Tag Archives: Anna O’Byrne

“Love Never Dies” from The Shows Must Go On!

After The Phantom of the Opera last weekend, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s next fund-raising offering was the hit show’s sequel. Ten years after the Opera Populaire burned down, The Phantom has escaped to Coney Island, become a successful producer, and is ready to try and steal his love and muse, Christine Daaé, from her husband Raoul. Excitingly, this is the 2011 production from Melbourne’s Regent Theatre. Regarded as the best version, director Simon Phillips’ bold work makes the most of a piece that, while far from a flop, failed to escape from the shadow of its progenitor.

Phillips plays to the musical’s strengths and adds an aesthetic (with designer Gabriela Tylesova) that, by loosening the historical setting a little, adds genuine spookiness with a touch of Tim Burton. His cast is strong and embraces the better written characters. The play’s meaty plot, which appropriately has a long credit line – Webber, Glenn Slater, Ben Elton and Frederick Forsyth – is delivered with verve throughout. There are still problems: correcting (perceived) shortcomings in its famous original are all very well, but they make for a show that’s crowded and self-conscious, while Slater’s lyrics end up laboured and uninspired. Yet the show is entertaining and interesting. 

Love Never Dies from the Regent's Theatre Melbourne
Ben Lewis and Anna O’Byrne

You might notice some of the characters’ recollections of the past events seem distorted! Each sleight of hand heightens drama and romance, likewise Lloyd Webber’s lush score. Filling out previous events also aids characterisation – both male leads are more complex characters. Ben Lewis’s Phantom is more human and Simon Gleeson’s Raoul more than just a Prince Charming (in fact, he’s a nasty snob and drunk). Both performers’ rich voices make them perfectly cast, and they excel in their scenes of confrontation. It’s a shame the final lead, sung beautifully by Anna O’Byrne, isn’t afforded the same treatment. Christine almost disappears between the men – very naughty. No matter how many times her name is sung (too many), she lacks agency.

Love Never Dies from the Regent's Theatre Melbourne
Paul Tabone, Dean Vince and Emma J Hawkins

Improvements predominate, though, with beefed up roles for Phantom acolytes. Madame Giry is more interesting, allowing Maria Mercedes a chance to shine, and her daughter Meg (did I miss that relationship before?) becomes a major role, delivered superbly by Sharon Millerchip. Their colleagues in Coney Island, a creepy collection with a strong presence, are well delivered by Paul Tabone, Dean Vince and Emma J Hawkins. Best of all is the role of Gustav, Christine’s son, performed here by Jack Lyall – one of the finest younger performers I’ve seen. OK, so you can guess the plot twist. But having a youngster included opens out the story marvellously. It gives Webber’s score a chance to fly, with new musical possibilities, that he grasps to explore his motif of the “pure and unearthly” with considerable sophistication.

Available on The Show Must Go On! youtube channel until 26 April 2020

Photos by Jeff Busby

“Amour” at the Charing Cross Theatre

This quirky musical from the legendary Michael Legrand is a fairy tale for Francophiles. The romance is between Isabelle, an unhappy wife kept under lock and key by her older husband, and a conscientious clerk called Dusoleil. Anna O’Byrne makes a suitably enchanting leading lady, who sounds great, while the show should make a big star of Gary Tushaw, who is excellent throughout. Their intriguing affair is about dreams as much as passion and is transformed when Dusoleil finds himself able to walk through walls!

Anna O’Byrne and Gary Tushaw

Being French, Dusoleil turns out to be a superhero with an Existentialist edge – you need a philosophical frame of mind to end up in prison when you could just walk out of one. And he has an eye on revolutionary values, making his alter-ego Passepartout a hero of the people and the fantasy of Isabelle. Turning himself into the law to win his love – he’s too shy to reveal his true identity in any other way – leads to a crazy court scene (including a nun, always a good move in a musical), where Isabella claims her own freedom, leaving her husband and running away with Dusoleil to what should be a happy ever after. Another twist leads to a very odd ending, which ensures the show proves memorable. Suffice to say, Amour is unpredictable.

Even at its climax, and its most fantastical, the show has a strong sense of time and place that adds appeal and plays wittily with caricature. Paris in the 1950s, the city of Legrand’s childhood, is evoked with cigarettes and Camembert. There are some close-to-the knuckle jokes about Nazi collaboration, sexism and the best gendarmes since ‘Allo ‘Allo’s Crabtree. And incredibly, through our hero, communists and Catholics come to agree. Although, of course, everyone is still ready to go on strike.

Amour is charming, escapist and funny. Director Hannah Chissick does well to emphasis all this. She tries a little too hard at times, overusing bikes, suitcases and chairs (the umbrellas are fine, a nice nod to those of Legrand’s Cherbourg). But Chissick’s real strength is to make the show more of an ensemble piece than it might be; giving time for cameos that others might cut. Jack Reitman, stepping into the roles of a doctor, gendarme and judge for the press night, is impressive. And there’s Clare Machin – always good value – as a local prostitute and a colleague of Dusoleil who visits him in prison and steals the scene with an éclair.

Gary Tushaw and Clare Machin

Arguably, the biggest achievement comes with the show’s English adapter Jeremy Sams, who dealt with Didier van Cauwelaert’s libretto and took the show, albeit briefly, to Broadway. There are fits and starts, for sure, but the lyrics are funny and often inspired (who knew so much rhymed with Montmartre?). Sams’ work is impressive, but he sometimes seems self-conscious about the poetry. Maybe it’s better to adopt that Gallic shrug on occasion. When letting go, for example, in a number for Dusoleil’s new boss, the results are good (and a boon for Steven Serlin in the role), and when he sneaks in a bad pun it’s a treat.

The real reason to love the show is the score. It’s true that Amour is more a collection of songs than a real musical – but what songs! If there are fussy touches in the production, some flaws in the lyrics, or the story isn’t to your taste, all is excused by a score that is gorgeous, catchy, inventive and adventurous. It shows Legrand, who died earlier this year, in his prime. He wrote music that could makes you smile through its romance as well as its humour. I had a grin on my face for most of the show. Amour stole my heart.

Until 20 July 2019


Photos by Scott Rylander

“The Woman in White” at the Charing Cross Theatre

If memory serves me correctly, the West End debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, at the Palace Theatre back in 2004, was a grand affair with ambitious, if ineffective, projections and a big orchestra that served a lush score superbly. For its first revival the music has been revised, by Lloyd Webber himself, to suit a smaller setting. As a result, the show joins a string of revivals that remind us how versatile the composer’s work is. This is a piece that impressed first time around but now it is a musical to fall in love with.

The Woman in White is impressively plot driven. It’s based on Wilkie Collins’ 1859 novel, expertly condensed by Charlotte Jones, with its Victorian morality deftly handled to embrace current concerns about equality. This is a great yarn – a romance and a crime mystery that flirts with the supernatural – following the adventures of the Fairlie sisters and the mysterious titular character who has a secret that will change their lives. David Zippel’s lyrics serve the story superbly, even if all that exposition makes them occasionally prosaic. Director Thom Southerland aids the clarity to ensure we are entertained – with a staging full of atmosphere via strong work with the striped back set from designer Morgan Large.

For all Southerland’s accomplishments it is his cast that makes the show stand out – a particularly strong group of singers with exquisite control appropriate to the precision in both the score and the production.

Ashley Stillburn makes an appealing hero, as the Fairlies’ drawing teacher and love interest, who becomes a man of action when danger arrives. His rival in love is Chris Peluso as Sir Percival Glyde – “a liar, a braggart and a philistine” – full of charisma and danger. Glyde’s partner in crime is Count Fosco, played by Greg Castiglioni, who comes dangerously close to stealing scenes as he has the musical’s only light relief (credit where it’s due, for an Italian accent that isn’t just a cheap gag).

The trio of female roles secure more praise. The wealthy heiress Laura might be a little too wet but Anna O’Byrne tackles the role sensibly and gives her as much spirit as possible. Similarly, her half-sister Marian is one of those martyred women, beloved by Victorians, that can annoy – but in the role Carolyn Maitland makes her devotion believable and her sacrifices moving. Finally, Sophie Reeves, who plays the ghostly woman in white, delivers an impressive portrayal of mental illness. The whole cast tackles the satisfyingly complex storyline and its melodrama while singing to perfection, making this a clear five-star show.

Until 10 February 2018


Photo by Darren Bell