Tag Archives: Simon Phillips

“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

“Songs for Nobodies” at the Ambassadors Theatre

Performing as five of the greatest singers of the 20th century counts as brave in anybody’s book, foolhardy almost. Yet Bernadette Robinson manages to do just that, rising to the challenge in appropriately stellar style. That she makes each impersonation seem so effortless is the first step in taking her solo show to another level of special.

There’s Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf and then Billie Holiday, with Maria Callas as a finale. What a line up. Arguably, Robinson’s challenge grows as the show’s 90 minutes progress, using the confidence she wins from the audience to her advantage. Each diva gets a song or two, impeccably arranged by Ian McDonald, and the musical side of the show is satisfying and entertaining.

But there’s more. Robinson’s clever move is in recruiting the talents of director Simon Phillips and playwright Joanna Murray-Smith. Allowing her acting to shine as much as her singing – no mean feat – the script is a series of cameos that feature the eponymous ‘nobodies’. Again, the variety is designed to impress; from an American journalist to an English librarian, women of different backgrounds and ages are all brought vividly to life as each recounts her encounter with a star.

Murray-Smith’s writing for these reminiscences can rightly be described as gem like. The short sketches take us to different times and places with crystal clarity. Each woman is star struck, which is repeatedly endearing, but the celebrities themselves, while convincingly magnetic, aren’t what this jeweller’s eye is studying. Full of humour and pathos, with a fair share of wisdom, it is these ordinary woman that interest most. The frank honesty of the monologues reflects the strange intimacy you can feel with a great performance from a big star. The move, from meeting a nobody to finding out they are a somebody, is inspiring every time. That’s just as big an achievement as the uncanny moments of vocal mimicry, making this a night of not five stars but ten.

Until 23 February 2019


Photo by Nick Brittain

“Priscilla Queen of the Desert” at the Palace Theatre

Priscilla Queen of the Desert has been running in London for nearly two years and, presumably on the grounds that you can never have too much of a good thing, the Palace Theatre has now launched Priscilla Parties. There are drinks before the show to get you in the mood, with goodie bags containing feather boas and specially commissioned cakes. Perhaps best of all, these packages give a substantial reduction on the price of seat.

I feel compelled to declare now that Priscilla isn’t really my cup of tea. Any show that sells a cocktail looking like a slush puppy is likely to alarm rather than excite and feather boas are not part of my wardrobe. But it’s hard not to enter the spirit of things when fellow audience members are clearly having such a good time.

The story of three drag queens who travel across Australia in a bus has a plot so thin it seems to have been abandoned en route. A juke-box musical format blasts out pop songs everyone will know incredibly loudly and we are treated to a series of dance and lip sync routines from an energetic cast.

Priscilla is hugely impressive on a technical level. Simon Phillips directs with military precision, and all the praise you have heard about Tim Chappel and Lizzy Gardiner’s costumes is well deserved. But this feels more like a tribute show than anything genuinely theatrical, and slight attempts at ironic appropriation never quite work.

The talented cast certainly doesn’t have the time to form an emotional connection with the audience. Don Gallagher, as the ageing transsexual Bernadette, manages well, but desperate stabs at sentimentality fail for his colleagues, whose characters simply drown in their sequins.

Drag just doesn’t have the charge that it used to. Priscilla can be brash and beautiful but it can’t really be bold. The  manner of cabaret currently so fashionable in other venues has performers that abandon impersonating women to flirt with fantasy and obscenity. When Priscilla’s players reminisce about the past in a flashback scene, the show excels. When they try to be edgy, it fails to convince. This may disappoint you, but the chances are you’ll be having too much fun to notice.

Until 31 December 2011

Written 25 January 2011 for The London Magazine