Sydney Morning Herald
May 30, 2011
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Review: Love Never Dies
Andrew Lloyd Webber looked very pleased on Saturday night. Well he might.
His long-gestating sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, which came here cloaked in a set of decidedly mixed reviews, seems to have got the imaginative kick in the rear end it needed.
Sensibly ditching the temptation to recap plot, Love Never Dies dunks us straight into the well of the Phantom’s misery. There he sits, pummelling his organ so to speak, still anguishing over the object of his obsession, Christine, and unable to achieve creative tumescence without her. Some things never change.
Other things do, however. It is 1907 and we are in New York. After pulling his vanishing trick a decade earlier in Paris, the Phantom has recast himself as Mr Y, the mysterious, half-masked impresario of a Coney Island variety palace, a man with the financial clout to compel the now established opera star Christine to sing just one number in his oversized boardwalk sideshow.
Just the one song then? Well, no. He wants it all - all, do you hear, mwah! - but to sing his tune (the show’s title number) Christine must gamble her marriage to wastrel aristocrat Raoul (Simon Gleeson) and the future of her ten-year-old son who is already displaying uncanny musical promise. (Ten years old you say? It seems Christine and the Phantom’s soul union produced more than a pretty tune.) She will also destroy the aspirations of two women who have sacrificed all for the maestro: the stern, enabling Madame Giry, and her showgirl daughter Meg.
Ben Elton is among the book’s four writers. So is novelist Frederick Forsyth. Even so, the story is light on the humour and tension you might reasonably expect them to provide. This is a melodrama that takes itself (and its predecessor) very … very … seriously. Light on its feet, it is not.
Nor are Lloyd Webber’s plushly upholstered melodies, which struggle for lift until late in the piece, earthbound by some pedestrian lyric-smithing by Glenn Slater.
Spot-on vaudeville pastiche brightens the mood (the gorgeously coy Bathing Beauties) and helps reinforce a slow-emerging subtext of a dying, tormented Old World working out its neurosis to the wry amusement of the New.
Emoting powerfully as the Phantom, Ben Lewis can’t disguise his youthfulness – is there some Benjamin Button thing going on, too? - though his booming voice and broad vibrato lend him all the heft he needs, and he fashions a convincing character without recourse to the over-thought exterior detailing of Anthony Warlow’s last outing in the role.
Anna O’Byrne looks ravishing has a bell-like clarity to her voice. Simon Gleeson offers a sympathetic reading of Raoul (the guy just needs a hug), and Sharon Millerchip is perfect as the curdling starlet Meg.
But the star of the show is undoubtedly Gabriela Tylesova’s design, a twist of rollercoaster encircling a disc-shaped curtain the frame of which incorporates an tortured cipher of the Phantom’s mask. Her costumes bring the gaudy, candy store wit of Tim Burton to mind, an impression heightened by the sinuous grotesquerie of Graeme Murphy’s choreography. Props and machines – a clockwork-powered coach, for example - are marvels.
Phillips’s production steers clear of “chandelier moments”, favouring sustained invention, seamless flow and an engulfing sense of nightmare. There’s wow factor, of course (a galloping carousel is an early highlight) though quieter scenes are realised with the same attention to detail, particularly the recreation of a Coney Island bar to frame Raoul’s saloon song feature (Why Does She Love Me) and his face-off with Mr Y (Devil Take the Hindmost).
An inspired, often ravishing production for sure, though of a sequel that doesn’t make a strong enough musical or narrative argument for its own existence.