Sydney Morning Herald
Jan 13, 2012
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Spectacular set and soaring vocals save this stuttering storyline
The Phan-boys will never come around to loving it, but Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel arrives in Sydney having had its reputation saved in Melbourne by this ravishing eye-full of a production.
All did not go smoothly on opening night, however. Director Simon Phillips popped up after interval to explain that a hitch in a curtain track meant that, in this performance, we would see some backstage business. So we did. It hardly mattered.
More distracting, it turned out, were problems with the lighting in the lead up to the show’s title number, though even those didn’t detract much. This production’s riot of ideas and stylistic references has your brain working overtime just to keep up.
Designer Gabriela Tylesova’s set is a brilliant evocation of the New World at the turn of the 20th century, in which Lloyd Webber’s decidedly Old World romantic torments will be played out. A spiralling rollercoaster track is both its physical skeleton and a metaphor for the twisted psyche of The Phantom who, having pulled off his vanishing trick in Paris a decade ago, has reinvented himself as Coney Island impresario Mr Y.
Two towers lean into the auditorium, connecting perfectly to the Capitol Theatre’s head-turning John Eberson-designed interior with a few strands of festoon lights. A huge revolving cipher of the Phantom’s half-mask is a kind of iris, focusing our attention.
It’s into this gaudy underworld that Mr Y (Ben Lewis) draws Christine (Anna O’Byrne), the object of his sensual and musical obsessions. When she arrives in New York, however, she has rather more baggage than anticipated – a 10-year-old boy called Gustave (Jack Lyall on opening night), whose musical talent has a familiar ring to it.
Lloyd Webber’s score is plushly upholstered and quite effective though attempts to integrate rock rhythms and electric guitar into the spectrum sound very '80s – a sonic link to the original Phantom score. In the unintentionally funny The Beauty Underneath, you can detect the influence of stadium rockers Metallica. Elsewhere, fans of Sinatra torch ballads will hear something familiar in barstool number Why Does She Love Me? sung by Simon Gleeson’s Raoul.
Graeme Murphy's sinuous choreography shows Tylesova’s wonderful costuming to its best advantage throughout. The wide-eyed vaudeville pastiche Bathing Beauty – the spotlight scene for Sharon Millerchip’s over-ripe starlet Meg - is a highlight.
I saw this production when it opened in Melbourne last year and to my mind it sits better in the Capitol (unless you are in the back stalls) and dramatically, the show is now a smoother (though no more plausible) ride.
Towering physically and vocally over the show, Lewis’s performance has – within the melodramatic limits prescribed – become a more supple one. His voice, which has power right across his formidable range, seems better connected to the emotions he must demonstrate. Given that lyricist Glenn Slater provides him with obstacles to overcome rather than words to savour, he does extraordinarily well.
O’Byrne’s thrilling soprano rings beautifully throughout, and Millerchip excels in a role that cries out for a scene to ease the way for us to accept her fate.
There’s a paucity of memorable songs and melodies, and the story’s climax stutters, but Love Never Dies’ deficiencies as art are more than covered for by its value as sumptuous old-fashioned entertainment.