Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Theater Review: Love Never Dies

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 03:18


When I first heard Andrew Lloyd Webber was working on a sequel to his classic musical The Phantom of the Opera, I was a little skeptical. All right to be honest, I was A LOT skeptical of Love Never Dies! That thinking of “why tinker with a masterpiece?” was overwhelming. But, when I started hearing some of the musical numbers as they emerged from workshop and began learning about some of the aspects of the storyline, I became more and more intrigued; and I decided to give it a chance and followed its development closely. Then, the show finally opened in 2010 at London’s Adelphi Theater, but to horrendous reviews. The show was dubbed “The Paint Never Dries” due to its constant retooling and reworking and was a production largely void of Webber, who was battling prostate cancer during its entire run. After successfully being treated for his cancer, Webber rededicated his life to Love Never Dies, completely reconstructed every element of the show’s design, and transferred the show to Australia, where it played to sold-out audiences in Melbourne and now does so in Sidney.

Webber’s praise of his new incarnation is well-published; which is why he chose the Melbourne production to film, show in movie theaters nationwide, and release on Blu-Ray. And tonight, I had the opportunity to see it for myself. Let me start by saying that Love Never Dies is NOT a rehashing of Phantom; and it stands alone as an absolutely incredible and masterful piece of musical theater destined to, like its predecessor, become a classic.  The story of the show is delicate to review. It’s difficult to give too many details about the story without revealing too much about the progression of Phantom and where the characters are, why they got there, and what developed between the original show and the sequel. There are plenty of surprises in the story for sure. But, to provide a brief description, the events take place 10 years after Phantom.

The Phantom has moved to Coney Island, where he has founded a circus-type fair that provides a great opportunity for him to be well disguised among the freaks, oddities, and entertainers of the amusement park. Christine Daae, who has risen to stardom in Paris, is summoned to New York to perform for a large payout (that is desperately needed to pay off the gambling debts amassed by her now husband Raoul, the Vicant de Chagny) in the opening of a new American opera house. But, when the Phantom enters, plans change and Christine becomes obligated to perform for him at Coney Island. Raoul, Christine, Madame Giry and her daughter Meg are reunited in the process; and secrets of the past begin to shed light on each one’s present and possible future.

The actors in this show were some of the best I’ve ever seen in a theatrical production. The Phantom is marvelously played by Ben Lewis, who’s voice is one of the most powerful yet most gorgeous I’ve ever heard. And Anna O’Byrne’s Christine sent chills up and down my spine a countless number of times throughout the show. Her vocal abilities were absolutely breathtaking. The backup performers and even the ensemble were also phenomenal. Madame Giry (Maria Mercedes), Meg Giry (Sharon Millerchip), and Raoul (Simon Gleeson) gave outstanding performances. But the real scene-stealer is Gustave, Christine’s son, who was wonderfully played by Jack Lyall. His voice was sweet, innocent, and loving; and he brings his character to life flawlessly.

Beyond the acting, the music in the show is lush, rich, and moving. It punctuates the menacing moments of the show wonderfully, but leaves a full feeling in your heart that is downright incredible. Songs like “Look With Your Heart,” “Beneath a Moonless Sky,” and “Beautiful” are ones that pull at the heartstrings and leave your soul speechless in their absolutely gorgeous beauty. And the title number is also perfectly executed and is not only chill-inducing, but highly significant to the story of Love Never Dies as well. Not many of the musical themes present in Phantom are here; Love Never Dies has a very unique score that stands apart. “Learn to Be Lonely” which Webber wrote for the film version of Phantom is present ever-so-slightly in two scenes and there are some small Phantom themes present briefly a small number of other times. But the score here has almost zero resemblance to Phantom.

The sets of the show are also mind-boggling. I found myself comparing many of the sets to that of Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, not for similarity, but for their sheer complexity and grandiosity.  Perhaps no scene more better displays the brilliant intricacies of the sets’ inter-workings and impressiveness than “The Beauty Underneath.” In conclusion, Love Never Dies was an absolutely fantastic addition to the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber and I agree with his assertion that its quality is one of his best. Prior to the start of the show, a 15-minute “making of” montage is shown and Webber discusses the birth of Love Never Dies in great detail. It is quite apparent that he is a proud papa. And judging  from the experience I had tonight watching this show, he should be quite proud indeed. It will be heartbreaking if this show doesn’t make its way to Broadway. It is unbelievably deserving of a life there and will be embraced by theatergoers who loved everything about the original The Phantom of the Opera. But in the meantime, Love Never Dies plays one more time in theaters nationwide on March 7th. Tickets are available on Fathom Events’ Web Site: http://www.fathomevents.com. Below, take a look at the preview for Love Never Dies:

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