Sunday, 4 April 2010

Love Never Dies

Few shows of recent years have created more internet controversy than Andrew Lloyd Webber's latest musical. Ranging from the insane ramblings of "Phans" of the orginal through to some critics who habitually rubbish the noble Lord's output it is now hard for anyone to attend the show with an unsullied critical mind. Lloyd Webber's output in recent years has been at best mixed - WHISTLE DOWN THE WIND, although dramatically tight and containing much enjoyable music, can seem perilously close to Meatloaf tribute show; THE WOMAN IN WHITE a hugely promising subject and a good production by Trevor Nunn was hampered by lyrics so jaw droppingly bad that one is left baffled how they were ever accepted.
However I'm going to stick my neck out and say that, despite some faults, LOVE NEVER DIES is one of his best shows in a long time. Listening to the recording there are numerous moments which, even on repeated listening, still give me goosebumps.
Much of the critical (official and web based) opprobium has been based on the caveat that several of the characters have changed hugely from the original Phantom characters. Given that there has been a 10 year gap between the two sets of events I am at a loss to understand why this is such a stumbling block unless it is purely a problem of a sentimental aversion to change. But which of us can say hand on heart that we are not hugely different from how we were 10 years ago? 10 years ago voting Labour seemed a good idea. Now I'd be hard pushed to find any politician I wanted to vote for.
So Raoul has changed from the cardboard romatic hero of Phantom 1 to a soured drunk? Given the right circumstances that could happen to most people - Why is it so unbelievable in a musical? So Meg has turned from a ballet chit to a hard bitten player in the dubious dealings of Sodom by the Sea? Given that her mother has whored her to seal the deals that doesn't seem much of a stretch.
I don't think I am giving much away if I reveal that Christine is shot and killed in the final scene. This again has aroused huge critical ire chiefly, it seems, because the tragedy is not in some way telegraphed or set up. Well that's the problem with a bullet folks - if you could see them coming there would be an awful lot less dead people!
Anyway I finally got to see the show for myself last Thursday and, despite the best efforts of the audience around me, enjoyed it very much. As I said there are problems but none are insurmountable.
1)The show takes too long to get going - One of the strengths of the original Phantom was the stunning opening transformation from the auction room to the Paris Opera. The long projected sequence leading into the first Coney Island scene goes on just a bit long despite the undoubted beauty of some of the images.
2)The Phantom's first appearance lacks the theatricality of the original. He's just suddenly there. However his first number "Till I hear you sing" is a cracker and superbly sung by Ramin Karimloo.
3)Meg's descent into insaity needs a more detailed set-up - it rather comes out of nowhere.
4)The crucial dressing room scene where both Raoul and the Phantom try to force Christine to do their will is too slow - There should be no gap between Raoul's exit and the Phantom's arrival. Also they miss a trick here regarding the Phantom's entrance. Having him enter through the door is just dull.
5)The final scene on the pier including the tragic denoument is far too long and slowly paced (and not well blocked either, by the way) However Lloyd Webber was probably on a hiding to nothing here - if it had been quicker he would, no doubt, have been accused of trivialisng the events.

Now for the good points. Lloyd Webber has assembled an excellent cast without reliance on stars. Both Sierra Boggis and Karimloo encompass the wide range of notes and dynamics required and move with their respective plights. Summer Strallen is a good Meg although I would have liked her to have had a big emotional number as well as the Coney Island show songs.
Joseph Millson is very strong in the initially unsympathetic role of Raoul and his scene in the pier bar at the top of Act 2 was both moving and believable. Appropos of nothing he looked quite uncannily like Simon Williams 20 years ago.
Liz Robertson, freed at last from the yoke of years of "wholesome" roles, gleefully hammed it up as Mme Giry looking, for all the world, like a French Mrs Danvers.
However almost the most striking performance was that of Charlie Manton in the role of Christine's son, Gustave. Extraordinarily talented, yet wholly without the stage school muppetry which usually has me reaching for a gun, he creates an utterly believable and sympathetic character. I was not suprised to read that he has already portrayed Miles in Britten's THE TURN OF THE SCREW and indeed there are aspects of Gustave's character which put one in mind of Britten's creepy child protagonist. But perhaps that's just me - It's hard to see treble singing boys in sailor suits without thinking of Britten!
Anyway I've probably rambled on enough - My main point is that I urge people to ignore the critics and make up their own minds about the show (You can put the fiver in the post now, Andrew!!)

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