Thursday, June 2, 2011


Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber - Lyrics by Glen Slater
Book by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton
Presented by The Really Useful Company Asia Pacific
Regent Theatre, Melbourne - Australian Premiere 28th May 2011

Reviewed by Bill Stephens.  Photos by Len Power.

Since Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Phantom of the Opera" opened on the West End in London in 1986 it has become a world-wide phenomenon both on stage and on film. Whether this sequel will capture the public's imagination in the same way remains to be seen, but if it doesn't, it will not be the fault of this sumptuous production.

Picking up the story ten years after the Phantom fled the Paris Opera House, we discover that he is now a successful entrepreneur on Coney Island at the turn of the century. He employs Madame Giry (Maria Mercedes) and her daughter, Meg (Sharon Millerchip) to run and perform in his sideshow "Phantasma". Christine Daae' (Anna O'Byrne), now a famous opera singer, has married Raoul Vicomte de Chagny (Simon Gleeson), and they have a 10 year old son Gustav (Kurtis Papadinis on opening night). Christine Daae' is engaged to perform at "Phantasma" and the Phantom and Christine rekindle their love affair and the Phantom discovers that Gustav is really his son. This revelation leads to a series of complications which ultimately result in Christine's death.

The story is deliriously melodramatic and there are some serious plausibility issues, but what the heck, with so much to watch and such glorious music to listen to, it hardly seems to matter.

Gabriella Tylesova's exquisite sets and costumes are genuinely stunning. Her vision of Coney Island involves myriads of twinkling lights, fantastic merry-go-rounds and smoke and mirror sideshows, inhabited by mysterious denizens in gorgeous costumes. Her interiors feature beautiful art noveau lights, velvet and gilt furniture and heavy mirrored doors, which constantly reconfigurate on a series of revolves, all superbly lit by Nigel Schlieper.

Perfectly at home amongst this kaleidoscopic milieu, Graeme Murphy provides choreography that is both clever and appropriate, while Simon Phillips draws on all his considerable experience to ensure that everything is focussed and compelling.

However the sets and costumes are not the only impressive aspects of this show. There is also a formidable cast headed by two new performers marked for stardom, Ben Lewis and Anna O'Byrne.

Although relatively unknown prior to this production, Ben Lewis is perfectly cast as the Phantom.Tall, handsome and the possessor of a rich multi-hued baritone voice, Lewis is also a fine actor. From the opening minutes of the show, when alone on the stage he performs superbly perhaps the most memorable song in the score, "Till I Hear You Sing" he has the audience's full attention. No less impressive, Anna O'Byrne is a delicately beautiful Christine Daae. Her crystal clear soprano is perfectly suited to Lloyd Webber's soaring melodies and she acts with a quiet authority this is arresting and often moving.

The role of Meg Giry has considerably more importance in this story, and revisiting the role she created in the original "Phantom of the Opera", Sharon Millerchip is thoroughly captivating in a role which requires her to sing and dance as well as pull off a shocking denouement in the finale.

Strong performances also come from Maria Mercedes, superb as the scheming Madame Giry, and Simon Gleeson, in particularly fine voice, who somehow manages to make the self-obsessed Raoul into a sympathetic character.

If all this is not enough, there is particular pleasure to be had in Guy Simpson's superb orchestra which does full justice to Andrew Lloyd Webbers lush, romantic score and glorious orchestrations.

"Love Never Dies" is an extraordinary achievement for Simon Phillips who already has one show running on Broadway with "Priscilla Queen of the Desert". It is well-known that Andrew Lloyd Webber is dissatisfied with the London production of "Love Never Dies", and speaking from the stage on opening night he made no bones about declaring this production "one of the best productions of any of my shows anywhere in the world ....the version which will go to Broadway".  He should know, and I have no doubt that it will.

(For your interest I have added some photographs of the production taken at the media call prior to opening night, and of Ben Lewis and Anna O'Byrne with Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Ben Elton taken at the lavish party which followed the Australian premiere of "Love Never Dies". B.S.)