March 12, 2010
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CONSERVATIONISTS will be thrilled to hear that cod is no longer an endangered species. And it never will be while Jack O'Brien is directing. Dramatic pointing, staggering back in fear/horror and clutching throats pretty much make up his directorial palette here. To be fair, he wasn't given much of a canvas. Ben Elton is credited with the "book". On which he would appear to have lavished at least ten minutes. It has all the narrative depth and emotional nuance of a Cash-4-Gold advert. This skeletal slimness of Elton's contribution is a big fat problem for the show.
Characters are lucky if they get two dimensions to play with and most don't rise above that. Liz Robertson appears to have come to the party as Mrs Danvers, Sierra Boggess is fine but not much more and Ramin Karimloo, an actor who would not look out of place in the timber department of B&Q, has hands that live a life entirely of their own, irritatingly upstaging him with their spasms and splayings at every turn.
The staging is lavish, with special effects erupting like expensive rabbits from clever hats. Although even there, despite the fact that the Phantom has now become Mr Y, a successful impresario who owns Coney Island and masterminds its myriad attractions, O'Brien always has him appear in a ridiculous fog of dry ice.
And yet. And yet. The heart and the soul of this show is in the music. And the music has layers and emotional nuance and power. The orchestrations (by Lloyd Webber himself and David Cullen) are glorious and while you are in the hands of the Lord, you are carried safely and, occasionally, away.
'Til I hear You Sing, the Phantom's big number, is soaring, Christine's sweet advice to her son Look With Your Heart is lovely and sung to the most beautiful orchestration and the duet between Phantom and his love is fittingly, hauntingly sad. The Love Never Dies theme, sung at the end by Christine (the big cliff-hanger in Ben's book being "will she sing it or not") is one of Lloyd Webber's button-pressing cadence-based Big Songs. Its rescue from another Lloyd Webber/Elton collaboration (the irredeemable The Beautiful Game) is a brave move. And a right one. But Lloyd Webber needs and deserves better, classier collaborators here. His show is plangent with loves lost and unrequited, won but all too fleetingly. Take his advice and Look With Your Heart and you will get the best of this show. Look with your head and you'll wish you'd got a ticket for the original Phantom instead.