May 29, 2011
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Once more with feeling for Phantom as Lloyd Webber feels undying love
IT'S commonplace for music theatre publicity to pull quotes from critics and conjure a few exclamation marks from thin air - "breathtaking!", "unforgettable!", "a powerhouse performance!" - despite the fact that it's a rare critic who'll gush with such unbridled punctuation. So in a spirit of generosity, I'll save someone the effort:
"OK!" (The Sunday Age)
Publicity is the phantom that has hounded Love Never Dies from the outset. The weight of expectation had people wondering whether a sequel to the most successful musical in Broadway history would be triumph or flop. I suspect this led to the savage reviews of its first incarnation in the West End; the rebooted Melbourne version is shy of masterpiece but no disaster.
It's been 10 long years since the Phantom and Christine had their last turn together; he now lurks in a Coney Island amusement park overseeing freak shows, while his eternal love is now wife to his foe Raoul and mother to a 10-year-old boy. Chance brings the family to New York, where the old struggle for love resumes.
Gabriela Tylesova's design is a lavish treat, and entirely appropriate to the production. It's based around circles and spheres. The cyclical, recursive aspect of the set echoes the story, which itself seems to suggest that the same dramas play out again and again. This could lend Love Never Dies an eternal quality, but the lack of fresh story makes it feel like more of the same.
The songs aren't as memorable as those of Phantom of the Opera, but they're in the same grandiose vein. There is no shortage of soaring numbers to rattle the roof and, as the Phantom, Ben Lewis has the vocal chops. He appears a little too indebted to Anthony Warlow for his character, but I've no doubt he'll settle in over time. Anna O'Byrne's Christine is just as vocally accomplished but still at that cool, early stage of development.
At the curtain call of last night's opening, Andrew Lloyd Webber himself took to the stage to declare this the "finest production of any work of mine I've ever seen", adding that he hoped "there's an immigration lawyer in the house because I want to move to Australia".
This is a first-rate production. The quality of sound is better than in almost any musical Melbourne has hosted in recent years, and staging and visual realisation are outstanding. Simon Phillips' direction plays to the story's strengths while playing down its shortcomings.
But while Melbourne's creatives have done a sterling job translating this work from page to stage, the problem is they have really had just one page to work with.
Lloyd Webber's vision isn't expansive enough to match his original, and there's only so much you can do with recycled goods.