Saturday, 25 April 2020

THEATRE REVIEW: Love Never Dies - The Regent Theatre, Melbourne, Australia.

The latest in the online streamed series of 'The Shows Must Go On' was the first I have never seen performed live. This was a filmed live performance at The Regent Theatre in Melbourne, Australia in 2011, and is Andrew Lloyd-Webber's follow-up / sequel to his better known The Phantom Of The Opera (which was last week's offering).

To be honest I am not entirely sure what to make of this musical. I desperately wanted to like it. I adore The Phantom Of The Opera. But after watching it this evening, I found that it was distinctly lacking in emotive power, narrative drive, and atmosphere. As a stand-alone piece of muiscal theatre (let's say that Phantom Of The Opera had never been composed) then I think I would have enjoyed it much more. But the stakes were incredibly high, and, like many sequels to a perfect original, the benchmark is too high and they somehow fall short and disappoint.

For 'Love Never Dies' we have moved on in time by 10 years; it is now 1905; and instead of Paris, the action has been moved to New York. The Phantom did not die in the blaze of the Opera Populaire and instead escaped somehow to America and now earns a living at Coney Island - New York's famous permanent circus, living amongst the freaks and oddities that such circuses at that time thrived upon: bearded ladies, dwarves, strongmen, eunochs, those with physical deformities or seemingly elastic bodies etc. It seems that The Phantom has calmed down and has stopped his murderous and bloodthirsty habits. Even when he meets Christine again and the story unfolds, he is a changed Phantom... a real human being with feelings, heart and conscience. We also see that Madame Giry and her daughter Meg are also at Coney Island, with Madame Giry still teaching the dances, although with much less sternness, and Meg is the leading lady in their jaunty little numbers.

Christine has married Raoul and they have a young son, Gustave. The three of them travel to New York at the behest of Oscar Hammerstein, however, they never do get to collaborate with him, as The Phantom lures them instead to Coney Island and has them doing his bidding and working for him. However, they have no idea what lies in store, and "disasters beyond their imagines do occur"!

Muscially it is rather uninspiring and flat. Lloyd-Webber has included many musical motifs from the Phantom Of The Opera into this score too. Either that is because he recognises that the music here isn't as good, and so needs to remind us all that he has written better, or it is a very clever 'hat-nod' to the fact that this is a continuation of the same show / story. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, which version you choose. The Phantom and Christine's first duet together is quite nice but unmemorable, and the most beautiful and emotive melody in the show, Christine's solo song at the Phantom's sideshow on Coney Island is a direct lift from his own earlier show, 'The Beautiful Game'. I could well be wrong, but think that the melody is not a Lloyd-Webber original. I knew that melody long before I knew of Andrew Lloyd-Webber and feel I have heard someone like Fritz Wunderlich or Richard Tauber singing it on an old record my dad used to play of Rudolph Friml, Sigmund Romberg et al favourites. Either that or again, Lloyd-Webber has very cleverly recreated that sound and feel with an original tune. As for the rest of the music then I kept hearing musical phrases and motifs which are to be found in 'Sunset Boulevard' and 'Aspects Of Love' amongst others.

The set was comprehensive and clever, well designed, and the lighting good and effective. The most offputting thing for me was the annoying fact that the sound and the visual were completely out of sync. One was approx 6 seconds behind the other and so you found yourself watching the action which seconds later was sung about. I don't know if this has been rectified or indeed whather or not everyone was experiencing it the same way, but could find no way of altering it myself and so had to be the way the video was being shown. Most disappointing.

Overall I think I would have enjoyed this musical far more live. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy the show, I did, but nowhere near as much as I was hoping I would have done.

Reviewer - Chris Benchley
on - 24/4/20

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