Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Review: The Taming of 'Love Never Dies' for Cinemas

The company of 'Love Never Dies.'
Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis.
(production photos: John Tsiavis)
Many will argue that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s ‘Love Never Dies,’ the sequel to his phenomenally successful musical ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ was unnecessary and a fool’s errand to begin with. But for whatever reasons, Mr Lloyd Webber as composer has created a follow-up piece and in its latest incarnation is a far better if somewhat still imperfect beast than what premiered two years ago in London.

Much of the blame to the failure of ‘Love Never Dies’ in London was placed in the hands at Lloyd Webber but director Jack O’Brien, choreographer Jerry Mitchell and lyricist Glenn Slater also appeared out of their ‘musical comedy’ element. Their talents appeared untrained to handle the serious dramatic material that is Lloyd Webber’s primary musical domain.

The big screen version of ‘Love Never Dies’ presented in movie theatres around the world and premiering last night in the United States, could be called LND V.3 (‘Love Never Dies Version Three). The London production opened in February 2010 and shut down in December of the same year for a few days to institute changes. Though the creative credits remained unchanged it is reported that choreographer Bill Deamer and producer Bill Kenwright were responsible for the creative changes. More obvious are the contributions by original ‘Phantom’ lyricist Charles Hart. Their changes included moving musical numbers and tightening the storyline’s focus on the Phantom and Christine Daae. Though the changes were applauded the production closed in August 2011.

Center: The Phantom's Trio (Paul Tabone, Emma J. Hawkins, Dean Vince)
Simon Gleeson, Jack Lyall and Anna O'Byrne.
The Melbourne production opened in May 2011 with a completely new design team, director (Simon Phillips) and choreographer embracing the changes of the revised London production. Without a rewrite of the score they have delivered a version that could be the template for successive versions of the musical. In fact by the date of this cinema presentation, the Melbourne production would have packed it up and be in the midst of a limited run in Sydney.

‘Love Never Dies’ takes place ten years after the events of ‘The Phantom of the Opera.’ Madame Giry and her daughter Meg have helped the Phantom to escape to New York’s Coney Island where the Phantom presents a spectacular called ‘Phantasma’ at where Meg appears on stage while Mme Giry works behind the scenes.

Chrisine and Roaoul with their son Gustave are called to the New York at the invitation of Oscar Hammerstein to help open his new theatre. The Phantom still longing for Chrisine persuades her to sing for him one last song in his Coney Island show much to the chagrin of Madame Giry and Meg. Meg and Madame Giry now struggle for the attention of the Phantom while the gambler/alcoholic Raoul battles to regain the affection for Christine that he has lost some time ago. Christine is torn between these Raoul and the Phantom.

Ben Lewis
Sharon Millerchip (center)
Gone from the show is the time-slip device which saw Madame Giry recalling the glory days of Coney Island. Also changed is a greatly reduced role for the ‘trio’, the Phantom’s three assistants. The Phantom (Ben Lewis) now opens the show with “Till I Hear You Sing,” a song that originally appeared in the middle of act one. Unfortunately the problem remains that Christine (Anna O’Byrne) does not make an appearance until 20 minutes into the show and almost 30 minutes before she utters more than one word that waters down her first appearance in the musical. This moment calls for some dialogue or at least a song for Christine.

One of the welcomed bonuses in the show is Maria Mercedes as Madame Giry and Sharon Millerchip as Meg. Mercedes’ singing is far more melodic that Liz Robertson in the London production. Millerchip is now the fragile star of the Phantom’s Coney Island show is in stark contrast to the brash characterization in the London production.

Simon Gleeson becomes a more sympathetic Raoul and the character is given a solo number “Why Does She Love Me” that the character lacked in the original ‘Phantom.’ The song however is a pale number to open the second act lacking drama and excitement until the Phantom appears and they go mano-a-mano in “Devil Takes the Hindmost”. Though lyricist Slater thought he may be clever in using that title, it will more than likely bewilder most audience members.

Ben Lewis and Jack Lyall
The company of 'Love Never Dies'
It should be noted that this presentation of ‘Love Never Dies’ is meant to resemble a movie rather than a taping of a live production. Though filmed at Melbourne’s Capitol Theatre, the live audience is not addressed other than at the end of the show and the intermission removed. This technique is used to great affect later in the second act when the characters desperately rush through the Coney Island crowds.

How does this Phantom and Christine fare. Lewis and O’Byrne deliver praise-worthy performances that are strong vocally and memorable. The porcelain-skin O’Byrne reveals maturity as she is caught in the role of wife, mother and lover to the three men in her life. It’s quite a loss that her spectacular rendition of the title song is not preserved on CD but thank goodness news reports indicate that this production will be available on DVD and Blu-ray in the coming months.

Lewis harnesses the vocal demands of his first number and shows his versatility when he rocks the house in “The Beauty Underneath” all the while still offering an expressive performance despite his face hidden behind the requisite Phantom half-mask.

Ben Lewis and Anna O'Byrne
Jack Lyall and Anna O'Byrne
If the score lacks the lushness that permeated every note of ‘The Phantom of the Opera,’ ‘Love Never Dies’ does have several admirable numbers. Besides the previously mentioned title song, “Til I Hear You Sing,” and “The Beauty Underneath” are the lullaby-like duet “Look to Your Heart” for Christine and her son Gustave; Meg’s amusing Coney Island show songs “Only For You” and “Bathing Beauty”; and the glorious quartet “Dear Old Friend” which is a fine example of excellent music composition, exposition and performance.

One improvement that this viewer would have liked to see is the treatment of songs “Look With Your Heart,” “Beneath A Moonless Sky” and “One Upon Another Time.”  The latter two tend to meld as one number and seems like an elongated scene. An editing or removal (and replacement) of one of these two numbers would help to move the action.

Jack Lyall as Christine and Raoul’s son was well chosen to be the onscreen Gustave (more than one child actor plays the role in the stage production). He lacks the distractive precociousness that often mars these child actor roles. He sings well in his songs with the Phantom and Christine and looks the part.

The company of 'Love Never Dies'
Center: Sharon Millerchip
In reality the production design by Bob Crowley in London was quite fascinating especially with the screen projections that showed the expanse of Coney Island and the Phantom’s tower lair. But the sets and costumes by Gabriela Tylesova for this version are a marvel in their own right. Generous curves meant to resemble an amusement park roller coaster surround the stage and provide ramps that the director uses to keep the stage action flowing to above the stage floor.

The dark and macabre nature of Coney’s Island is played up in the design and lighting shortly after the start of act one and during “The Beauty Underneath” where in both scenes an array of circus show freaks are paraded about.

News reports indicate Lloyd Webber feels this is a definitive version of the show than the original incarnation and he would be happy to see the production produced one day in New York. Until then this Australian version provides glimpses of a workable musical that could have a life beyond down under.

Click HERE to view more production photos from 'Love Never Dies'.

This review is based on viewing the filmed presentation at the Regal Cinemas Dole Connery in Honolulu, Hawaii on February 28, 2012 and presented by in movie theaters by Fathom Events.

Left to right: Dean Vince, Jack Lyall, Anna O'Byrne, Emma J. Hawkins,
Paul Tabone and Simon Gleeson.
Ben Lewis and Jack Lyall


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