“Ten long years,” the Phantom bemoans, “living a mere facade of life. Ten long years, wasting my time with smoke and noise.”
The frustration is palpable. Not of the opera ghoul’s lost love, necessarily, but of the puppet-master of global Phantom Enterprises. It’s been 25 years, in fact, since Andrew Lloyd Webber put his stupidly successful rock opera there, inside our minds. After much smoke and noise, and barely a hit, since, the sequel nobody asked for, and social media groups militantly campaigned against, is here — LoveNever Dies.
The tortured genius (in the mask, I mean) just won’t quit. Heartbreak didn’t kill him in his Paris Opera House lair as he set his muse Christine free, nor rickets apparently in the years since. In fact, he crossed the Atlantic to New York and the bright lights of Coney Island, transforming himself into a self-styled impresario. Now he’s hatched an implausible plot to lure his love to the fairground to again capture her heart.
He is grotesquely mortal now, stripped of the alchemy, the hypnotic allure, of the original. Much like this sequel. The tune, ‘Till I Hear You Sing — a genuinely stirring show-stopper — comes at the very start of the show (part of the significant revisions Webber and his Australian collaborators have made to the widely panned London production) and is, rather ominously, endlessly echoed but never matched for the next two and a half hours. You can’t build a show on one great song. Or the memories of an old fantastical piece of musical theatre.
Critics will use Love Never Dies as the blunt instrument to beat Webber over the head for crimes against the stage (and the Victorian government for topping up his fortune to bring the show Broadway rejected to Melbourne). They’ll say it’s an exercise in commercial greed (though the multibillionaire hardly needs the cash). They’ll point to the banal lyrics (arguably no worse than any other show he’s penned); the implausible plot (even by musical theatre standards?); the gaudy celebration of sheer style over substance (nothing but sheer spectacle under director Simon Phillips and designer Gabriela Tylesova). And they’ll be right.
But he did write it. Many people will come to see it. Most will leave happy enough. It showcases a host of quite exceptional Australian talent. It is, frankly, not awful. Nothing to eulogise, perhaps, but nothing to demonise either.
What Melbourne audiences will experience is a production significantly better than the West End. A beaming Webber took to the stage for his curtain call on Saturday and declared to the star-studded audience: “I wasn’t really happy with this in London and here it is exactly as I wanted it to be.” The creative ingenuity of this Australian team deserved its enthusiastic standing ovation. And Phans will lap it up.
The details: Love Never Dies plays the Regent Theatre.Tickets through Ticketmaster. The show is expected to tour to Sydney next year.