The Daily Telegraph
Jan 13, 2012
Sarrah Le Marquand
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[Staging] a sequel to the musical phenomenon Phantom of the Opera was always going to be a challenge
If Hollywood has taught us anything - beyond that too much Botox is apparently never enough - it’s the inherent dangers of embarking on a sequel.
Only on the rarest of occasions does a follow-up manage to match, far less exceed, its predecessor - with most destined to be seen as little more than a cynical grab for cash by greedy studios.
It’s a gamble not confined to the cinema, with even Andrew Lloyd Webber, famed composer of Broadway’s two longest running musicals (The Phantom of the Opera and Cats), struggling to repeat his own success with a sequel to the biggest blockbuster of them all.
But with Phantom - first staged in 1986 - having become the most financially successful theatrical show in history, who can blame him for assuming audiences would seize the chance to revisit the disfigured musical genius and his beautiful muse?
Yet the belated encore got off to a rocky start upon opening in the West End to poor reviews and disappointing ticket sales - enough to kill off the subsequent Broadway run before it even began.
Just as the project seemed doomed to be shelved indefinitely, Australian producer Tim McFarlane convinced Lloyd Webber to approve a reworked version for Melbourne. It is this newly renovated, and far more warmly received, production that now settles into Sydney’s Capitol Theatre for a 12-week season.
Ten years have passed since the events of the original, with The Phantom (Ben Lewis) overseeing entertainment at New York’s Coney Island. This position - not to mention wads of cash - enables him to anonymously lure his beloved soprano Christine (Anna O'Byrne) to the US, accompanied by her down-on-his-luck husband Raoul (Simon Gleeson) and son Gustave (played by Jack Lyall on opening night).
Predictably, the reunion soon reignites the Phantom/Christine/Raoul love triangle, which rapidly progresses from melodramatic to genuinely tragic in the fast-paced second act.
Despite his obvious youth (our masked hero appears to be ageing in reverse), Lewis is compelling from the moment he opens proceedings with the show’s strongest number, 'Til I Hear You Sing, which remains the standout performance of the night until O'Byrne’s rendition of the title song some time later.
Gleeson, too, is in fine voice as are both Maria Mercedes as Madame Giry and her onscreen daughter Meg, played once again by original cast member Sharon Millerchip.
Unfortunately the real star of the show - the stunning set - fell victim to first night nerves. After a suspiciously long interval, director Simon Phillips gamely fronted the audience to apologise in advance for the technical hiccups that punctuated Act Two.
Phillips’s disarming frankness may have deflected complaints on opening night, but it’s a problem that cannot afford to be repeated.
While a steady string of showstoppers helped catapult the original into the musical theatre stratosphere, Phantom Part II boasts a far less remarkable score. It’s only due to the strong performances and lavish design that this locally revamped production manages to shrug off the curse of the sequel.