Friday, March 30, 2012

Love Never Dies Review

"Love Never Dies," the controversial sequel to Andrew Loyd Webber's much loved  "Phantom of the Opera" musical was recently released in selected theaters for a special two night showing courtesy of Fathom Events. Not to be mistaken for a major motion picture, the movie was rather a set to film version of the stage musical currently enjoying a run in Australia.
Now, I am one of the many who has had very mixed feelings about Webber doing a follow up to his brilliant original story. First of all, I really couldn't see any overpowering need for there to be sequel. Sure the first phantom's conclusion is a little open ended, but it works perfectly in the context of the play, allowing the audience to ponder at what directions the characters could go and drawing there own conclusions. It definately is not one of those "Empire Strikes Back" kind of deals were you are left on pins and needles wondering how everything will play out.
Second, after having listened to all of the music in "Love Never Dies" I found it just did not measure up to the haunting, melodious, and completely captivating songs and orchestration of "Phantom." Not to say that there are not some really excellent songs here, I think "Until I Hear You Sing" is beautiful and it firmly remains my favorite song of them all. It goes from soft and subdued to bold and dramatic, evocking emotions of passion, loneliness, and nostalgia. Another favorite is "The Beauty Underneath" which has a rough, rock and roll edge to it that may seem jarring and out of place at first but really grows on you after a few listens. "Devil Take the Hind Most" is another one I really like and is a testosterone and tension riddled bit of verbal jousting between The Phantom and Raoul. "Beneath a Moonless Sky" an passionate duet between The Phantom and Christine practically bursts at the seems with bedroom innuendo and sexual allusions to the extent that it gets to be pretty over the top and the more emotional and dramatic the person singing becomes the more unintentonally funny the song gets. Oh well, it's still entertaining.
Unfortunately the character who I feel really gets shortchanged in terms of singing is Christine, which is odd to say since she is the character who holds the distinction of singing the title song, "Love Never Dies," but honestly, I just have never been able to get in to that one very much. My Gramma, who I took to the movie, absolutely loved it though, so I guess to each there own. I just really wish there could have been another "Think of Me" or "Wishing You Were Somehow Here" in this one. Something with a simple yet sweetly enchanting melody and lyrical depth that really make you want to fall in love with her like The Phantom. Unfortunely, as it is I felt that the character did not really recieve her due.
Regardless of my preferance for the classic I was still very excited to see this. Since the show's debut in the U.K. I had only ever listened to it via CD so I was eager to get the full experience and take it in from a visual aspect as well. It had been close to a decade since the film adaptation of The Phantom came out in 04 so I was thrilled to have the chance to see one of my favorite fictional characters once again commanding the greatest stage of all.
One of the first things that immediately grabbed my attention about the Australian production was just how much it tried to differentiate itself was from the musical's original London incarnation. Whole sections were either trimmed down, altered, or cut out entirely. Scenes that had previously been ratcheted up were toned down while parts that were toned down were, conversely, ratcheted up. Personally, I thought that these creative alterations did wonders for the show and resulted in a much more fluent and streamlined narrative. Unlike to the London production in which The Phantom does not appear until almost halfway through the first act after an introduction and some superfluous scenes that drag on for a bit too long, this version of the show truly hits the ground running with The Phantom perched intensly at his pipe organ hammering out some dramatic and tortured sounding bars as he transitions into the melodious and showstopping "Until I Hear You Sing." It is not until after this pivotal scene, in which the driving conflict of the story is revealed, that the show cleanly segways into the the whimsical and haunting "Coney Island Waltz" in which we are introduced to the human oddities that inhabit the turn of the century amusement park and a plot thread involving another key character.
The sets and costumes are stunning to look at and provide a true five course meal for the eyes. Coney Island, with its community of freaks and feeling unearthly decadence, looks every bit the perfect place for The Phantom to seek refuge and later gain influence in following his narrow escape from the mobs of Paris. When the Phantom shows whom he initially believes is Christine and Raoul's young son his lair, "illusion's domain," the entire room transforms into dazzling array of rotating cylindrical mirrors, each seeminly containing some form of Coney Island freak and oddity on the other side. Another  example that immediately comes to mind is the dress Christine wears when she sings "Love Never Dies." It is dark green with a feathered peackock like theme that is echoed in the backdrop behind her giving the illusion that the two are flowing organically together. A set of wooden roller coaster tracks lies suspended in the air and loops the stage in a couple broad circles. This perfectly enhances the show's carnival like aura while at the same time, perfectly representing the symbolic emotional rollar coaster that the main characters are put through throughout the course of the story.
I thought the performances were pretty much solid all around. The actor who played The Phantom sometimes came off a bit too Boris Karlov for my taste but otherwise he was fine. The actress who played Christine was gorgeous and did a great job of balancing her vulnerability to The Phantom with an unshakable sense of maternal responsibility. Other honorable mentions include the actress who played Meg Giry, Christine's former friend from Paris who is now obsessed with establishing herself as a gifted musical talent in the states no matter the ultimate cost to her innocence or her sense of self worth.
I really enjoyed the Australian production of Love Never Dies. It was dark, dramatic, and really went a long way toward causing me to embrace there being a sequel to the original rather than holding it at arms length as a "what if" scenario. Though I still believe some aspects could have been improved upon, the Australian version is definately a musical worthy of The Phantom's legacy.


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