Brief Encounter With ... Andrew Lloyd Webber
The production was filmed in Australia, where Love Never Dies was reconceived by director Simon Phillips following its London premiere, which finished its run at the Adelphi Theatre in August last year.
Here, Lloyd Webber talks to Jasper Rees about the new DVD release, his thoughts on theatre on film and his future plans for the musical.
The Melbourne production of Love Never Dies has been ravishingly filmed and is now to be realised globally on DVD and Blu-ray. How did it come about?
It came about because I had the press footage from Melbourne which I was showing to a couple of people in London who hadn’t seen the Australian production. Somebody from Universal called by about the Phantom 25th and said, “What’s this?” I said, “It’s the Melbourne production of Love Never Dies.” He said, “Can I watch a bit of it?” Fifteen minutes in he said, “We must film this. I want this.” I think he was more interested in Love Never Dies than he was in the Phantom 25th. It was extraordinary. I said, “Well fine, fantastic”.
Did you need to be persuaded?
No, because frankly the Love Never Dies production in London didn't work. I remain convinced that it’s one of my best scores and if it’s not my favourite it’s certainly very close. I was so delighted that there was a possibility of a permanent record of a production that I think is as good as any I’ve ever had of any of my pieces that I just leapt at it and said, “Please, anything I can do to help, I will.” Since then I have really had nothing to do with the Australian production. Really, my only input in this was when making choices about editing.
But you did have something to do with it in the sense that you gave them permission to reinterpret it in their own way. How did the production come about?
The Melbourne production came about quite simply because Simon Phillips who directed it there came to me and said, “Look, I think there’s a great piece here trying to get out and I would like to have a crack at doing it completely differently – a completely different design, a completely different approach.” He introduced me to Gabriela Tylesova, the designer who has done an extraordinary job, that in fact in a way reminds in a way of Maria Björnson did the original Phantom design. Gabriela has that same sort of European sensibility. I worked with them a little bit and said there were a couple of changes that with hindsight I’d like to make. They were very keen to do those. Simon also suggested one or two things to me which I thought were right about making the character of the Phantom darker and expanding it a bit. The result is what we’ve got.
The interesting thing about the set is that it works very well on film as indeed does the whole of the staging.
Yes, the exciting thing about the film is because we had the ability to get up really close to the performers in a way that you can’t in the theatre, the actual drama of the piece and the passion that the actors are putting into it, really really zings through. For me, the most exciting thing about it and not just for this, but for musicals in general, is that the technology really exists now to record a live performance to this standard. Although in actual fact it was filmed over four days, so some of the close-ups are taken from other places, they are singing all the time, for real. In movies what happens is that the singers mime or perform to a scratch tape and then afterwards they put the vocals on. That is the way that 90 per cent of movie musicals have been made, if not all. In this case, the performers are actually singing as they are shot and so you get a completely different dynamic and you really get into the piece because what the actors are doing is what you’re seeing.
Is Love Never Dies now finished?
Yes, it’s finished as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t want to change anything now. I can’t think that there could a better production of it. With its somewhat chequered history it’s going to be an interesting thing to see if it does get to Broadway. We’ve just seen a lot of advance comment about the film in America which suggests it’s got a chance.
Did you ever have doubts whether it was the right thing to embark on a sequel to Phantom?
I never had any doubts about it being the right thing because I passionately wanted to do it and I think I put more of myself into this piece than probably anything else and I really really believed in it all the way along.
However, I did realise from the moment I saw the first dress rehearsal in London, it’s not going to happen this time around. So that’s why I’m so excited by the fact that it’s been given a second chance.
Can this open a new avenue for musical theatre in general but actually for your productions in particular?
Somebody said to me that they thought that this film might be in the top five movie musicals they’ve ever seen and it was certainly much better than the original Phantom as a movie. Having seen now also the 25th anniversary concert of Phantom and the way that was shot, I think what we’re seeing is the sort of technology and the skill - perhaps even more importantly - that has come as a consequence of the live broadcasts from the Met and the National Theatre. There now are people who can do this in a way that I don't think you could have said would be possible three or four years ago. I think therefore it does open up something completely interesting. There are performers who come in and do a musical for a short time and it would be marvellous to have a record of them. I’m thinking of Daniel Radcliffe in How to Succeed in Business. It would be phenomenal to have that.
Also what this technique does open up is that there are certain musicals that are unlikely to be filmed because film is very expensive and musicals in the last few years haven’t really had a mainstream history in Hollywood apart from perhaps Chicago and - who knows? - Les Misérables. But it’s now possible I would think for, say, something like my Sunset Boulevard – if you could get the right cast – to be filmed.
The world knows you as a man of the theatre. Is that description now not going to be quite as accurate?
I’ve been fascinated by the consequence of the editing process on this and I was very very intimately involved with it all. I find that very very exciting. I find it very thrilling. For the first time really as a theatre animal what I’m seeing onstage is being captured on film. Up to now with the other pieces I’ve done on film you see it but you know that there’s going to be a vocal done of the song that’s being performed later. But what was fascinating to me is the performance in the theatre – that’s it, we’ve captured it. With the editing process you’re also able to move the action along much quicker than you sometimes can in the theatre. I would never not want to work in the theatre again, but I must say I find film very very exciting.
I think the extraordinary closeness to the actors is the main thing. You can be right up close. It’s just extraordinary what you can therefore get in terms of intimacy. We were blessed with performers who understood how to use the camera.
A lot of musical theatre performers wouldn’t have been able to perform as these two – Ben Lewis and Anna O'Byrne. The screen kind of eats them up, or they eat up the screen. It’s quite remarkable that they were able to act as it were for film as well as for theatre.
Are there productions of your shows which if you could go back in time and apply this technology that you would specifically like to be memorialised?
Yes I would have loved to have had Elaine Paige as Evita. It would have been fantastic. Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman would also have been a wonderful thing in the original Phantom. I mean I can’t think of any show in a way that I wouldn’t like this to be done to. Obviously some will work better filmically than others. The right cast with Aspects of Love would be very very exciting for me. It might not be the most commercial thing of all time, but that’s not necessarily the reason for making some of these. I really do hope that it’s going to unlock the door for a lot of other people, not just myself, but for people who love musicals to be able to see them.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had the first night of South Pacific to this standard? Instead, what we’ve got for many many Broadway musicals, is the dusty thing that’s taken for the last night just for the records and you have to ask for permission to go and see it in the New York Public Library. I know things have got much more sophisticated now, but even so something filmed to this level is something that I’ve not experienced before.
More people are going to be able to see Love Never Dies than beforehand. What would you want to say to them if they are thinking of watching it on DVD or Blu-ray?
Well I would say it’s probably my most personal piece, wonderfully performed in a production that I myself don’t think can be bettered. If you did enjoy the original Phantom, I think you will get a lot out of this. For people who didn’t see the original Phantom you will also get a lot out of it because in many ways it’s a more complex piece, certainly more complex musically, and I would like to think that it is emotionally too. It’s certainly pushed me as far as I’ve gone so far.