Time Out Sydney
Jan 8, 2012
Link to actual article -
Note: Rebecca Saffir, the author of the review, exposed The Really Useful Group (RUG) threatening to withdrawal their advertising deal with the publication if TIME OUT SYDNEY didn’t remove the negative review. The article was removed in order to save the advertising revenue. Details of this story can be found here.
Review: Love Never Dies
Dear Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber,
What. What in the name of all that is good and holy were you thinking when you sat down and agreed to write a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera? More pointedly, what were you thinking when you wrote this sequel? How did you manage to work for so long (since 1990, according to that ever trustworthy source, Wikipedia) and never once stop to think to yourself: Now hang on a minute. Does this actually make any sense at all?
Was it the money, Andrew? I find this difficult to believe, as given the exorbitant fees people pay to see your musicals, or put them on themselves, all over the world, combined with the fact that you own no fewer than seven West End theatres, and undoubtedly command huge appearance and licensing fees for your work on the truly masochistic How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? and subsequent spinoffs, I imagine you are simply rolling in cash. But if it wasn’t the money, then what? What enticed you out of retirement to commit an act of such glorious hubris?
It can’t have been your brilliant ideas for a story. The plot of Love Never Dies is so thin it should be put on a cheeseburger diet. It reminds one of nothing so strongly as some strange, early-20th-century incarnation of Twilight: the Musical! In fact, the similarities in the central romantic plotline of LND to the saga of Bella and her two mortality-challenged suitors is uncanny. Here too is a heroine of such gobsmacking insipidness it’s a miracle she doesn’t shatter when the other characters get too close. Here too do two men of equal creepiness, possessiveness and co-dependency strut their stuff in a battle over a mantel ornament, with frequent reminders to said ornament that it is they, not she, who knows what is best for her. Like Edward, the Phantom is fond of breaking and entering Christine’s private spaces (not a euphemism) late at night. Like Bella, Christine has less agency and vocabulary than an amoeba. And, like good works of misogyny everywhere, it’s Christine who winds up punished for daring to have feelings (however poorly justified or articulated) for more than one man.
It’s not just the central characters whose motivations are poorly defined, it’s everyone’s. This isn’t entirely surprising, because when you finished Phantom you probably thought you were wrapping up the emotional lives of those characters forever. Gaston Leroux’s novel of the same name, on which you based your musical, doesn’t have a sequel. Love might never die, but the interior lives and wants of fictional constructs certainly have a use-by date. Unfortunately, you’ve chosen to ignore this, resulting in two hangover-characters from the original installment – Meg and Madame Giry – who have only the flimsiest of excuses for doing what they do, or even existing at all. You’ve also thrown in some curious retrospective revisions of your original – like, sorry but when did Christine and the Phantom bump uglies? (Definitely a euphemism.) And how did you manage to completely forget that Phantom is told entirely in flashback, thereby negating your calculation of Love Never Dies being set “ten years on.” Poor, lazy form, Andrew.
Your songs are OK, I guess. I mean it’s only 12 hours later and I can’t really remember any of them, but they’ve got clean, obvious arcs and melodies, and you deserve some credit for allowing your score to be orchestrated for more than just synths and a drum-kit. I can’t help but notice that you’ve pulled out many of the exact same compositional devices – electric harpsichord! Soaring soprano aria! – as you used inPhantom. I wouldn’t want to be cynical about that or anything but just thought you should know that I know.
Without a doubt, you got really lucky with this Australian production. It looks absolutely beautiful. Designer Gabriela Tylesova and her veritable army of set and costume makers, technicians, mechanists and operators have created a truly weird and wonderful take on the Coney Island aesthetic, and there’s something insidiously satisfying about watching a piece of stagecraft so flagrantly defiant of any contemporary assertions of minimalism, restraint or imaginative ingenuity in favour of something that more closely resembles the Mardi Gras parade on hallucinogens. In a good way. And director Simon Phillips and choreographer Graeme Murphy sure can move people around the stage. The pace is steady, fighting valiantly against the bloated material. And the singers, while evidently struggling with the dramaturgical flaccidity of your work, can definitely sing, no disputes. Anna O’Byrne (Christine), Ben Lewis (the Phantom), Simon Gleeson (Raoul), Maria Mercedes (Madame Giry) and Sharon Millerchip (Meg) are professionals of the highest order, their skill so evident it almost hurts to see it wasted on something so hollow and indulgent.
What really hurt was witnessing the 1000 odd invited guests pour into the Capitol Theatre, many dressed to the nines, sit through this regressive exercise in egomania, and not only applaud the show, but applaud themselves for Supporting the Arts. It hurt knowing that for many this will be the only performance they see all year, and they didn’t even have to pay for it. It hurt being forced to endure two-and-a-half hours (really more like three when the absurdly long interval was taken into account) of sentimental, nonsensical, ideologically conservative drivel, and know that across town, local and international works of much greater innovation were struggling to sell venues of half the capacity. It hurt me to practically see money being burnt before my eyes as the chorus changed from one lavish costume to the next for five minutes of promenading. It hurt me to think of the hardworking, intelligent and talented independent theatre and musical theatre artists in Sydney who make work that while not perfect by a long shot, is still more interesting by a country mile, and on about one percent of the budget. It hurt me to think that, because of the likely economic failure of this show, producers and sponsors will be even less likely to sink their money and teeth into those more inventive teams, which is a mistake, because if Love Never Dies struggles financially, it’s surely a sign that your days of reign in the Kingdom of Musical Theatre are well and truly over and that it’s time to pass the mantle on.
I’m going to give this production two stars, Andrew, but none of them are for you. They’re for the creative team and the cast who have obviously tried very, very hard with some incredibly weak material. You, on the other hand, can just step away from your piano, hang up your crown and quietly exit stage left. Don’t let the door hit you on your way out.