Love Never Dies

The Regent Theatre Melbourne

“Coney Isle. Miracle on miracle. Speed and Sound all around.”

10 years after The Phantom of the Opera, Christine is asked to sing at the fantastical Coney Island with her husband Raoul and son Gustave. She soon finds this glittering world belongs to the Phantom who has brought her here in a final bid to win back her love.

Everyone has surely read that the ‘retooled’ production of Love Never Dies in Melbourne is a triumph for Australian Musical Theatre and that Andrew Lloyd Webber is quoted many times in saying “this is one of the finest productions I’ve seen of my work, anywhere.” Promotional items also showed off regarding the 300 costumes and 5,000 light bulbs that would dazzle the audience. Yet I remained unconvinced that the show would be something great. I had over a year ago – with excited frenzy ­­— purchased the Love Never Dies album and my disappointment then was not something I was willing to go through again. The show in London had not been saved by spectacles on-stage because it was teamed up with a lamentable mess of a book.

When Promotional items say this version has been ‘retooled’ they are being polite. They thankfully took an axe to that first act saving us from giving it the nickname ‘Paint Never Dries’ as it received in London. The show is far closer to the original Phantom then I could have hoped. The London production opened with Meg desperately in love with The Phantom and Raoul as an abusive drunk which was very distancing for fans. This show eases the audience into the situation by explaining how they occurred first. Instead of dumping the audience with changed setting, style of music and characters, this show begins with The Phantom singing ‘Till I Hear You Sing’ which acts as a perfect continuation from ‘The Music of the Night’. The only songs that deter from the original style are now the vaudevillian performances by Meg to the crowd at Coney Island. The book has also perfected weaving together the original with the sequel as old lines are echoed in new scenarios — once again “Things have changed, Raoul”.

Coney Island looks entirely the creation of The Phantom: a magician and architect with a flair for the strange and grand. His presence is always felt with masks and skulls in the costumes and scenery, not to mention the return of the symbol playing monkey. You can read the facts about how many costumes and light bulbs there are but the effect of them on-stage are mind blowing, especially when as a fan you can spot the various nods to the original. The sets work well within the chorus numbers but are easily played down for the more dramatic moments.

The book has been carefully crafted and provides an emotional pull equal to the spectacle. Much more explicit in this show is the effect that Christine’s decision will have on her career as a singer, she is choosing between her husband and the man that inspires her voice after all. The pacing does slow in the second act which is entirely built upon the tension of who Christine will choose. If you don’t care for the characters, then this just won’t have the same effect on you as it does a fan.

I would have seen the show in London (had it played long enough) because of the magnificent talents of Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess who have thankfully had their talents recorded and filmed in the 25th anniversary production of  The Phantom of the Opera. Ben Lewis who plays The Phantom in this production does a good job. Just good. It is a difficult role to pull off. Many greats have played the Phantom in various ways, from Warlow’s grand serene Phantom to Crawford’s more fatherly and Karimloo’s hellbent, but this show doesn’t display the emotional complexities of the character that took up so much of the first. Lewis is bound to playing a generic Phantom. He has a powerful yet expressive voice though I was just as pleased with his physicality in the role. The one fault I would give is that Madame Giry couldn’t sing even with the key changed for her but thankfully she didn’t have to sing much.

The production really is a testament to the talents of Australian Musical Theatre and while there is a filmed version on DVD, such a show has a far greater effect seen live at a beautiful theatre.

The 4 Redeeming Features of The Phantom of the Opera Movie

The Phantom of the Opera continues to be a phenomenon on-stage but the film version is generally considered an embarrassment for failing to even touch upon any kind of achievement. There are a number of obvious reasons for this; watching a chandelier fall on-screen and is far less impressive than seeing it fall to the stage from above your head, Joel Schumacher (the man responsible for bat nipples) was directing. Also they shoe-horned fake breasts into 18th century costumes.

Meg

To be fair, the show was a bit lacking in breasts

I put up with the film for a long time because it was the only way I could get my Phantom kicks. During these many viewings I managed to get past the initial terribleness of it all and appreciate the things they managed to get right or even insightful ways they tried to add to the stage production. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t touched my DVD since the 25th anniversary concert screened and I could still produce a long winded rant about the film at the drop of a hat, but credit is where credit’s due and the movie deserves respect for the following…

4. A good looking Phantom

This is not me being shallow. This is all audiences being shallow and Hollywood being monetarily motivated to thus put pretty people in films. Casting Gerard Butler opens the forum to a whole heap of abuse but the man is atheistically pleasing.

Gerad

At least he was then.

Look at Michael Crawford as The Phantom and compare the two.

Gerad MaskMichael Mask

See how tiny Gerard’s mask is? And the visible parts of his face show no signs that the covered area will be any different from the rest of his face. Then boom! It’s all the more shocking on the reveal and all the more tragic that he was so close to being loved and appreciated as a handsome man. And of course the stage version can’t do this because it needs a big obvious disfigurement that can be seen from the back row.

3. Madame Giry

In the show Madame Giry has knowledge of the opera house and an authority over its occupants that is only matched by The Phantom himself. There appears to be some understanding between the two characters as she delivers his messages, warns people not to speak of him and knows his secret hideaway but it’s not entirely clear why she does this. No one could ever convince me that the flashback to young Madame Giry visiting the circus and setting free the young Phantom was a good idea but they used this backstory to develop her character in some interesting ways.

Madame Giry

That is one of many shots of her gazing wistfully at The Phantom with Christine. Using close ups like this and the brilliant subtlety of actress Miranda Richardson, you can see that she is actually in love with the Phantom. This explains why she does his bidding and doesn’t immediately tell people the whereabouts of his lair after the first murder. It also adds to the complexity of The Phantom’s hamartia. The Phantom is so convinced that his face is responsible for his unrequited love and pretty much everything else bad that’s happened to him. Yet here is a woman who has seen his face, knows him as he truly is and loves him. He doesn’t even notice her affections because he couldn’t conceive of a woman loving him after seeing his face.

2. The Ending

The constant flash backs to the black white future are pretty high on the list of complaints I have against this film (just under Raoul’s wig), but I will admit that the added ending is particularly good. The show has the same opening as the film, older Raoul buying an organ monkey, but apart from the reappearance of the organ monkey, this opening is never referenced again. At the end of the show the audience is usually far too blown away by the finale and The Phantom’s exit to really give much thought to the opening. Few people stop and wonder “why did Raoul buy the monkey organ decades later? For all the great memories?”  Well for the people who wondered that, the film has answered. After the Phantom’s less than impressive disappearance on-screen, the magic of editing allows Old Raoul in the future to gently place the Monkey on Christine’s grave. And there on the grave is also a rose from The Phantom. A little scene that adds tragedy and mystery to the story of the Phantom.

1. It wasn’t camp

Now I’ve discussed a couple of things they did right but here’s something they managed to not do wrong. Why should I reward a film points for this? Look at any other adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera and notice how tacky it looks.

Or the original music video.

This is what we call camp and it can be a good thing but when you’re trying to present a more serious musical, accidental camp can be death. The man responsible for bat nipples somehow managed to make the Phantom look kinda badass instead of hilariously gay. I think that deserves a mention.