I have to admit that I have never seen Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera, have not read the original novel, nor seen the old silent films on which its story is based I do know the gist of the story, however and am familiar with its most famous song Music of the Night.
As to my taste in musicals, I like vivid characters and settings, not too much sentimentality and like them funny,satirical and exciting with their score reflecting that. I may only have a basic understanding of musicology, but know what I like when I hear it. From a new musical , I expect at least two or three songs to be memorable enough to stay in the memory for at least five minutes after I have left the theatre. When modern musicals turn operatic and convert their characters banal lines of dialogue like 'have a nice day' into song, I feel cheated,because that is not what I call a song. Adding music to such cliches simply draws unwarranted attention to them. With those relatively low expectations I went to see the sequel to Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies at Sydney's Capitol Theatre
It is 1907 ten years after the disfigured Phantom, has parted from his love, Christina in Paris. He now lives in New York, on Coney Island, a reclusive musician, pining for his Christina still,in a vaudeville theatre among the freaks that dwell in the area. Supposedly invited by famous producer Hammerstein,Christina, now a renowned singer,her ten year old son Gustav,and her unlovable husband come to New York, to make some money to pay her husband's debts. The Phantom dramatically first appears at Christina's hotel room, causing her to faint with shock, something she always does, my friend who saw the original Phantom musical, whispered beside me when it happened. On her recovery, the Phantom explains that the real reason she was invited to New York is to perform a song he has specially written for her. Then he meets the musically talented ten year old son, who strongly resembles someone the Phantom once knew... Is it a coincidence that it is also just ten years since the Phantom last spent quality time with Christina? I will leave it to you to guess where the rest of the story now goes.
The set looks expensive and magnificent, with extensions to the proscenium in all directions, a false second proscenium facing the audience,representing the vaudeville theatre where the phantom now dwells. Its bare stage stretches back to infinity and towering scaffolding around the sides decorated with coloured lights represents the piers of Coney Island. There are plenty of dark nooks in the scaffolding for the Phantom to lurk and spy on the action on the main stage. Both the fog machine and the revolving centre stage the work overtime in some scenes. A suspended scaffold bridge,a key feature in the climax, swings low down, seemingly about two feet above the head of the conductor in the orchestra pit. Sydney's Capitol Theatre with its art deco grandeur, has probably never had such a production on its stage that melds so well in with its own theatrical design, an ideal place for this phantom to haunt
The script would appear to make little attempt to deepen the previous characterisation and conflict between the Phantom and his love Christina It does allow us some sympathy for Christina's wastrel husband, but I do have an aversion to cute blond haired ten year old boys who are directed to exclaim dialogue like 'Look mummy' in unnaturally shrill voices on stage However,young Gustav redeems himself by singing or acting quite well, useful given his central role in the plot. The subsidiary characters, the freaks,fire jugglers and dwarves are much more interesting than the two leading roles, and all are given their due at least in two musical numbers and scenes. This sequel could have gone in a more original direction if the central focus had been on them and not just Christina and the Phantom. It is only the sardonic freaks and a humorous vaudeville interlude “Bathing Beauties” that breaks the serious tone, with the contrivances and character reversals of the play's climax highlighting its more melodramatic aspects.
The outstanding voices of Ben Lewis and Anna O Byrne in the two leading roles , possibly makes some of the songs sound better than they actually are. The title song and the musical climax of the show supposedly composed by the Phantom for Christina , is made visually striking by having Christina dressed in peacock blue, step out of a matching peacock blue picture frame set design, an effect that does not totally work if viewed indirectly side on. As to its lyrics both the phantom and Webber must have wrestled long and hard creatively with them, this not being the first time ever anyone has written a song on a theme of everlasting Love.
Love Never Dies kept my attention and was entertaining enough, and I only read afterwards that the show had been rewritten since its London opening, but had not yet opened on Broadway,making this Australian production for once not just a licensed carbon copy of an established success. It meets several of my criteria for a successful musical,but whether Love Never Dies,is as memorable or better or worse than Phantom of the Opera ,you be the judge.