Love Never Dies

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, Frederick Forsyth and Glenn Slater
The Shows Must Go On / Universal
Regent Theatre, Melbourne
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This week’s offering in the series of musicals that Andrew Lloyd Webber and Universal are making available for free for 48 hours whilst we are all staying home is his continuation of the story of Christine Daaé and the masked Phantom of the Opera.

It’s not a recording of the original West End Adelphi theatre production but a film version of the reworking produced in Australia in 2011 at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre.

It takes up the story ten years after the disappearance of the Phantom at the end of The Phantom of the Opera. He is now in New York and as the mysterious Mr Y has created Phantasma, a mixture of circus, fairground and vaudeville on Coney Island. His obsession with Christine is unchanged. The show opens with Ben Lewis’s Phantom singing of his need to hear her voice again before introducing the freakish world of Mr Y’s Phantasma in a mountingly hectic series of reveals in which director Simon Phillips, choreographer Graeme Murphyam and designer Gabriela Tylesova create a world of stylised theatricality that builds to Sharon Millerchip’s Meg Giry leading the showgirls in a lively number in the Phantasma theatre.

Meg and her mother (Maria Mercedes) are old colleagues of Christine’s from Paris; it is they who helped the Phantom flee Paris and establish himself here. Now they read that Christine is coming to New York to sing at Oscar Hammerstein’s new opera house. Mrs Giry fears Christine will be a threat to Meg’s place in the Phantom’s plans.

Christine arrives with her little boy Gustave and husband Raoul, whose drinking and gambling is straining their marriage and finance. The awkward questions asked by paparazzi who meet them off the boat are interrupted by the arrival of a strange horseless carriage and the Phantom’s minions who pose as coming from Hammerstein.

Once again, Raoul (Simon Gleeson) must compete with the Phantom for Christine in an increasingly melodramatic story with a surprising revelation. Though the script is sometimes heavy handed, it gets strong performances and the score, with its occasional echoes of the original Phantom and a mixture of operetta, music hall and aria, will please Lloyd Webber fans, with the opening number and the title song the most memorable.

It is well sung throughout, though the arrangements sometimes risk swamping voices and a couple of numbers would gain by being shortened. Ben Lewis’s Phantom is especially powerful and well-matched by Anna O’Byrne’s crystal clear soprano. Simon Gleeson captures Raoul’s superficial charm, Sharon Millerchip brings a risqué Edwardian twinkle to Meg’s vaudeville numbers and there is a delightful performance from young Jack Lyall as Gustave.

When this production opened, Lloyd Webber told the audience that this could be the best production he’d seen of any of his shows. In my opinion it’s not—but what do you think?

Reviewer: Howard Loxton