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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at Royal Albert Hall


  Ph: Alastair Muir

On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 11, the Broadway production of The Phantom of the Opera reached its 10,000th performance. Looking over the show’s most recent weekly grosses, it could conceivably keep going for decades to come.

However, it’s anyone’s guess when Love Never Dies, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much-touted Phantom sequel, will reach New York. After the London premiere crashed and burned, leaving many to believe that the show was as good as dead, it received a new Melbourne staging that got much better reviews. In a very rare move, video recordings of both the original Phantom and its sequel are being released on DVD and Blue-ray following brief engagements at movie theaters throughout the world.

To be precise, the Phantom recording does not actually depict either of the ongoing London or New York productions, but a lavish, fully staged version presented at the Royal Albert Hall for three performances in early October, which was essentially an oversized recreation of Hal Prince’s gothic staging pumped up with additional musicians and cast members and large LED video panels. Gillian Lynne, the original choreographer, is credited with overseeing this production. The quality of the camera work is first-rate, with a mix of up-close and far-reaching shots. It is also far better to watch than Joel Schumacher’s regrettable 2004 film adaptation.

Although it would have been far better to have the Broadway or London production preserved for posterity, the Royal Albert Hall version does stick pretty faithfully to the entire libretto and sweeping score. One curious and unfortunate change that will likely disappoint fans of the show is that the chandelier does not crash to the stage at the end of act one, nor does it levitate from the stage to the top of the theater during the overture. Some sparks fly out of it, but that’s about it.

Playing the Phantom and Christine are Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess, who starred together in the original London production of Love Never Dies in the same roles. The very handsome Karimloo gives a full-bodied, youthful turn as the masked antihero that certainly ranks with recent Broadway Phantoms such as Howard McGillan and Hugh Panaro. Boggess, who is best known for playing Ariel in The Little Mermaid, brings an impressive amount of individuality to a pretty vacuous role. On a purely vocal level, her performance is pretty flawless. Wendy Ferguson is unexpectedly fragile as the diva Carlotta, a role usually treated as a caricature.

As a grand finale at curtain call, Lloyd Webber took the stage and unveiled Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford in addition to several other veteran Phantoms including Colm Wilkinson, John Owen-Jones, Anthony Warlow and Peter Jöback. Although Crawford, who was then starring in Lloyd Webber’s production of The Wizard of Oz, declined to sing, Brightman and the other guys delved into the title song and “The Music of the Night.” In a nice touch, Lloyd Webber paid tribute to the show’s late scenic designer MariaBjörnson. Lloyd Webber also noted that Prince, who was noticeably absent, was currently with the Broadway cast.  Another bonus is “Getting Past the Point of No Return,” a short behind-the-scenes documentary about putting together the Royal Albert Hall staging.

The recording of Love Never Dies, on the other hand, comes across less as a sign of celebration than perhaps damage control. After Jack O’Brien’s much maligned London production (nicknamed by its detractors as Paint Never Dies) quickly shuttered, Lloyd Webber was quick to proclaim Simon Philips’ (Priscilla Queen of the Desert) revised staging in Melbourne, Australia, to be a vast improvement.

While those who saw the London production will probably be able to appreciate the differences, the majority of people will be mainly comparing it with the original, far-superior Phantom score and libretto. In case you didn’t already know, Love Never Dies takes place approximately a decade after Phantom and depicts the Phantom as a Coney Island impresario who hires Christine, now a world-famous opera singer, to perform for him. She brings along Raul, now her gambling, difficult husband, and her curiously brilliant 10-year-old son, whose father is apparently the Phantom and not Raul.

The Australian cast includes Ben Lewis, who makes for an excellent, sexy Phantom, and Anna O’Bryne, also in fine form as the mature Christine. The production design, which creates a creepy Coney Island underworld scene, is entrancing. But for the most part, Phantom fans are likely to see Love Never Dies as an interesting but ultimately unnecessary and painfully melodramatic effort. Ironically, the score sounds best when it is simply quoting from the original Phantom, which it often does.

That being the case, perhaps it is better to just watch a recording of Love Never Dies than shell out significantly more to see a live production. On the other hand, watching Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall makes you want to go out and see the show live again. 


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