Tag Archives: Simon Phillips

Beware!!! Wet Paint

Theatre Review:

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!!

 

 

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Almost Next To Normal.

“Next To Normal” is an excellent piece of musical theatre. A rock musical with book and lyrics by Brian Yorkey and music by Tom Kitt. It’s about a mother who struggles with a bipolar disorder and the effect that her illness has on her family. It also addresses such issues as grieving, suicide, drug abuse, psychiatry and suburban life. It certainly is no Mary Poppins

The musical was a hit on Broadway a year or so ago  and considering the subject matter a huge triumph for its creators. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 2010. I was fortunate to see the show on my trip to New York last July starring Alice Ripley in the lead role of Diana for which she won the best actress Tony award. She was brilliant,the production was smart, high tech and very moving. The only fault was that the music was very loud and sometimes the lyrics were hard to follow.

The Melbourne Theatre Company have launched a local version of the show and I must say I was underwhelmed.

I was at the first preview so I must try and be kind, but I am afraid this local misconcieved version disappointed. Why?  Well I must first and foremost blame the set, therefore I must blame the director – Dean Bryant (a protege of Simon Phillips) who agreed to the set, second I must blame the leading male actor – the husband, as played by a miscast Matt Hetherington who is not up for such a demanding role, his musical comedy roots showing, not his acting chops.

It is hard not to compare it to the NY show as it is still very fresh in my mind. The 3 tiered setting of a house with large Lichenstein-like eyes of the mother watching over you was masterful in making you feel like you may be in the mind of the troubled heroine – well that was my interpretation of it anyway. The scaffolding set was full of lights and action, constantly on the move, shifting shape to accommodate all the various settings within the house and other locations, even though it was constantly in motion the set never distracted from the storytelling. This can’t be said of the MTC version. More realistic in style , you know you are in a middle class American home with its slatted projected leafy walls, and Victorian staircase. It still moves at a frenetic pace but you notice every movement and it is very distracting. Cut the sliding walls by half and maybe it may work.

It is admirable when a local production tries its own version but sometimes you wish they wouldn’t try and tamper with it too much – Simon Phillips certainly didn’t do it in the past!!!! Alas the sound problems of inaudible lyrics repeats like the NY show, perhaps it is the intention of the composers to bombard you, just like Diana and her demons inside her head.

The New York production of N2N

MTC production of N2N Photo by Jeff Busby

Kate Kendall and cast in the MTC – N2N, photo by Jeff Busby

Aside for the miscasting of Matt H the rest of the cast are all very good, especially Kate Kendall in the lead role of Diana, she has a good voice and once she settles into the role will nail the mixture of madness and pathos required, she was 3/4 of the way there on the first preview.

Perhaps the show will be best to see towards the end of its short run (if you can get tickets) then the kinks will be ironed out and perhaps Mr. Herrington might get a grasp of the material, as for now the show is almost Next To Normal.

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A theatrical year (part 1 of 4)

The year 2010 was a productive theatrical one. I saw more theatre than usual, although not as much as I would have liked. Theatre is expensive. A trip to New York helped to boost. The Broadway called and I came. Funny enough it was, according to experts, and me, a bit of a dud season, but I saw shows on the great white way, so who’s complaining?

In my theatrical year I will include live concert performances ( sadly only 1 this year) and will include NT Live and Met Live screenings – in my own opinion still theatrical, and at least I can comment.

I doubt I will get to see another live concert performance, or a stage show, by years end. So I can announce my faves and winners and dogs! for 2010.

The year started with a repeat. I was working in Adelaide and the touring Australian production of “Avenue Q” was in town. I had previously seen this fine & funny brilliant musical in London (the same as the Broadway production), and in 2009 I went to see it in Melbourne (the Oz version). Whilst almost the same, except for a few set changes (for the worst) and obvious puppetry changes cos the Oz cast could not achieve the demands, it was OK. leading actor way to old but his side kick and a brilliant Trekkie Monster was great. Saw the Kate Monster understudy – both time! she was excellent. Whilst not as good as the London production, the Ozcast was ok, the material so strong – I loved it!

Mitchel Butel & Michaela (whatever her name is?) never saw her, only the very good understudy – shouldn’t live performers never miss as performance? Hmmmmm

On my return home to Melbourne, I saw the MTC production of “The Drowsy Chaperone”. What a treat it was. Definately a close carbon copy of the Broadway hit – the norm for outgoing MTC director 🙂 Simon Phillips. Geoffrey Rush as the ‘man in the chair’, was fantabulous, physically stunning and so right for the part, it was a revelation. The rest of the cast were great, it was such a hoot and a highlight of the year, for the material and Mr Rush, not necessarily the direction.

The brilliantly cast Mr. Rush

My one and only live concert performance was seeing one of my favorite groups ever – Massive Attack. Say no more, I have seen them every time they have performed in Australia. At the Myer Music Bowl they were superb. I love them, adore them, they do it for me everytime. HEAVEN

Love the Massive Attack symbol – fire sign, hold it painfully close to my chest 🙂

I was not sure about seeing “Jersey Boys”. A jukebox musical (usually a lame prospect). I was working hard and needed an escape, decided at the last minute to see a matinee, so off I went with a good friend who needed the escape as much as me. Well the skill of the direction, the Broadway pizzazz and tricks all in place. A talented cast, great book. Suprisingy great music, hits and more hits! I can see why it is still a huge hit on Broadway, a classy show. Wiped out the cynic in me…for the time being.

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