May 30, 2011
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Australia’s Creative Pride
I will start by saying it again - I disliked Love Never Dies intensely in London.
Despite a strong cast (Ramin Karimloo was missing, all the other original cast were on board) the show looked quite cheap. It played a little like a one set wonder, the whole idea of the show being set in Coney Island was never properly realised.
In fact it was suggested more by old newsreel footage than by anything that really felt like an amusement park. The plot seemed laboured and the audience were simply not getting it (it amazes me it is still playing), the theatre was about one third full on a Monday evening and some left at interval.
It is all too familiar now, that Webber in an attempt to get his original vision realised to his satisfaction and to give the show the commercial potential that the London version was clearly not demonstrating, gave acclaimed Australian director Simon Philips carte blanche to re-stage and re-imagine the show along with a breathtaking array of the best creatives we have in this country.
What those creatives (including incredible designer Gabriela Tylesova and choreographer Graeme Murphy) have done is go against the old tradition of re-creating a blue print of the London or Broadway original. What we have in Australia, is the best looking, most sumptuous production of any musical I have seen anywhere in recent years. The sound in the Regent Theatre has often been a problem (it often dogged many shows there in the past), but the sound design by Mick Potter is spectacular and it brings the true beauty of a totally complete (unsynthesised) orchestra under the baton of the superb Guy Simpson.
Australia has always had great success re-interpreting musicals when they are allowed to do it and aren't under the dictates of copying the original. Nowhere is the genius of our creatives more on display than it is here. This is a real example of Australia's great creative talents at their best. The show overflows with extraordinary images, from a huge carousel to all the lights and sideshow paraphenalia of Coney Island in its heyday.
The creative genius behind the show goes a long way to help create a world for this, something it sorely lacked in London. I know one of Webber's big motivations of allowing the show to be re staged is to get interest in the show going to Broadway (where it has twice been postponed) and Broadway would be very lucky to have a production that looks and sounds as good as this version.
When I wrote about the show earlier this year, I said that there needs to be severe script and music revisions for the show to work. It is almost beyond comprehension that with all the great technical and direction work that has gone in to the show, the actual script, songs and structure of the show remains much the same. (There is a major improvement in the final moment of the show)
This is obvious from the first moments when we have the Phantom sing the show's big song right at the very top. I never understood this when it was re written that way in London and I don't understand it now. It's a bit like the curtain going up on Cats and Grizabella comes out and sings 'Memory'. What is musically going to top that??!! 'Till I Hear You Sing' is undoubtedly the hit of the show and is, in fact, one of Webber's most appealing well constructed songs. The show needs to build to this song as Act One develops.
Likewise the paper thin story and the utterly unconvincing melodramatic and ridiculous final scene (which brought giggles from many people around me) is still there and the actors excellent as they are, can only serve the hysteria of this scene. The complete "out of the ballpark" nature of the final fifteen minutes of the show is one of the reasons many of the fans of Phantom have been so angry with this story and there is justification for it. The character of Meg Giry is a sweet secondary character, when her character does a total back flip, reality goes out the window, despite the contrivances of the script as it tries to construct to justify this.
But let's dwell on the positive, this is a spectacle for eye and ear, how many grand operas have a good story? Even the original Phantom was no great literary masterpiece writing wise (though it did have some great climactic moments this story sadly lacks).
I would advise everyone seeing Love Never Dies to be enchanted by what Simon Phillips and his creative team have brought to this work, for breathtaking visual magnificence you will go a long way to find anything better.