A lack of enthusiasm embodied me as I entered the Regent Theater on Saturday night for the Australian opening of Love Never Dies, the sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Phantom of the Opera. Having seen the show twice at the Adelphi Theater in London I had a fair idea of what I was in for and quite honestly I felt that the two previous times where more than enough to convince me that this show, no matter how hard LLoyd Webber tries, simply does not work. How wrong I was. This is a brand new show from Overture to Curtain and even the familar story and score seemed to rise in this herculean effort by an Australian creative team led by Director Simon Phillips and Designer Gabriela Tylesova. The vast minimalist expanses of the Adelphi stage were now filled with a carnival of lights, carousels, and a cast of freaks and outcast characters that finally gave the show the vibe it needed. One cannot help but be wowed by the spherical design employed by Tylesova in the Coney Island Waltz in the Early Stages of Act 1, and in reality, it is the design of the show that is its star attraction. That and Phantom Ben Lewis. Lewis' character is vocally as powerful a Phantom that I have seen. However, it wasn't Lewis' vocal ability that won me over, it was his tender acting performance. So much so that what in the past was a particularly unmoving final scene became one of the most finite and complete in recent memory. The audience either side of me were fossicking for their handkerchiefs and it left me wishing I had brought one myself.
Special mention must go to Anna O'Byrne for a crystal clear performance as Christine and Simon Gleeson as the now rather jilted Raoul. Both excelled vocally and gave their characters great drive and purpose. This show is lavish in both staging and score. Lloyd Webber's music is surely one of his greatest for orchestra. The arrangements are immaculate and soar around the theater driving the show forward. Unfortunately, what halts this momentum with a giant thud is the story. The script is full of particularly slow and tedious dialogue that translates into drab patches throughout Act 1 and the opening of Act 2. It is also unfortunate for the show that the ensemble is utilized minimally and one feels that there needs to be a real show stopping number in Act 2 to replace that rather limp Bathing Beauty. The ensembles work in The Beauty Underneath was a real highlight, and was technically the highlight of the night with the cast working in giant liquid filled prisms traversing the stage's triple revolve.
At the curtain call of the show Lloyd Webber graced the stage to declare the Australian production of Love Never Dies "The finest production of any work of mine I have ever seen." While this is the ultimate praise for any show, it will be interesting to see how it translates to the Broadway stage with word being that the Lord wants to transfer this production back to London and to New York. My initial instinct is that while it has drastically improved, there are still refinements to be made before its ultimate test on Broadway.
To get tickets and learn more, visit http://www.loveneverdies.com.au.