Monday, 30 May 2011
Love Never Dies by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Regent Theatre, Melbourne ****
Love Never Dies
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater
Additional lyrics by Charles Hart
Book by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Ben Elton with Glenn Slater & Frederick Forsyth
Produced by The Really Useful Company Asia Pacific & Arts Capital Trust
Regent Theatre, from May 28, 2011
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Simon Phillips’ extravagant production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies infuses new energy into the musical with its vivid design, eccentric characters and mystical imagery.
The result is a ravishing, atmospheric spectacle that recreates the fantasy and dark mystery of a 1907 fairground, leaving even a sceptical audience gasping. Even a die-hard Phan may be converted.
The Phantom (Ben Lewis), ten years after his abduction of Christine (Anna O’Byrne), is now a wealthy impresario running Phantasma, a vivacious, Coney Island attraction. He lures Christine, her husband, Raoul (Simon Gleeson), and son, Gustave (Kurtis Papadinis), to Manhattan, tricking her into singing in Phantasma.
Ben Lewis is a formidable presence as the Phantom. With his velvety tones, impeccable vocal control, superb range and consummate acting, his performance rivals former Phantoms. His thrilling opening rendition of ‘Til I Hear You Sing sends the crowd wild and no song that follows meets this level.
Anna O’Byrne’s beautiful soprano is a perfect match for Lewis in their duets, Beneath a Moonless Sky and Once Upon Another Night. Her version of Love Never Dies is affecting.
The Beauty Underneath is a surprising, rock number sung by Lewis, Papaginis and the distinguished ensemble. Sharon Millerchip is delightfully cheeky performing Bathing Beauty as Meg Giry. Lewis and Gleeson’s love rivals’ duet, Devil Take The Hindmost, is powerful and Gleeson’s solo, Why Does She Love Me?, is an emotional moment for this character.
Gabriela Tylesova’s design provides another hero. Soaring gantries, a giant Phantom mask and occult imagery, illuminated by festoon lighting (Nick Schlieper), conjure a timeless, perilous fairground. The period costumes are high gelati in colour, evoking both freak shows and 1900 European elegance.
Phillips saturates the stage with sideshow freaks, acrobats and impish dancers performing Graeme Murphy’s raunchy choreography. Sometimes it’s so busy it’s hard to know where to look.
Lloyd Webber’s score intermittently and elegantly reprises the original Phantom, connecting the two stories. His composition and orchestration, conducted skillfully by Guy Simpson, have some powerful moments.
However, several songs lack punch and some lyrics are trite, with some tunes neither unique nor memorable: Look With Your Heart, Beautiful, Only For You and Dear Old Friends. Placing two love duets (Beneath a Moonless Sky, Once Upon Another Night) back-to-back is unnecessary and unsuccessful.
The big problem with this sequel is the muddled, unsatisfying story that lacks dramatic tension and a clear narrative arc. The stakes are not high enough and keep changing, there are unnecessary red herrings and too many villains. The central character, the Phantom, is now ordinary, lacking menace and mystery. The final tragic scene loses impact without a clear narrative structure leading to it.
Raoul’s role and his relationship to Christine are seriously underwritten. There is little evidence of the history of their love and a duet for the couple is sorely missed. Madame Giry’s (Maria Mercedes) role in the story keeps changing and Meg’s final jealous rage is surprising, if not unlikely. The child, Gustave, could be in greater danger and the centre of bitter rivalries but this thread unravels.
While this musical spectacle sets a new, visual design standard that will be difficult to surpass, it is disappointing that its narrative and music fail to reach the same lofty heights.
By Kate Herbert