Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Phantom Returns: On Demand

I finally did it. I paid the $4.95 to watch LOVE NEVER DIES on demand. First let me say, very smart of the producers to air it on demand so that more people could catch this musical sequel to THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA that may never grace a stage near you. To tape the production in Australia in this way is a great way to see what became of the Phantom, Christine and the others in Andrew Lloyd Webber's version. The show has been worked on for numerous years and had a "not so well received" version in London, the Broadway transfer was dropped and the re-imagined version in Australia became the one that seemed to get better reviews.

The "look" of the production is pretty amazing. Sometimes reminding me of something Julie Taymor might have come up with if it were placed in her hands. The score: classic Lloyd Webber (even stealing from himself now and again). No one can write a musical motif like he does (and play it to death over and over so that you leave recalling one thing). I was sort of amazed the entire thing starts with the 'big number' that I recognized from Sirius Radio as what I thought would have been the Phantom's 11:00 number.  But once we get past that and into the real 'opening number' at the circus, you feel as if we are back in the late 80s preparing for the first production of Phantom. Only this is Taboo mixed with Barnum. By the third song in, you're still not certain what the show is except that we're setting up the fact that we're in a circus so we're going to sing about what that 'offers' over and over. Then we finally hear about Christine and what she has been up to since the last musical. (But I must admit, I enjoyed Meg in her number and actually felt as if she were the lead at this point in the musical...and wished that she was playing Christine...even though she should be in her late 20s and she looks 40.)

We get a little Titanic mixed with Ragtime feel next with some funny American accents coming from the Aussies and then Christine (played by Anna O'Byrne) enters. Suddenly, we are in another Lloyd Webber musical and it is as if Norma Desmond has returned to the studio for the first time. Once Christine is back and meets up with the Phantom - we get a 15-20 minute rehash of the cat & mouse game from the first musical. Only it is ten years later and personally, I sense nothing new in this scene or any tension. We just get a much cuter Phantom (who also sings better than Christine) and some very dreary plodding of the story. There are some plot points in Act I that I won't disclose, but I just have to say I don't remember a certain thing occurring in the original that plays a pretty important point. And then the entire act ends with Madame Giry turning into Evita.

Act II we get to see that Raoul has turned into Ravinal from Showboat. But then Meg sings again and whenever she is on, the show seems to have more life in it. (Which is so funny as she always annoyed me in the 1/2 dozen times I've seen the original.) I don't want to give a blow by blow here and ruin it for others watching, but the creative team took these characters into places I never thought it would go. The huge decision (to sing or not) does not have enough weight to carry a musical. So sadly, the score outshines the book.  Overall, I think the character of the Phantom (played by Ben Lewis) is very moving (as he is for me in the 1st as well) while Christine is just bland. I always believe the Phantom carrying a torch for her, but never believed she had any love for him. And the final moment of the show actually put a catch in my throat (but it was the 'final moment'). I'm still glad I got to see it and for those that are diehard musical theater buffs, I'd say it is worth a watch.

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