Love never dies. Nor, apparently, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s thirst for greater fortune.

The Victorian government will line his pockets again to bring his nervously-awaited sequel to musical blockbuster The Phantom Of The Opera — the Bond-esquely titled Love Never Dies — to Melbourne next May. It will be the first production outside of London.

Lloyd Webber beamed into the announcement at Parliament House yesterday declaring a “great affiliation” with Australia. New arts minister Tim Holding basked in the praise: “…we are delighted that Andrew Lloyd Webber has chosen Melbourne to be the second city in the world to stage the continuing story, Love Never Dies.”

Except the show is, by most reports, a dud. And Melbourne will only host the first offshore production after Broadway passed on the opportunity.

Love Never Dies was slated for a New York season next month. That was delayed until next year, and then indefinitely; as the New York Times reported a fortnight ago: “…the word of mouth was uniformly awful among Broadway producers who went over to see it.”

Reviews for the London production were mixed, to say the least. As Times theatre bitch Ben Brantley wrote: “… this poor sap of a show feels as eager to be walloped as a clown in a carnival dunking booth.” Most blame comedian Ben Elton — he penned the script, bizarrely, which most critics hammered for its lack of narrative tension.

The telling fact from the press release yesterday was the quote from Simon Phillips, the outgoing Melbourne Theatre Company artistic director who will helm the Australian incarnation. Phillips expressed his delight at working on Lloyd Webber’s “inspired new structural changes” to “further intensify the thrills and spills”. This will be a re-tooled show, as Broadway producers had demanded before finally giving up on it. The burden on Phillips, with designer Gabriela Tylesova, to make something of a theatrical turkey is heavy.

Phantom has certainly been Lloyd Webber’s biggest cash cow. The stage spectacular (and widely-panned 2004 film) has generated some $5 billion, he boasts, making it by some measure the most successful single piece of entertainment in history (more lucrative than Titanic and Avatar, we’re told). About 5 million Aussies have seen it, many during its record-breaking run at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre beginning in 1990.

Victoria has had great success with musical theatre. Wicked — the Wizard Of Oz prequel that ran for more than a year at the Regent Theatre — generated $126 million for the local economy, according to rather rubbery government estimates. Love Never Dies will dump a “conservative” $40 million into local business, a spokesperson for Holding told Crikey.

But at what cost? Holding’s office won’t say — the government doesn’t reveal what it spends on individual projects under its Major Events umbrella.

The tortured Phantom, turns out, didn’t croak in his Paris Opera House dungeon — he crossed the Atlantic to become a Coney Island impresario. A decade on, Christine, his star-cross’d heroine, finds her way to Brooklyn, new hubby and child in tow, for a dramatic reunification. As London’s The Times wrote in its two-star review: “… oh, how time and a dismally implausible plot have altered him and his life.”

Some phans of the show (their word, not mine; at least as scary as the Phantom himself) rallied on internet forums and social media to call for a boycott. The unrequited love between the soprano and her opera ghoul should have remained just that, they pleaded. Lloyd Webber should have pulled the plug on the Music of the Night.

But he’s back. And for some time, the government will be nervously hoping — and banking on.

Peter Fray

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