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The Australian production of Love Never Dies on DVD

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom sequel Love Never Dies opened in the West End to a very split response. The critics savaged it and it was cruelly dubbed ‘Paint Never Dries’ by fans who found its premise tedious and uninspiring. There were even those who, believing that the hugely successful The Phantom of the Opera needed no sequel, condemned the show before it opened and formed the nauseating ‘Love Should Die’ group to discourage theatregoers from seeing it and actively campaigning for its closure. Lloyd Webber himself admitted there were issues with the plot, and after the show was temporarily closed down for a few weeks and reworked it received a far more positive reaction – although the closed-minded ‘LSD’ group were still not appeased. But for every person who disparaged Love Never Dies, there was another who saw it from a very different viewpoint. It attracted a horde of dedicated fans who adored every aspect of the show and returned to see it on a weekly basis with an obsessional love to rival that of its masked ‘Angel’.

I was one of those who took the show to my heart. As much as I enjoy taking in a variety of theatre, I will admit to having a soft spot for those big, epic melodrama productions like Les Miserables and Phantom. I am irrevocably drawn to shows which can move me to tears with the passion and emotion of their music, their story and characters and Love Never Dies certainly did that for me. I agree that there were holes in the musical’s book, but you know what? It may not have been perfect, but it wasn’t as far off as some people believed. There are shows still playing in the West End that have far weaker stories than Love Never Dies and only a handful which can match it in scope and vision. I thought it to be an exquisitely beautiful piece of musical theatre and its absence has left a big void in London’s West End.

It may be gone from our shores, but it is proving that it can live up to its title on the other side of the world. The show went over to Australia last year and was very warmly received – now, the production has been filmed at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre and the DVD was released on Monday. UK fans have rushed out to get it, thrilled at the chance to revisit their beloved show; if they were expecting a carbon copy of the London production however, they’ll be in for a surprise.

One of the show’s lyrics reads, “Diamonds never sparkle bright, if they aren’t set just right”. This couldn’t be more apt in discussion of the original London production, but the visionary brilliance of director Simon Phillips has set Lloyd Webber’s diamond in the rough ‘just right’ now and its sparkle is a dazzling sight indeed. Love Never Dies has been completely re-imagined and is now the show that Lloyd Webber says he always envisioned it to be. The storyline hasn’t been drastically altered, but subtle lyric changes and re-worked dialogue has tightened everything up and pulled those unravelling threads together to create a more seamless production. The hidden secrets and motives of the principal characters are made more plausible by not masking them so well now – especially in the case of Meg Giry. Cleverly placed hints and references to past events and her buried pain make Meg’s subsequent breakdown seem not only conceivable, but inevitable.

The biggest difference between the London and Australian productions though is the staging. The Regent Theatre is a far bigger stage and the sets have grown with it. As lavish and visually stunning as the London show looked, it can’t compare to the scale of Australia’s Love Never Dies. Set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova has created a lavish world that simply has to be seen to be believed. Coney Island is brought to life in a swirl of colour and sensation, with its gaggle of freaks, bright lights and even a huge carousel which descends from the roof, while the dark world of the Phantom is realised in a combination of nightmare and beauty that is a masterpiece of staging. Christine’s costumes in particular are ravishing to behold, as she appears in a succession of sublime gowns.

And what of its cast? New talents Ben Lewis and Anna O’Byrne lead Love Never Dies as the Phantom and Christine and are magnificent in the roles. O’Byrne is breathtakingly gorgeous and has a voice like liquid gold, effortlessly reaching those soaring soprano notes and flawlessly capturing the union between Christine’s voice and the Phantom’s music. Lewis’ classical baritone voice is perfectly suited to the character and his height and strong, distinctive looks lend themselves to his foreboding stage presence. He blends passion, intensity and darkness with vulnerability, pain and longing to epitomise the Phantom, disturbing and terrifying in his malevolence and that penetrating stare one moment and breaking hearts with the depth of his despair and suffering the next. The combination of O’Byrne and Lewis, alongside the stellar performances of Simon Gleeson as Raoul, Maria Mercedes as Madame Giry and Sharon Millerchip as Meg Giry and of course, young Gustave, makes for a incredible cast, backed up by an incredible ensemble.

Having seen the London production, there were elements from it that I missed: as much as I avoid comparing actors who perform the same roles, I couldn’t help but think of Ramin Karimloo and just how astoundingly mind-blowing he would have been on the DVD. That’s not to take anything away from Lewis who is a simply phenomenal Phantom, but after witnessing Karimloo onstage in Love Never Dies, I would have liked to have seen his remarkable performance immortalised on screen. I did feel at times that it lacked the intensity of the original, which I think can just be attributed to the scope of the production. Theatre and film are two very different things and not everything will translate from one to the other; what works on the stage will not necessarily come across well on screen. The deliberation and emphasis in Lewis’ dialogue was occasionally reminiscent of a pantomime villain (minus the moustache twirling) for example, and O’Byrne’s homage to the 1930’s swoon was slightly cheesy; I was also a little underwhelmed by the choreography in Meg’s performance numbers. Overall though, it plays out beautifully on DVD. The rich swells of music sound glorious, as do the voices of the cast, and it looks simply spectacular. The emotion of the story still draws you in and I don’t mind admitting that the heart-wrenching finale brought tears to my eyes –my seven-year-old daughter sobbed her heart out seeing it at the Adelphi Theatre and the DVD had exactly the same effect as the show did back then.

Watching the Australian production of Love Never Dies has made me miss this show in the West End immensely. When you have a show that is as successful as The Phantom of the Opera, it’s going to be a hard act to follow and it was the relentless comparison between the two that caused one of the biggest problems for Love Never Dies. Some fans are so loyal to the original show and characters that they feel as though they own it/them, so transporting it all ten years into the future and exploring how things have changed in that time did not sit well with them. Life is always moving on and people do change, so it would have been pointless to create a sequel that was stuck in a proverbial time-bubble. I happen to think that the progression of events and characters in Love Never Dies fits in wonderfully with Phantom, but for those fans who disagree, I recommend you stop comparing and try looking at it as a stand-alone piece of theatre. When you judge it on its own laurels and accept it for what it is, the splendour of Love Never Dies speaks for itself. Out of all the shows which closed in the West End last year, this is the one I think was the biggest travesty. I have a feeling it will be back again one day soon however, so until then, sit at home with your DVD of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical and let the spectacle astound you all over again.

By Julie Robinson (@missjulie25)

Wednesday 14th March 2012


  • MissJulie

    Julie is a theatre enthusiast, and is particularly keen on new writing. She writes articles each week for our website including a popular weekly ‘In Profile’ which features actors and actresses that are not in lead roles and are often in the Ensemble.

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5 thoughts on “The Australian production of Love Never Dies on DVD”

  1. Amazing as this show is, it does evoke the deepest of passions…more so than Phantom 1.
    I think it’s because we all can identify with regrets in our past, fears that got the better of us, which changed our direction in life.

    I think we all have a part of us that sings it’s own…”Once upon another time”
    Loved it…just take a box of tissues to see it live, though!

  2. As someone who knows the Phantom story well (I’ve researched the original novel extensively and am preparing a book on it for publication), I find your views unsubstantiated. When a show actively markets itself as ‘Phantom 2’ – and the final posters for the London production of ‘Love Never Dies’ did exactly that, while the cover of the Australian DVD has emblazoned on it ‘The Sequel to Phantom of the Opera – it is a sine qua non that the story must be congruous and coherent with what preceded it. There is no obligation on anyone to stop comparing and look at it as a standalone piece, because it isn’t, from its own premise to its actual score, which refers frequently back to the original. It is little wonder that there were heavy objections to the piece given how distorted the characters are, but also given how several important plot points do not sit at all, in any way, with the original. There is no indication that Madame Giry is in any way the Phantom’s accomplice in the original – although other characters accuse her of this, she herself confesses that she is terrified of him herself, her only close encounter with him being at a travelling fair many years ago. She refuses to take Raoul to the lair to find Christine out of fear. That Love Never Dies suddenly claims she was the Phantom’s friend makes no sense, especially in light of the Phantom’s repeated claims that he was hounded by everyone, met with hatred everywhere and shown zero compassion. Love Never Dies does not even work chronologically, when the original Phantom was set in 1881 (yet LND takes place “ten years later” in 1905/7 depending on which version you see), and when Raoul is a very old man in 1911 in the prologue of the original. Love Never Dies also claims the opera house burned down in the original – again, preposterous, since the original (unlike the 2004 film) was indubitably set in the actual Paris Opera House. There are many contradictions between the two libretti – in the original, Christine’s conclusion is that the Phantom’s soul is distorted and in need of repair, and that his face is no longer a source of horror to her. In the sequel, she claims his soul was pure and that she knew it all along. Character actions are unbelievable, from letting one’s child roam around unsupervised with a known serial killer, to the sheer stupidity of the Phantom himself (e.g. in his final words that drive Meg Giry to murder), who is supposed to be a genius. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but once you get internal contradictions, the whole things fall apart. It’s a lazily written show that shows such cavalier disregard for the original that one can only conclude it is a lazy cash-in. As such, the show itself is infinitely more nauseating than any fanatical online group of fans, who might, after all, have a point.

  3. Great review! I love our production as well as the snippets I’ve seen of London. I agree with Mary too – I think LND resonates with so many of us because we all have regrets and have made dumb choices sometimes.

  4. DO.NOT.MISS.IT. ALW’s best score IMHO. And the same WOW factor that POTO has. And an awesome cast.

  5. Bravo .. Well said R.S.

    I went along to see this travesty, glad I didn’t pay full price !

    Lost count of how many times I cringed with embarrassment,
    along with the “WTF” moments.
    The story has so many holes, and talk about character assassination,
    as a stand alone piece, it was just wrong.

    It was hard trying to hum a lavish set, and speaking of sets, IMHO
    I think Phantom has more spectacular sets.

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