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.