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Life & Random Thoughts of Indigo Montoya

May 31, 2012

Miss Montoya

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Love Never Dies (Australian Cast DVD)

Love Never Dies was the sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera musical that nobody wanted. The critics hated it. The fans hated it. I hated it so much I wrote a three-part rant about it! If you've already read my Love Never Dies rant then you might be thinking that there isn't anything else I could criticise the show for. Oh but there's more! You see when I reviewed the show I was reviewing the cast recording for the London production. But when the show opened in London only to get scathing reviews from both Phantom fans and theatre critics, Andrew Lloyd Webber and the Really Useful Group closed the production down for four days. The show was then re-written and re-worked in an attempt to sort out some of the problems that the critics and fans had with it and to win them over. They even brought in Charles Hart (who wrote most of the lyrics for the original musical) to re-write some of the show's lyrics. The reviews for this new re-vamped version of Love Never Dies weren't as hostile and were a bit more positive. Unsurprisingly it was this version of Love Never Dies that Webber brought over to Melbourne. The Australian production was then filmed in front of a live audience, screened to cinemas around the world, and then released on DVD. I saw the DVD a couple of weeks ago thanks to the power of YouTube and I'm not quite sure why I even bothered to watch it. I think it was just to get this musical out of my system once and for all!

So is the revamped version of Love Never Dies better? Erm...yes. Marginally. But I still can't stand the show. Despite the changes all of the fundamental, underlying problems that the show has remain intact. However, I would be lying if I said that I hated everything about this Australian cast DVD. The best thing about this DVD and Love Never Dies in general is the music. The songs can't hold a candle to the songs from the original musical but there are some genuinely good tunes in this show. Beneath a Moonless Sky might have stupid lyrics but I'm willing to admit that it has a beautiful melody. Coney Island Waltz and Love Never Dies are very pretty tunes. Devil Take the Hindmost has grown on me a lot. Till I Hear You Sing and Beauty Underneath are great songs.  Also there's simply no denying that the show looks absolutely stunning. The staging, set designs and costumes are lavish and beautiful - with the Coney Island Waltz and Beauty Underneath scenes in particular being extremely well-done. The show has a very cinematic feel to it as well. Even though it was filmed live and in front of an audience the camera-work and cinematography are great. At times I even forgot that I was watching a stage production and thought I was watching an actual movie. If only all filmed productions of stage shows could be filmed in such high quality! There are some very good performances on this DVD too and I think the actresses who play Christine and Meg - Anna O'Byrne and Sharon Millerchip - deserve special mention. They do they best they can with the poor material they've been given to work with. Although I do prefer Sierra Boggess's voice, Anna O'Byrne's singing is excellent throughout and she manages to give Christine's character a bit more depth. Her Christine is absolutely furious when she sees the Phantom again, she acts very much like Christine acts with the Phantom in the Final Lair scenes from the original. O'Byrne's Christine comes across as very mature and maternal too. I liked her interactions with the kid who played Gustave in Look with Your Heart. It made this very boring song a bit more tolerable to me. Sharon Millerchip's singing is also excellent and she managed to elicit some sympathy from me when her character eventually broke down. The only performer in this DVD who gives an inferior performance to their counterpart in the London production is Ben Lewis.

Now if you're read my review for the 2004 movie you may recall me saying that I thought Gerard Butler did a competent job at acting the role of the Phantom but that his singing was less than decent. Well, Ben Lewis is the anti-Gerard Butler. Lewis's singing is fine. His voice is much deeper and more classical sounding than Ramin Karimloo's - which did take a bit of getting used to - but I thought that his singing was really good on the whole. The only time when Lewis's singing doesn't sound so great is when he sings Beauty Underneath. Lewis's voice just doesn't have the rock edge that Karimloo's has, and since Beauty Underneath is a rock song that's a bit of a problem. Ramin Karimloo's version of the song is miles better.

Lewis's singing is perfectly decent and I think he's a good singer. It's his acting that I have a problem with. Unlike Ramin Karimloo I could NEVER picture this guy being able to make the transition from stage to screen acting! His acting on this DVD seems to consist entirely of him giving manic, creepy-eyed stares! And on the few occasions when Lewis has to speak his lines, rather than singing them, he puts on a bizarre Eastern European accent which makes him sound like the Count from Sesame Street!

Up until now I haven't really commented on the differences between the Australian Love Never Dies and the London production. Well, as far as I can see there isn't really THAT much of a difference between them. All of the fundamental faults and flaws with the show are still there. But I will talk about the changes that were made nonetheless. One of the changes that was made to Love Never Dies is that the Phantom's solo Till I Hear You Sing (which is the best song in the whole musical in my opinion) comes in right at the very beginning of the show. In the London production this song didn't appear until about 15 or 20 minutes in! Before that song there was the prologue with Madame Giry and Fleck at the ruins of Phantasma, there was the Coney Island Waltz overture, there was the Heaven by the Sea song (which has been removed from the show completely), and there was Meg and the chorus girl's song Only For Him. But in this Australian DVD the curtain is opened up and the audience gets to see the Phantom straight away. This is a big mistake in my opinion. It feels very strange to see the Phantom straight away and I really do think that there should have been a slower build-up of tension before he shows up on stage. Having said that I can sort of see why Andrew Lloyd Webber made this change. I think he was probably trying to reassure the audiences by letting them hear a really good song straight away. He was probably hoping they'd think "Ooh, I've heard some bad things about this musical but this song is actually really good! Maybe the show won't be so bad after all!"

Some of the characters have been changed in this musical too, especially Meg Giry. Her character has been toned down considerably and she's no longer in love with the Phantom. Now it's clear that she only wants to boost her career and get the Phantom to notice her. Meg isn't as much of a bitch in this version either. Well, she isn't as obviously bitchy. When Meg first hears that Christine is on her way to New York in order to perform at Phantasma she's actually excited and genuinely happy to see her best friend again. It's only later on that she starts to become jealous and resentful. Also, Madame Giry is no longer an evil Mrs Danvers type. She's nowhere near as over-the-top and she doesn't have a silly French accent. Another way in which Andrew Lloyd Webber & co have tried to improve the show is by responding to the criticism that the Phantom has no menace. The only time the Phantom showed any sort of menace in the London production of the musical was when he shoved Raoul up against a bar in the Devil Take the Hindmost sceneand when you think the Phantom killed people in the original musical this does seem pretty wussy. So now when Christine meets the Phantom again after TEN YEARS she's absolutely furious that she's been tricked into coming to Coney Island and refuses to sing the song he's written for her. The Phantom then threatens to kidnap or even kill poor, innocent little Gustave (Christine's TEN YEAR old son) if she doesn't. Huh? Why on earth would the Phantom threaten to do something so evil, cruel and villainous?! Couldn't he have gotten Christine to sing in some other way?! The Phantom's threat might have made a bit more sense if he was trying to get Christine to leave her husband but he's doing it just to hear to sing a song! Now I get that they were trying to make the Phantom's character a bit darker but this is just LAME!

The only change that I truly approve of in Act 1 of this musical is the re-written version of Dear Old Friend. This song has been extensively re-written and my main problem with the song is no longer present. In the London production Raoul and Madame Giry act as if they're absolutely furious to see each other again in this song. But why would they act like that?! Since when have Raoul and Madame Giry been sworn enemies?! The last time they saw each other in the original musical was when Madame Giry showed Raoul the way to the Phantom's lair and gave him that helpful advice about keeping his hand at the level of his eye (which Raoul ignored but whatever). In this version of Love Never Dies though their meeting makes much more sense. Instead of being angry they're now pleasantly surprised to see each other again. However, as the song continues and they start to learn more about what the other is doing in Coney Island their moods change. They start to become callous and suspicious towards each other and it's only then that the song starts to become sarcastic. I can admit that this scene is much improved from the London production and I think we can thank Charles Hart for this. Apart from these changes Act 1 of this Australian DVD is pretty much the same as the London cast recording of this musical.

Act 2 is also pretty much the same as the London cast recording. One welcome change though is that all of the implications that the Phantom wrote Bathing Beauty have been completely removed. This is a good change because the Phantom wouldn't write this sort of song in a million years! His character would have still had standards even without Christine! Unfortunetly the song is still present in the show and it's still extremely painful to listen to. It's also extremely frustrating because this song does absolutely nothing to develop the plot and is completely unnecessary. This is in direct contrast to the original musical because all of the show-within-a-show songs from that were used to move the story forward. Christine's Think of Me song had a number of purposes in the original musical. It was used to contrast her voice with Carlotta's and to wow the opera house, and as she sang the song her childhood sweetheart Raoul recognised her. Even the lyrics of the song seem to refer to their past love. Raoul then came to Christine's dressing room after her performance which triggered the Phantom's jealousy and led to him taking Christine down to his lair. Carlotta's song in the Il Muto opera featured the Phantom making her croak like a toad, the reveal of Joseph Buquet's body, and the chandelier crash. The Point of No Return song from the Phantom's opera Don Juan Triumphant featured the Phantom acting out his fantasies with Christine on stage - by switching places with Piangi and disguising himself with a huge black cloak - and then kidnapping her afterwards. There's so much that could have been done with Bathing Beauty too! It could have been used to develop Meg's breakdown better. How does Meg feel when she performs the song? Is she struggling with it emotionally? Does singing such an awful song and then stripping off at the end make her feel cheapened and degraded? No. At the end she seems completely thrilled with how her performance went and says that she was only "worried just a touch that it might have been too much". Meg, Meg, Meg! You performed that earbleeding monstrosity and you were only worried just a touch?!

After Bathing Beauty this production of the musical is again pretty much the same as the London cast recording. We get Raoul trying to persuade Christine not to perform the song, the Phantom urging her to go on, Christine singing the song, Raoul leaving, Gustave getting kidnapped, the reveal that it's Meg who's kidnapped him and not Madame Giry, the race to the pier, and Christine getting shot. However, this time Christine gets shot accidentally when the Phantom tries to wrestle the gun away from Meg who's trying to kill herself. Another difference that I liked is that Gustave gets really upset when Christine tells him that the Phantom is really his father and not Raoul. He shouts "Nooooo!" and runs off to find Raoul. He brings him to the pier and it doesn't seem as if Gustave is now going to go off and live with the Phantom. That's right Gustave! You know which man has fed you and clothed you and loved you and raised you for the last TEN YEARS! You're not going to go off and live with a strange bloke who wears a mask and threatened to kidnap and possibly even kill you earlier in the show! Good for you! Finally, another change that's been made to this musical is that it does what the Charles Dance version does and doesn't show the Phantom's deformity to the audience. This was a change that I really didn't like. I think not showing the Phantom's face robs the show of some impact. And they change so much about the Phantom's character that it would have been nice if they'd at least kept the deformity in.

So now I'm finally done with Love Never Dies. And I still loathe this show just as much. Yes the show has half a dozen good tunes, some decent performances, and is visually impressive. And yes I do actually approve of some of the changes that have been made to the show (but certainly not all of them!) But none of these few positive aspects can make up for the fact that it bastardises the characters from the original musical. For example: we're still supposed to believe that Christine went back to the Phantom and had sex with him (at least three times times according to the lyrics) after the Final Lair scenes from the original. Has Christine gone mad?! I'm not saying that the Phantom can't be forgiven for what he's done but has Christine forgotten that he lied to her, manipulated her, stalked her, killed Joseph Buquet and Piangi, and tried to kill Raoul?! OK, at the end of the original musical Christine couldn't have known that Piangi had been murdered but surely someone would have told her about that later on?! Yet Christine (for some inexplicable reason) ignores the fact that the Phantom has killed her co-workers and, well, the lyrics to Beneath a Moonless Sky explain what happened. They did it! Again and again! And it was beautiful! Rather than hearing an entire song about how the sex between them was good, I would much rather hear a song that explained just how the Phantom was able to convince Christine to overlook everything that had happened in the original. I don't think I'm alone in that either! And how exactly DOES Christine know that Gustave is the Phantom's son?! There's no way that she could know for certain that Gustave isn't Raoul's son without Raoul knowing as well!

Speaking of Raoul, the audience is also still expected to believe that he's become an abusive, alcoholic gambler and it's never explained why he's become like this. Why is Raoul such a bad husband?! Is it because Christine has been ignoring him for years and obviously pining after the Phantom? Did that make Raoul bitter and resentful? Well, no, he can't be a bad husband because of that. In all of Christine and Raoul's scenes in Love Never Dies Christine is as shown to be the perfect, submissive wife. Why couldn't a reason have been provided for why Raoul's character is so drastically different from his character in the original? I guess because an explanation might have made the audience feel sympathy for Raoul and they couldn't have that. Meg's character change is never explained in this either. Why did she abandon her promising ballerina career? Why did she take up singing and stripping? Why is she so desperate for fame and to be a star?It goes without saying that the Phantom's character has been ruined too. The fact that he ruthlessly pursues Christine in this musical makes a travesty of the musical's original ending. Aside from the character assassinations the lyrics and plot in general are poor in this show too. I don't think Glenn Slater's lyrics are as terrible as everyone makes out but there's no denying that they're trite and simplistic. Also, the word "Beautiful" is obviously one of his favourite adjectives because my WORD is this song overused in the show! There's no humour or comic relief in the show either. There aren't any characters like Carlotta or Piangi or the managers, who brought in some light-hearted comic relief in the original. This is so surprising to me since Ben Elton came up with the story for this musical. He co-wrote one of the funniest comedies of all time with Blackadder. And finally, the show has no stakes. At all! The entire plot hinges on who Christine will choose: Raoul or the Phantom. The entire show is concerned with Christine's love life. Well it's obvious that Christine is going to choose the Phantom! They weren't going to have Christine reunite with the Phantom only to have her run off with Raoul all over again! But Christine still doesn't choose the Phantom properly in this show does she? The Phantom makes his bet with Raoul but Raoul doesn't tell Christine anything about it. He just asks her nicely not to perform the Phantom's song. He doesn't give Christine some kind of ultimatum. Christine has no way of knowing that by singing the song she's making her husband leave her. She's being manipulated all over again! In the original musical it was different. It wasn't just concerned with who Christine would end up with. People died in that show. It wasn't just Christine's love-life that was at stake, her freedom was at stake too. And who she ended up with would have an effect on not just her life but everyone else's lives at the opera house. This musical is a disgrace to the name of Phantom! And that's it. I'm finally done with Love Never Dies. Hurray!

Rating: 2/5 (again, I'm being generous)

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