I’ve followed Love Never Dies with an attentive eye throughout its turbulent existence. I saw the original version and the updated version in London. As I said there, I enjoyed each production and thought the changes made in version 2 were a good remedy. The score is certainly one of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s best in my opinion.
Andrew Lloyd Webber has been raving about the Melbourne production and has refered to it as “definitive”, so I was keen to see what changes were made. ALW has been doing a fair amount of promotion for the DVD release, which included an illuminating 30 min interview on Radio 4’s Front Row (alas there is no point me posting a link as it is only available online for 7 days after broadcast). In this interview he talked about what went wrong with LND in London and why he thinks it worked in Melbourne. Primarily he said that Melbourne worked because he simply fulfilled the role of composer rather than the multi-tasking he did in London (whilst suffering from prostate cancer too).
So was this all hype and salesmanship or is LND Melbourne definitive or disastrous?
As I popped the dvd into the player, several thoughts occurred – would the cast be as stellar as the London cast I’d seen? One reason I enjoyed it the two times I saw it in London was in no small part thanks to Ramin Karimloo, Lucy Van Gasse and Summer Strallen. Looking back with hindsight, I’d even go as far as to say they made the London production. I also wondered how a filmed version of a stage musical would work, would it miss the magic of live theatre and become too much like a film? I also wanted to see what changes had been made. I had my own thoughts on what needed to be done, what did this production team think the show needed?
Firstly this production is like watching a NEW show, and that’s to its credit. The problem with the previous version was it seemed too much of a mixed bag, “too many cooks spoil the broth” and the London versions missed a feeling of cohesion and single purpose that all good productions need. This LND looks and feels like a complete package.
The design is a key part of any musical and Gabriela Tylesova has here designed a magnificent set that perfectly captures the wonders of Coney Island and she also captures the darkness and mystery this piece needs. Her costume design is also perfect, LND in London felt a bit twee on occasions, there’s none of that here, the freaks are freaky, Christine, looks angelic and the Phantom is a smart and imposing figure. A huge amount of credit for the success of this show lies rightly so with her vision and skill.
Graeme Murphy’s choreography adds a whole new dimension too. From the Coney Island opening, to the mirror maze of The Beauty Underneath, his choreography brings to life the spectacle this piece deserves to be.
What of the cast then? Ben Lewis portrayal as the Phantom is exceptional, I had reservations about whether I’d be convinced another actor could re-create the LND Phantom after Ramins Karimloo’s outstanding performances in London. Ben Lewis does and is equally as good. I also felt he gave the Phantom a slightly more menacing edge than in the London version.
Anna O’Byrne also gave a very touching performance as Christine, she mentions in the interview that is on the DVD that she wanted to focus on Christina as a mother in this production. It certainly shows and her scenes with her son Gustave certainly show us how Christine has grown up and changed since The Phantom.
The trio of Maria Mercedes, Simon Gleeson and Sharon Millerchip as Madame Giry, Raoul and Meg, give their characters weight and depth, Simon Gleeson’s portrayal as Raoul is noteworthy. One of the criticisms in the London version was how Raoul was a bit of a wet blanket, Simon Gleeson, makes him a much more tragic figure. Sharon Millerchip also shows the desperation and fear that Meg has superbly in this production. As I said in previous reviews Meg has the largest journey in this show and I thought this portrayal was spot on.
What of Dr Gangle, Fleck and Squelch??? Finally they’re no longer extra’s from We Will Rock You! This production makes them a much darker and key part of the story. They seem to be used less in this production, and it really is a case of “less is more”, they’re matching costumes and quirkyness made them fit in seamlessly whereas previously they were a superfluous and extraneous element to the show.
I’ve mentioned the choreography and design as helping to redefine this show and also a massive part of the success is Simon Phillips direction. He seems to have really understood the show and created a team and version that is worthy of the splendid score.
All that remains for ALW to do now is release this versions soundtrack, as it’s been cleaned up a lot since the original version and I feel that deserves to be released for posterity. There are more motif’s from the original Phantom and Charles Hart has certainly helped sort out the lyrics.
The ending in this version is also so much better than the previous two versions. Much more tension and drama, which it deserves.
I’m also genuinely excited about how this production was filmed. It is hard to believe you’re watching a live theatre production. However this isn’t a film version, it never lets you forget this is a theatre show, I was glad the curtain call was included and the audience applauding after certain numbers is included, rightly so. I trust ALW and other producers make use of this technology as it is a wonderful tool to capture performances. One thing I’d like to see is an option to watch it filmed with a static camera, so that you can see it just as if you were in the best seat in the house. That’s a personal preference, but I’d like to have the option to see the whole stage too.
I wasn’t doing star ratings when I reviewed the previous 2 versions. Looking back I’d have given version 1, 3 stars. Version 2, 4 stars.
Is it a case of third time lucky? YES! This really is definitive version and a brilliant musical. Yes it’s a shame that the original did not reach these heights. Nothing is certain in theatre, lots has been learnt by us all by this shows history. ALW in the interview I mention above laments that the days where you could preview a show and work on it before it “opened” officially seem to now be over due to the internet etc. Theatre is an existential art form and some things can only be learnt when it is put on stage in front of an audience. This show has proved that. It’s also rather humbling I think for the West End to realise it can get things wrong. This team from Australia have shown that there is talent by the bucket load elsewhere.
I’d love to think this version will come to the UK but that is very unlikely. However a Broadway transfer seems possible, if so, that’ll mean one more reason I need to make the journey across the pond to visit the Great White Way. I’d better start saving now.
STARS: * * * * *