LOVE NEVER DIES.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s eagerly anticipated (not by me) sequel to his megahit blockbuster musical Phantom Of The Opera has arrived in Melbourne – opening tonight at the Regent Theatre.
After receiving very mixed notices when the show opened in London in March 2010, Sir Andrew has decided to re-tool it and Melbourne, Australia was the chosen city to stage the new incarnation, prior to landing on Broadway. If he approves of this version it could be heading to the great white way.
The Melbourne production is being “re-imagined” by an all-Australian creative team led by director Simon Phillips, designer Gabriela Tylesova and acclaimed choreographer Graeme Murphy. They have replaced the London originators – Jack O’Brien (director), Bob Crowley (sets & costumes) and Jerry Mitchell (choroeographer). O’Brien & Mitchell were responsible for the smash hit feel good musical Hairspray and Crowley designed Mary Poppins. An odd choice for a dark gothic sung through musical, but Sir Andrew knows best. So out with the old and in with the new!
Simon Phillips is responsible for another feel good musical – Priscilla Queen Of The Desert (me thinks another odd choice) but Gabriela Tylesova has a decent resume of clever designs in both Opera and drama. Alas the book writers (all 3 of them!!- Sir Andrew, Frederick Forsythe & Ben Elton??) remain the same, along with the lyricist and composer – well of course they would Sir Andrew has his hand in 2 of those paint tins.
So what do I think of the show? (I attended the final preview last night).
To borrow from the phrase penned by the wonderful bloggers The West End Wingers – the paint is still wet and dripping. The show is still like watching paint dry, and as we all know, “paint never dries” !!!!
Love Never Dies advances the Phantom story by 10 years and is set in New York’s Coney Island fairground in 1907. Christine Daaé is invited to perform at Phantasma, a new attraction in Coney Island, by an anonymous impresario. Along with her husband – the downtrodden Raoul (now a drunkard and gambler) and her 10 year old son Gustave (surprise surprise there is a revelation at hand – long into the show but very obvious from the beginning) they arrive in Brooklyn. Madame Giry and her daughter Meg (more Phantom alumni) turn up performing in and running a weird burlesque- come freak show at the aforementioned Coney Island, brilliantly realized in the set design. It turns out the mysterious man is of course the Phantom who wants Christine to sing for him one more time. It all sound familiar? Well it is, almost a carbon copy of the original. I was bored instantly by the storyline – or lack of it. The set kept me rapt for most of the running time (1 hr first act – 50 mins 2nd thank heaven!!). The music was derivative and no surprise, I can’t even recall a showstopper, perhaps the title song was supposed to be the one, the lyrics were incredibly banal – Glenn Slater (Sister Act – The Musical!!! and a few Disney films!!!) – well he ain’t no Sondheim that’s for sure.
The cast led by Ben Lewis as the Phantom and Anna O’Byrne as Christine are mostly fine of voice but of dubious acting talent. Sharon Millerchip as Meg Giry is a highlight, but stage veteran Maria Mercedes as Madame Giry is wasted and has a very strange end of first act moment. The small child playing Gustave was ok but Simon Gleeson as Raoul lacked acting chops. There is also a trio of freaks who comment from time to time, but they made no impact whatsoever.
I must mention that I was gobsmacked when the Phantom takes Gustave on a journey to his weird freak show lair, the synthesiser rock score pumped up and the set moved around a bit here and there, it was a blatant attempt to recreate the famous trip to the underground lair in Phantom (the boat and candle sequence) this time with Christine’s spawn. It was visually interesting but made no sense, a lot of the time the “freaks” just wandered around aimlessly on the vast stage not knowing what the hell was going on – as was I. And as for the stupid finale well go see for yourself if you dare. I was disappointed that the rollercoaster ramps and bridges didn’t produce a coaster, they just got moved around a lot rose and fell, I was expecting a “chandelier” style effect but it was not so. Overall the sets are quite beautiful and spectacular and the costumes exquisite, the lighting and sound design first rate. The choreography was not really anything to write home about. The direction by Simon Phillips – well he does corn very well and this show is as corny and unoriginal as they come. I don’t think anyone has a chance to make the paint dry on this work of non-art.
As for the title Love Never Dies, well maybe that is so, I just wish the career and ego of Sir Andrew might succumb!!