters written. Three of the songs were enough to have me wanting to hear them again: firstly, the title song “Love Never Dies” was brilliantly delivered by Anna O’Byrne with a backdrop and costuming to mesmerise, “Once Upon Another Time” had poignancy and an enjoyable melody, while the opening number “Till I Hear You Sing”, although it seemed to take a long time to get off the ground, once Ben Lewis swung into the song I found it to be a stirring number.
    But I’m afraid that’s as far as my praise can go.
    From the opening, I was astounded that the storyline had Phantom – a shadowy recluse who for decades had lived in the bowels of the Parisienne Opera House and had shunned humanity in general because of his self-hatred for his deformity – would then find himself in the middle of a rowdy, jam-packed circus-style arena in one of the most crowded cities on earth.
    Raoul was a complete charicature of the one depicted in the original offering. According to the original, as he grew older and was confined to a wheelchair he was still a very wealthy and respected gentleman, not the drunkard and pathetically weak creature depicted in the sequel.
    I found most of the songs were not ones that had me “feeling” the score and lyrics as the first one did – most of them being quite monotonous, especially “Beautiful” which, although sung competently by the young star on stage the night I saw it, was very repetitive with no real melody.
    Meg Giry’s character was also very different to the young girl who was Christine’s best friend in the original version, with no real reason for the change that I could see. I couldn’t understand why in such a poignant storyline they would include the song “Bathing Beauty”. Maybe it was to bring in the final scene on the pier, but I believe there could have been a much better twist to bring that in rather than such a saucy song in a very sad storyline.
    I probably won’t get a lot of fans for my comments but as I said, there were some elements I loved about the production itself, but the storyline had nothing to do with the Phantom I have come to know and care about.

  3. MICK WEBB

    Went along to see the production again a few nights ago – what a stunning, world class night of entertainment. Sure, there are those who are unhappy about the show being a follow on to Phantom and the legacy that comes with that bears alot of weight, but having been knocked out by this production several times now I have to say that this Australian cast and crew does a stellar job of living up to its source material. Amazing visuals, sound, principals and supporting cast. It truly is like being transported into another world for several hours. And that’s what a show should do.

  4. PanaroFan Targaryen

    Saw it in London. Loved it. The score is ALW at his best. Moving story. And the aussie versions seems to be even more spectacular. Don’t miss it! Can’t wait for the DVD….

  5. ant smith

    a shame he bothered. how one can systematically ruin our memories of those wonderful characters of the Original Gaston Leroux story is unforgivable

  6. Kym Evans

    This show is simply stunning, musically, visually and in every way. This is Andrew Lloyd Webber at his very best- I absolutely adored the show.
    Have seen it in Melbourne more than once and will be flying north to take friends to see it and will fall in love with it all over again. Ben Lewis Anna O’Byrne the incredible Maria Mercedes and the gorgeous Sharon Millerchip lead an incredibly talented aussie cast. For more info check http://www.lndfansite.org

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    […] the Cam Macbeth of his day, Morrow riases the terrifying spectre, not of Banquo’s ghost, but Love Never Dies, the thus far ill-fated sequel to The Phantom, pointing out that while that might seem hopelessly […]