Category Archives: Musical Theatre

What’s in my rehearsal bag?

I confess. Every single time I pack a bag, I can hear my Grandma’s voice in my ear. “Abbie, you might need this…Abbie, you might need that…”
Between Grandma and my mother, the two most beautiful women I know, I always left the house with far more than I intended. But given that I’m now five years out of acting school and currently working on 3 different productions, there’s a fine art to what I need to take to a rehearsal/tech week. 

This is by no means an exhaustive list, as what you’ll need to pack will vary depending on what kind of show you’re doing. And by all means, if there’s any must-have items I’ve missed, feel free to add them to the comments below!

  1.  A bag big enough to hold everything.
    Personally, I use the Bloch Bagtastic Dance Bag. It’s not too big but holds so much. It has a mesh compartment, a wet pocket, an insulated pocket, and tons of internal compartments as well. It comes in a variety of colours. I chose purple because it’s my favourite colour and I accessorised it with a pointe show keyring.  Plus, it’s sturdy and will last a long time.
  2. Water Bottle
    Do I even need to explain this one? Keep hydrated. Make sure your bottle is a big one.
  3. Dance Shoes
    Admittedly this does depend on what you’re doing, but the most common is ballet/jazz/tap/chorus.  For ballet shoes, you’ll want to bring a sewing kit along. For the show I’m doing right now, I have to have chorus heels. And for the last show I did, I had foot wraps. 
  4. Your script, a highlighter and pencil, notebook
    Always useful to have your script and writing implements to mark cues, blocking and directorial notes.
  5. Headphones
    There’s usually downtime at rehearsals, so headphones are a great idea. I’m doing a musical right now and I use the time to go over my music and harmony lines.
  6. A Jacket
    Rehearsal rooms are either a furnace or a blizzard. It seems there’s no in between. So a jacket is very advisable.
  7. Snacks
    Do you really want to black out due to lack of sustenance?
  8. Thermos full of tea, and extra tea bags
    Recently, I spent several days in the recording studio, for the original cast soundtrack of the musical I’m in right now. The show is sung through with a total of 37 songs, and we were there til 1am some nights. 
    Without my thermos full of tea, my voice would have died. Thank the vocal gods for chamomile, honey and vanilla tea. That particular blend was calming and soothing. It was the only thing that prevented vocal fatigue and kept my vocal chords warm the entire time.
  9. Eucosteamer
    Like a lot of performers, I’m a slave to the Eucosteamer. It’s great for keeping your voice clear, especially if you’re sick and have to rehearse.
  10. Therabands
    These are great for stretching and warming up.
  11. Phone Charger
    Self explanatory. Either this or a portable battery. I carry both, Because tech week, am I right?
  12. Painkillers, Band-Aids, Allergy tablets, hand sanitiser
    Having a mini first-aid kit will save you more times than you can imagine. Someone will get hurt. Someone will have a headache. Someone will have allergies. This will minimise disruption.
  13. Deodorant and a towel/wipes
    Do you really want to be that person?
  14. Tissues
    Trust me, you do NOT want to get caught without these. 

Did I miss anything? What do you always take with you in the studio? Let me know in the comments!

I Have Returned

For the last year, my blog has been very quiet without any explanation to my subscribers and friends. I’ve posted very little, and very rarely. I wasn’t in any space to give notice or reasons, or to give a ballpark when or if I was going to blog again. This is all going to change right now.

Without going into all the gory details, or naming any names, in October 2017 my life fell apart in every single way. At the risk of sounding melodramatic, in just a few moments, everything I was sure of was gone. Just like that.

It’s hard when other people make bad choices. It’s hard not to blame yourself and then come to terms with the fact that you haven’t done anything wrong. Especially when people insert themselves into a situation, thinking they know the truth when they really have no idea. It’s hard when you find out you were lied to and used, for absolutely no reason.
It’s hard when people you thought were your friends, who you would have trusted with your very life, betray you in the worst way. And thanks to social media, escaping it is also next to impossible. My whole identity was brought into question, through no fault of my own.
On top of this, and really because of it, I was battling some serious health issues. Still am, even though I’m a million times better than I was.

I tried to write. But I couldn’t. I was physically incapable of doing it beyond the occasional short review, and I was too afraid to share it around like I normally would.
Writing is something very dependant on mood, emotions, headspace and personal feelings. I don’t know how on earth J.K Rowling wrote the way she did with the kind of pressure she faced.

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that everything is perfect now. It’s not. I’m still rebuilding the person I want to be. But I feel I’ve reached a point to bring this blog back, and make it better than ever on top of everything else I’m doing.

I am sorry to all my subscribers and friends who’ve missed my work. I’m truly sorry for dropping off the radar like I did.  But I had to take care of myself first and foremost, and I have plans for my blog.

What’s coming….

  1. My Wanderlust recap of my incredible solo trip to Europe will be completed by the end of the year, as I plan my next overseas adventure. Travel blogging is definitely going to be a new venture for me, but obviously the arts are my number one passion and my site will ALWAYS be about them above all.
  2. As I take on new acting projects, you can expect to be kept in the loop and brought behind the scenes.
  3. My first artist interview is coming very soon, something I am hopeful will become a semi-regular occurrence.
  4. Yes, I have many critiques, reviews, lists and analysing blogs in my backlog. And they will be released as I see fit.

It’s great to be back.



Hamilton is the life story of the ‘ten dollar founding father’, the forgotten Alexander Hamilton.  And quite honestly, even that’s too much of a description because this musical needs no introduction. It’s become a Broadway phenomenon, currently sold out until January 2017. The Off-Broadway production won 8 Drama Desk Awards, including Best Musical. The original cast recording won a Grammy. Needless to say, it’s practically guaranteed to sweep the Tony Awards in 2016 and for good reason. It’s a good show. It’s a rich historical period piece with Lin Manuel-Miranda’s brilliant use of hip-hop and rap contrasted with sweeping ballads. The multi-talented composer/lyricist also plays the titular character, as was the case with his last show, In The Heights.
I won’t lie, I’m one of those irritating people who listens to it over and over (on my iPod, to be fair). I love it as much as anyone else.


Hamilton has recently become the ninth musical in history to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It’s now joined the ranks with Of Thee I Sing, South Pacific, Fiorello!, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, A Chorus Line, Sunday in the Park With George, RENT, and Next to Normal. Looking at the past winners, it’s fairly easy to discern the reasons for them winning the Pulitzer. Of Thee I Sing and Fiorello! were political satires. How to Succeed was social satire of the business world and ambition. South Pacific dared to comment on the roots of racism. A Chorus Line finally acknowledged the harsh reality of being an artist. Sunday in the Park with George delved into the mind of a genius and the choices we make in life. RENT talked about HIV/AIDS and LGBTQ issues at a time when they were rampant but largely ignored. And of course, Next to Normal is a raw and unapologetic piece about grief and mental illness. Nine musicals which I hereby dub The Fellowship of Broadway (patent pending).

While most of these musicals are rightly considered masterworks, there’s one or two that are questionable, like RENT or How to Succeed. And while Hamilton is an excellent show, it’s not perfect. No piece of art is, and that’s not even why it won. It’s dramatic, but not hard-hitting like Next to Normal.  The modern musical score contrasted with the colonial time period is wonderful, but nothing new (Spring Awakening, anyone?).  Overall, it’s not making any philosophical statements or social commentary. So what was it that scooped the Pulitzer Prize? It’s just the stage equivalent of a bio-pic.

And that is precisely why it won.


The checklist re-emerges….

Hamilton’s subtitle is ‘An American Musical’. Truer words were never spoken. Much like historical films which comment on social norms at the Oscars, Hamilton is so red white and blue American it practically had to win the Pulitzer Prize.
Think about it. It ticks every box the academy likes.

Founding fathers of America? Check.
“Forgotten” Founding Father? Check.
Overcame a lot of hardship? Check.
Self-starter? Check.
Glorious telling of American history? Check.
Not-so-subtle stab at the British monarchy? Double check.
War hero? Check.
Tragic death? Checkmate.

Aside from the characters being historical figures and the story being about the founding fathers, every song is raising the flag. The only way you could make it more patriotic is if there was a giant bald eagle on the set and had curtains made out of the star-spangled banner.


Can we shoehorn the Statue of Liberty in there somewhere?

I’m not saying this to bash Hamilton in the slightest. It’s a great musical. An excellent musical. I love it to death, I can’t stress that enough.  However, it’s so tied to the American culture and history there’s a question of whether it’s going to be as successful in countries outside the USA. A British production has been announced, as well as a production to open in Australia.

My partner and I were discussing this at length after listening to the soundtrack and he pretty much summed up what makes the story so good.
Hamilton doesn’t show whether characters are right or wrong, they just show you what happened and let you make up your own mind,”
That’s exactly right. The historical accuracy is of course down to creative license and what works on stage. But because they are old historical figures, it’s virtually impossible to know exactly what these people were like in reality. Hamilton is very clever at showing the flaws of everyone and the strengths, giving the audience an objective view of the story.

That is, except for one character. King George III.

Mr Burns is there so you can play Spot the Cartoon Bad Guy.

Poor King George. The lone Caucasian male actor in the show, the lone British character. And he is the most stereotypical Broadway villain in recent memory.
King George only appears three times in all of Hamilton, mainly to comment on America’s newly found independence and to gleefully chuckle over the state of their politics. His songs are catchy and fun, but he’s so cartoonishly evil and insane it’s hard to take seriously. Maybe that was the point. But what they conveniently neglect to mention is that the guy had a severe mental illness while he was in power. He shook hands with oak trees (allegedly), started every sentence with the word ‘peacock’ and adopted Prince Octavius.

“Prince Octavius” was a pillow.


I remember the day we brought him home….

There’s a legit question of how British audiences will react to this. Although to be fair the Brits are big fans of self-mockery….and maybe if it comes to Australia we Aussies can focus on another political drama that isn’t our own.
If Hamilton is to succeed to the same degree outside of America, audiences will need to be aware that this is American through and through. That this musical is fiercely patriotic and with a very distinct sound.

Hamilton is a breath of fresh air for musical theatre. It’s taken a real story and adapted it for the stage, being true to history but still making it interesting, relatable and accessible for a modern audience. The racial diversity of the cast is inspired and the score is one of the best in modern musical theatre.

If you’re one of the two music theatre people who haven’t listened to Hamilton, go and listen to it. Even if you aren’t a musical theatre fan who somehow stumbled upon my blog, I implore you to give Hamilton a chance. You won’t regret it.


Go ahead. We’ll wait.

I hope Lin Manuel-Miranda continues to share his gift with the world because I know I’m not alone when I say we want more from him. I’m keen to hear what he comes up with for the new Disney film Moana. He’s shown the truth of impoverished life with In The Heights and now he’s touching on American history with Hamilton. There’s a million things this guy hasn’t done yet, but just you wait.

Little Women vs Sound of Music

In 2013, I was still at acting school working towards my music theatre degree. One task for the 2000s music unit was to write a comparison between two similar musicals to present in class. Now, sadly I never got to present mine because of time constraints. What better way to rectify this than to edit the essay and post it here?

In 2005 the short-lived musical Little Women opened on Broadway, starring Sutton Foster as Jo March, music by Jason Howland and lyrics by Mindi Dickstein. Based on the classic 1869 novel by Louisa May Alcott, Little Women had a huge responsibility bringing one of the most beloved stories of all time to the stage? Did it succeed? Not really. And why does it bear so many striking similarities to the beloved 1959 Rogers and Hammerstein musical, The Sound of Music?


Little Women opens as Jo, an ‘impassioned girl of 19,’ receives her twenty-second letter of rejection from a prominent publisher. They tell her that her story is ‘tasteless’, ‘vulgar’ and she is advised to go home and have children, as “All women are made to do,”

This could quite possibly be the most half-hearted attempt to shoehorn in the misogyny of the era that I have ever seen. It’s a single line that’s never brought up again or even necessary to begin with. What did sexism have to do with Little Women in the first place? The answer is very little. In fact, I’m spending more time bitching about it on this blog than the show does. Moving on.
Jo reads her Operatic Tragedy to her mentor Professor Bhaer. Truthfully, her story is tasteless and vulgar. The Professor diplomatically suggests she could do better but like any good protagonist (there may be a hint of sarcasm here) Jo is too in love with her own work to take his advice on board.

And this is where the problems with characterisation starts. You see Jo’s most prominent traits. She’s passionate, opinionated and rather argumentative. And that’s pretty much where the character development stops for Little Women. The audience is only ever show the most basic character traits. Meg is romantic. Jo is passionate. Beth is sweet. Amy is pretentious. Marmee is….the mother. None of the characters are given enough expansion to seem human. They’re just stereotypes, if you could even call it that. Don’t believe me? Take Laurie’s introduction as Exhibit A.

The scene flashes back to two years earlier as Jo prepares her sisters, Meg, Beth and Amy, to perform an operatic tragedy that she has written. Now, I may be thinking too hard about it, but it seems even then, Jo had an unhealthy, almost sinister obsession with blood-and-guts in her stories. If I was a publisher receiving manuscripts like this, I wouldn’t publish them either. I’d be seeking a restraining order.
Anyway, feeling sad that their father is away at war, Jo brazenly decides to steal a Christmas tree from next door…because she claims to be full of energy and needs a task to do. We’re off to a great start here. Your main character steals a Christmas tree for literally no reason whatsoever. Is this a charming character trait or should we be emotionally disturbed?

When the rightful owner of the tree comes to give Jo the verbal bashing she deserves, Jo meets Laurie, her first of two love interests. The following dialogue, I kid you not, is far and away the most jarring introduction to a character ever written in the history of musical theatre.

He loves his trees. I’m Theodore Lawrence the Third. But everyone calls me Laurie. I’ve come to live here. In Concord. I play the piccolo. I can sleep standing up. And I won a medal at school for holding my breath for nearly three minutes before passing out. I think it was terrifically daring of you chopping down grandfather’s tree. Well, goodbye.”


I did NOT just read that.

Call me a serial nitpicker, but this is just straight up badly written.

The whole book is like this. There’s literally never a genuine line of dialogue that doesn’t feel forced, contrived, or simply tell-don’t-show. All the critics generally agreed that the musical was like a speed-read of the novel, having the most obvious emotions and events but without anything that make is feel true or natural. There’s nothing for the audience to connect with. No character apart from Jo is given significant stage time to become anything. I don’t know how actors can work with a script like that. Even a great actress like Sutton Foster would struggle to make this work.
I’m sorry, but I’m struggling to analyse this musical here because there’s little to analyse except how bland it is!!!!


Hades feels my pain

Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s continue.

The Sound of Music obviously by Rogers and Hammerstein has obviously had far more success both on stage and screen, but it bears striking similarities to the story of Little Women. To describe the story from The Sound of Music is almost silly. We all know it. We’ve all seen it and we all love it. Both The Sound of Music and Little Women have a passionate young female lead searching for her place in the world. Both are energetic and outspoken protagonists who fall in love with an unlikely suitor. Both focus on a family, both are adapted from books and are both well-loved stories. Both Jo and Maria are beloved characters in the Western world, but why does Maria feel more human to the audience? And her romance, for that matter?

Julie Andrews in "Sound Of Music" - 20th Century Fox - Released March 2, 1965

The most beautiful sound I ever heard….

Maria is a young woman who wants to be a nun, but her free spirit is deemed unsuitable to the role. She is sent to be the governess to the seven Von Trapp children.Their widowed father has forbidden all happiness and music from their lives, but Maria’s enthusiasm and good heart soon wins him over, transforming their lives under the shadow of Nazi Germany. Maria learns that things do not always turn out the way you expect and is asble to accept that her life changes from the direction she believed it was going to take. She does not fight her mistakes. She accepts them, she learns from them and she does all she can to help people change for the better. Jo fights everything to get her way. She refuses to change or see that maybe, just maybe, she’s wrong.
The other characters in the Sound of Music are also far more developed, whether they are leads or supporting cast. Captain Von Trapp, by contrast with Professor Bhaer, is much more sympathetic and relateable. The Captain is given a legitimate backstory about losing his wife and how his grief has caused him to become cold and distant from his children. But through Maria’s influence he is able to change his ways and become a loving father as meaning is brought back into his life.
Professor Bhaer is given no backstory or any distinct objectives thoughout Little Women and he is not very interesting as a result. This doesn’t necessarily make him a bad character, he’s likeable enough but he’s not explored particularly deeply.

Even the side characters in the Sound of Music are more interesting. There are seven children in the family and yet we all remember them because they’re all given distince, memorable personalities. Liesl of course forms the secondary romance with Rolfe, which also does not end in the typical fashion of happily ever after. Rolfe joins the Nazis, and Liesl has to accept that she can’t be with him, which is a far more realistic outcome than Laurie marrying Amy after being rejected by Jo. Even Elsa Schraeder, who very nearly steals the Captain’s heart, is given some very good scenes to work with. She could very easily have been considered an antagonist, but she has an understable motivation for wanting Maria out of the way. But in the end she realises that she was wrong and leaves of her own accord. How often do you see something like that in a love story? EVER?

As for Little Women, in terms of my most hated writing mistake of all, the dreaded tell-don’t-show, this is a script to behold.
In Act 2, after Beth dies, Marmee says to Jo “Nobody did more for Beth than you did!” Great, what exactly did she do for Beth? All we saw or heard of Jo doing was taking Beth to the beach and at the risk of sounding heartless, Beth seems pretty energetic for someone who’s apparently on their deathbed. The same goes for when Professor Bhaer is apparently falling in love with Jo. He is not seen a great deal and his one solo number is him wondering whether he has feelings for her. There is no real feeling of time passing or the characters developing in new ways. And does Jo develop feelings for the Professor herself? It’s insinuated in their final duet, but not explored in the least.

Look, it’s an adaptation of a very famous and dense book. But there’s adapting a novel to the stage and there’s stripping out anything that gave it substance, which is exactly what the creative minds behind Little Women have done. The stage directions are kind of generic, the dialogue is all over the place and it thinks it’s saying a lot more than it actually is.

Oh, and you can forget about character subtlety or underlying themes. At one point Amy burns Jo’s writing out of sheer spite, because she really doesn’t have a motivation or anything like that. You don’t need to wonder what might happen to their relationship as a result, because it’s obvious that Amy burning Jo’s work is going to cause sparks to fly, pun fully and unashamedly intended.
The little substance that desperately tries to appear just gets whacked over your head. Enthusiasm is important! Family is everything! Jo is a total nightmare at times, but it’s ok because she’s PASSIONATE!

The Sound of Music however devotes time for all the subplots to be fully realised. The main story is of course Maria’s journey towards changing the family for the better and finding romance in the end The moments where Little Women somewhat shines are the scenes where the family interacts, much like in the Sound of Music. It seems the strength of Little Women comes more from the cast, and particularly the actress playing Jo whereas the The Sound of Music is so charming and well written it can stand on its own as a wonderful piece of theatre without relying on talented actors to gloss over the flaws in the script.


You can still have incredible actors though 🙂

Another aspect of The Sound of Music which cannot be ignored is the near-perfect score. My Favourite Things, Do-Re-Mi, How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria and the title number are just some of the songs that are now standards. There’s no denying that Rogers and Hammerstein wrote a score that was far more memorable and enduring. Little Women’s score screams that it was rushed out. The melodies get the job done, although they aren’t all that phenomenal, just sort of bland and generic and the lyrics were very accurately described by the Broadway critics as “uneven”. Granted, I have heard far worse (Love Never Dies springs to mind), but any line which goes I work and I eat/life is muffins and jam is going to make me snicker. Little Women’s score is pleasant enough but the music has not and will not become ingrained in the world’s mind as The Sound of Music has. Another reason for this is that every song in The Sound of Music fits the narrative and drives the emotion and story. Little Women does not. Take for example the scene where Jo and Meg are going to the ball. The resulting musical number is how to respond if they’re asked to dance.
Yeah, um, what’s the point of that? Does it develop the characters? Does it have any bearing on the story at all? You could sum that up in a few sentences! It doesn’t call for a musical number!


In case you’re wondering, Little Women only ran for 137 performances.

In my opinion, The Sound of Music is the stronger theatrical production overall for several reasons. A stronger protagonist, a more developed cast, a more believable romance and more memorable music.

Little Women‘s failing was in the writing, both script and score, and there was honestly no excuse for this being the case. This isn’t a dumb jukebox musical like Mamma Mia or Moulin Rouge where you shoehorn in every tired cliché known to man. This is a beloved classic story that has meant a lot to five generations of women.
Little Women frustrates me because I KNOW there’s a good musical in there somewhere. It had so much potential with more guided adaptation and dramaturgy. The music could have been something very special if there was more time and effort put into it. It could have been so much more.

Maybe one day Little Women can be given the theatrical treatment it deserves. But if you’re looking for a classic story of family, love and courage done right, I’ll point to The Sound of Music every single time.

Is RENT a Masterpiece?

It’s the show that inspired many and has a devoted cult following of RENT heads. It won the Pulitzer Prize for drama and is said to be groundbreaking. It’s the show that caused people to camp outside the theatre in the hope of $20 tickets. Jonathan Larson’s RENT.

Opening on Broadway in 1996, RENT is loosely based on the opera La Boheme. Over a year, it follows the lives of  eight Bohemian friends (Mark, Roger, Mimi, Joanne, Maureen, Collins, Angel and Benny) who are living in New York during the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Mimi, Roger, Angel and Collins are all living with the disease. Mimi battles drug addiction. Roger dreams of writing ‘one great song’ before he goes. Mark works on a film. Angel and Collins are deeply in love. Lawyer Joanne struggles with her girlfriend Maureen’s flirtatious nature. Maureen stages protests and Benny has turned his back on his Bohemian principles.

Of course, what really propels the memory of RENT is composer/lyricist/writer Jonathan Larson’s tragic death the night before the first Off-Broadway preview at the age of 35. But the show must go on, and go on it did. RENT was a huge hit with audiences, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Book, Best Original Score and Best Supporting Actor, as well as 6 Drama Desk Awards. It ran on Broadway til 2008 and has spawned many productions and tours worldwide. A film was released in 2005 starring most of the original cast and the final Broadway performance was pro-shot on DVD. Like I said before, fans of the show (Rent-heads) have been known to literally camp outside the theatre in the hope of getting tickets.
As I said before, RENT won the Pulitzer Prize for drama, becoming one of just eight musicals in history to win the honour. All awards aside though, RENT is usually touted as a masterpiece of theatre and evokes a powerful reaction from RENT-heads. It’s a popular choice for community theatre and just a few days ago a 20th anniversary tour was announced. I myself was involved in a production of RENT while studying my musical theatre degree and had the time of my life.


By the way, who’s had to sing Seasons of Love in choir singing?

However, is RENT really the masterpiece it’s often proclaimed as? Is it worthy of the pedestal it’s placed upon?

Well, quite honestly, no.


RENT heads assemble

Wait, RENT heads! Don’t scream for my blood!

I don’t hate RENT. I like it. I think it’s a good show. I just don’t think it’s perfect. I think it has some glaring flaws that people overlook on a phenomenal scale. That doesn’t make RENT a bad musical. It should be watched and celebrated, all aspects acknowledged. Maybe consider this as an acknowledgement of what doesn’t work in RENT, as so much has been said and written about what does work. Maybe it’s time to consider the other side.

The characters aren’t all that well developed

If you read the casting brief/character descriptions, all the characters call for ‘excellent’, ‘strong’ or ‘good’ actors. This struck me as being oddly specific.
On first glance this seems like a no-brainer. Generally speaking, the arts require ‘good’ performers. But I have a theory about this, and some people might not like it. I believe that the reason RENT needs particularly talented actors/singers is not just due to the vocally demanding nature of the show. It’s because the characters are written quite sketchily. There’s little to no backstory given for them, and not many of them change and grow in the story. At least, not in an obvious way. It’s up to the actors to portray these characters and make them real. This requires performers who are exceptionally skilled in their craft working overtime to make these characters into three dimensional personalities. And the character who is the hardest?



I know a lot of people are going to hate me for this, but it has to be said. Maureen is the weakest character in the show. I’m always astounded by how many people love Maureen. I think Benny has more to work with than her.
Maureen, a bisexual performance artist, is Mark’s ex-girlfriend, leaving him for lesbian lawyer Joanne. And that’s pretty much the extent of her characterisation. The only aspect of her personality is how apparently ‘sexy’ she is. She’s irresistible to both genders. Men and women alike fall over themselves to get to her. Apparently. It’s all tell-don’t-show. Sure, she kisses another woman in front of Joanne, but Maureen initiates it all. Never once do you see anyone begging to go to bed with her or flirting with her. It’s all Maureen and the other characters talking about it.
Maureen expects Joanne to be completely ok with this. She has no sense of loyalty or commitment to her partner and revels in her supreme attractiveness. Oh, and in case it wasn’t obvious, she’s a serial cheater. Yet we’re all supposed to be accepting of this as a delightfully quirky character trait.
All this wouldn’t be a problem if this was part of a character arc. But of all the characters, Maureen is the only one to get precisely no development. She doesn’t change, learn anything or develop in any way, shape or form. She just has an on-off relationship with Joanne which eventually becomes permanently on. This is NOT character development, despite what many people think.
To her credit, she’s got some great fun songs, and she does stage protests, but you don’t really get the sense that this is for the good of others. I think there’s a lot of truth to Benny’s statement “Maureen is protesting losing her performance space. Not my attitude,”

There’s a lot of ‘tell-don’t-show’, and many plot threads don’t add up

Regular readers of my blog will know how much I loathe the dreaded ‘tell-don’t-show’. For those not aware, ‘tell-don’t-show’ is any time the writer decides to state something about a character or story detail while providing no commentary or proof. The Twilight Saga had this in spades.
In RENT, there’s a fair bit of this too, and it starts with the casting brief. The character descriptions gives a lot of details that are not in the show, or are only given the most flimsy of air time. Benny ‘eventually realises his friends are more important’. Only in a single act of paying for Angel’s funeral. And by the way, I never understood why Benny is supposed to be such a douchebag. They never actually say what their problem with him is. Wait, I tell a lie. It’s because he dared to get married. Granted, he isn’t the nicest guy around but is it possible that he became this way because all his friends turned their backs on him? “Ever since our wedding, I’m dirt!” Anyone?
The timelines don’t add up either. Mark says he’s going to fix Maureen’s equipment and then suddenly he’s back with Collins and Angel having not gone!
Then, in a fashion that would make your average Disney Princess shake their heads, Angel and Collins fall in love after a few hours. Yes, it is a few hours. The show opens December 24th, 9pm, Eastern Standard time. There’s a Life Support Meeting at 9:30. Maureen’s protest takes place at midnight. Angel says he’s ‘been hearing violins all night’. No. It’s been two hours MAXIMUM and last I looked that is not all night. This is not love at first sight, which, you know, doesn’t exist in reality. You can have lust, attraction and interest at first sight, but real love takes a lot of time to develop.
And while I’m on the subject, what the hell is Mimi doing with seducing Roger? Let’s think about this logically for a moment. She has HIV, and she’s trying to sleep with a guy who isn’t interested. Yes, he has HIV too, but she doesn’t know that. There’s no way to spin that this is an incredibly selfish thing to do, but it’s totally ok because ‘no day but today’. But don’t worry, once he finds out she has HIV too, boom! They’re in love. At least their love story has conflict and legitimate problems. I can’t justify her actions though. Nobody can. I may like RENT, but these are some pretty serious flaws in both character and story.
Joanne is ‘committed to helping those less fortunate’. When? When do we ever see that happen? Mimi says “Angel was one of my closest friends”. WHEN?!? I don’t think they even share a single line of dialogue. Mimi has ‘lived a lot of life’. How? What information do we get about this in the show? Is it her drug addiction that’s hardly mentioned at all? Speaking of which….

The Movie: Good or Bad?


Does fan service work?

I’m a lot more forgiving of the 2005 film version than most people are. It’s one of the few movie musicals of this day where all the actors could sing and act effectively. The problem was, with the exception of Rosario Dawson and Tracie Thoms, the actors were all far too old for these characters. They’re meant to be playing 20-somethings while pushing forty. I have nothing against older actors, but this is incredibly distracting. Having the original cast to make the fans happy was a very bad idea. Fan service is not always a good thing.
I loved the way some songs were handled, such as Another Day, One Song Glory and the opening number with the burning eviction notices. But at the risk of being controversial, there is one plot point which I think the film did BETTER than the stage show.
Mimi’s drug addiction.

In the stage show, Mimi apparently struggles with a heroin addiction. We never see her use. She buys it once in front of the audience. She doesn’t have any symptoms, she never tries to quit for real and it’s really not interesting. But in the movie, we see her genuinely struggle. Film has the power of montage and visuals, so we can see a lot more. I really believed Mimi’s battle in the film, because they showed there was one to have. I didn’t in the stage show. There was little sense of actual urgency in the script. It’s all up to the actors and director to try and add some sense into everything.

Despite popular opinion, it’s not groundbreaking

RENT is often professed as groundbreaking. I disagree. Rock musicals had been around since the 70s with shows such as Jesus Christ Superstar. As for the subject matter and characters, it’s pretty similar to HAIR.
Although if someone has a counter claim on how RENT is groundbreaking, I’m all ears.

Now, what DO I like about RENT?

I love the music. The music is undeniably excellent. It’s catchy, melodic, fits the style of the show and really does drive the emotion and story. People say the lyrics are terrible. Well, they’re definitely not Sondheim, but I’ve listened to Love Never Dies and NOTHING could be worse than those.
Not to say that some of the songs aren’t unnecessary or less-than-good. For instance, you’ve got Roger’s big songs. Roger’s driving point is that he wants to write ‘one great song’ before he dies. One Song Glory is the song he sings about his dream, and it’s far better than the great song he ends up writing. Your Eyes is…well, it’s not exactly terrible, but it’s not memorable or engaging and doesn’t make a lot of sense. Mimi’s eyes aren’t a recurring theme or something Roger continually refers to. He only says ‘brown eyes’ in a passing line and that’s not particularly enthralling.
Mimi, if you think this song is worth coming back to life for, it’s really not.



Sorry to disappoint

And then you have Santa Fe, the most pointless song of all. It’s not necessarily a bad song, per se, but it’s just so….meaningless. This is a filler song to behold. Think about it. You could take Santa Fe out of the show and it would make absolutely no difference. I think it’s only there to give Collins something to do other than fawn over Angel.
Whenever I hear a pointless song in a musical, and let’s face it, most musicals have at least one song you could get rid of and lose nothing, I call it the Santa Fe of (musical). In the production I did, our rather brilliant director made Santa Fe a drug trip. He did the impossible. He made Santa Fe interesting.
The musical is also very well paced. There’s action, but there’s enough moments of silence and quietness so there’s time to breathe. And even though it’s flawed, I love the subject matter and what the musical was trying to say.

RENT isn’t a bad show. It’s unfinished. RENT needed another rewrite or two after the road test of previews. I think a lot of the fans see things in the script which are hinted at, tantalisingly close to reality but because Larson died, it was never completed.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this COULD have been a pretty spectacular musical. There’s something very special in RENT, it’s just not fully realised.  You can see what Larson was trying to accomplish. If he had lived, we’d probably have a more polished and better show. But would it have been as successful? We’ll never know.

Take RENT for what it is: not a masterpiece, but a work in progress that became a musical phenomenon. And I for one, will enjoy the aspects of the show that I enjoy, relish in the memories of the 2013 production and wonder at what might have been.

Take it or leave it.

Into the Woods: From Stage to Screen

Into the Woods is without doubt my favourite musical of all time. I consider it a masterpiece of story telling. The characters are wonderful, the score is flawless, there’s a perfect blend of comedy and drama and the story is beyond ingenious. It’s also pretty much the only time I will ever admit to being an original cast snob. The DVD recording of the original Broadway cast remains one of my most beloved possessions.

The movie was stuck in development hell for years, but when it was finally announced for a 2014 release, I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was excited at the thought of seeing this show being immortalised in cinematic form. On the other hand, I was apprehensive. With a show this good, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Plus, this is a very hard adaptation to pull of since the musical is so theatrical, and has the advantage of an intermission.

However, the movie had a stellar cast (so I thought) and the director of Chicago at the helm, so I put any preconceived notions behind, and went to see the movie. And what did I get? A mixed bag. There were some elements that were done perfectly, and other elements that didn’t even make it up to bat. It’s definitely not the best musical movie but there was still so much the filmmakers got right. And overall, I quite liked it. So what worked? What didn’t? Let’s take a look.

Oh, by the way, spoilers ahead.


It’s your last warning!

Into the Woods, for those of you who don’t know, is based on the 1987 Tony Award winning musical composed by the legendary Stephen Sondheim. Into the Woods cleverly interweaves the classic tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel alongside an original story about a childless Baker and his wife. When a Witch reveals she cursed the pair to infertility in vengeance against his father, the Baker and his wife are tasked with finding four magical ingredients. The cow as white as milk, the cape as red as blood, the hair as yellow as corn, and the slipper as pure as gold. As you can imagine, the characters all cross paths as they go to get their wishes granted, and everything ends happily….for the first act. The second act goes into detail about what happens after ‘happily ever after’ as the characters are forced to face the consequences of their actions in Act One.
This was one of the first examples of twisted fairytales. It brings the stories into the world of reality, by showing how life doesn’t always have a happy ending and what you want isn’t necessarily what’s best for you. It’s really the ultimate ‘be careful what you wish for’ message.
All the characters, main or supporting, have beautifully defined personalities that go beyond the fairytale archetypes. This is a true ensemble piece, and everyone has a realistic and developed character arc.
This story could have been a cluttered mess, and granted it is a rather dense plot, but it’s told in a way that never leaves you confused or lost. The pacing is excellent, and you have an even distribution of comedy and drama. They aren’t afraid to make you laugh and they don’t shy away from raw emotional scenes either. There’s a lot of very clever fourth wall jokes, the best one being the characters feeding the narrator to the Giant in Act 2. The score is absolutely brilliant (come on, it’s Sondheim!) with sweeping instrumentals and clever lyrics that only Sondheim in all his genius can supply.
It’s about as perfect a musical I can think of. If I had to nitpick anything, and I mean really scraping the bottom of the barrel, the ending does drag on just a little bit too long. But that’s honestly the only thing I can think of.

Ok, ok, I’ve sung the show’s praises. Time to compare.

The original cast starred Bernadette Peters (The Witch), Joanna Gleason (Baker’s Wife), Chip Zien (Baker), Danielle Ferland (Little Red), Ben Wright (Jack) and Kim Crosby (Cinderella).
In the film we had Meryl Streep (Witch) James Corden (Baker), Emily Blunt (Baker’s Wife), Anna Kendrick (Cinderella), Chris Pine (Cinderella’s Prince), Lilla Crawford (Little Red), Daniel Huttlestone (Jack), and Mackenzie Mauzy (Rapunzel). Generally speaking, this is solid casting, with most of these actors being good choices for the roles and many turning in strong performances. James Corden and Emily Blunt carry the film exceptionally well as two ordinary homemakers thrust into a world they don’t understand. Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone, though both too young for the roles imbibe them with youthfulness and energy. None of the supporting cast (Christine Baranski, Billy Magnussen, Johnny Depp, etc) stand out in negative ways, but the actress who really blew me away was Mackenzie Mauzy. Rapunzel isn’t a giant role in the musical and considering how much of her story was cut (which will be discussed later) she created something truly heartfelt and mesmerising.
However, this cast was not without weak links. As I said, Lilla Crawford and Daniel Huttlestone , while doing a good job, were both too young. Personally, I think Jack comes across as more comical when played older (around 18-20), considering the dynamics with his mother. As for Little Red, she’s always played by an adult who looks young (20-25 or so) for reasons that become dazzlingly clear as soon as the Wolf appears. The sexual tension in that scene just becomes creepy otherwise. I rolled my eyes when the Wolf opened his jacket, revealing an array of lollies. Subtlety? What’s that?
As for Anna Kendrick, her singing sounded lovely (possible autotune?) but her acting was…lacking. Granted, Cinderella is probably the hardest character to play in Into the Woods, but it can definitely be done. Kim Crosby turned this role into something quirky, funny and strong willed. Anna Kendrick let so many lines fall flat and missed a lot of opportunities for comedy and real drama. I don’t know if it was the character choices or the director, but her Cinderella came off as bland and not very interesting.
Then we have Meryl Streep. When I heard she was cast as the Witch, I was hyped. She seemed the perfect choice, no question. So we have the legendary actress of our time…in one of the most confusing performances I’ve ever seen. Every time I watch her, I shake my head and have less idea what she was trying to accomplish. She’s so over the top, but with no focus or reason. She adds all this weird physicality; it’s like she’s incapable of being still. I don’t know what went wrong here. It’s like she was afraid to be grounded and commanding and thought the safest option was to ham it up to 11. To be fair though, her singing has improved miles since Mamma Mia (which I am NOT planning to review any time soon, by the way) and her crowning moment was during Stay With Me. It’s not a bad performance per se, but it’s certainly not what I wanted or thought I was going to see from such talent. And in such an iconic musical theatre role. Bring on Bernadette Peters any day.
The music, however, is the star of the film, and it sounds magnificent with that orchestra. It sounds lush, epic, and majestically carries the plot forward. The staging of the songs is at times extremely clever, such as On the Steps of the Palace freezing time or the visuals in I Know Things Now. My favourite number by far was Agony, which was absolutely perfect. It’s one of the few male duets in modern musical theatre, and one of the funniest. Both Chris Pine and Billy Magnussen work off each other fantastically and the rivalry dynamic works a charm. The waterfall was a creative setting too (actually, the movie was visually stunning and didn’t rely on it either!). I do wish the reprise had been included, but you can’t have everything you want.
The only song I really missed in the film was No More, which is actually my favourite song from the musical. I can kind of see why it was cut though. Without the Mysterious Man, and therefore very little of the Baker’s Father, the song may have felt shoehorned in. But this also created a world of problems. Without the song, the Baker didn’t have much reason to return. His father’s speech made little impact. There was no decision made about whether to keep fighting on. The Baker just walks away, cries for less than ten seconds and suddenly he’s ok. Sense! Please make it!


There weren’t all that many changes to the story, and most of the changes I can understand and even like, because hey, it’s a movie, not a stage show. Having the Baker narrate the show was an inspired move, although I did miss the Mysterious Man. I’ll also admit I laughed out loud when the Baker’s Wife became pregnant in a microsecond. At least they had the smarts to actually make a joke about it.
But I do have one problem with the movie, and unfortunately it’s kind of a big one.


Great, good, meh, awkward, good, good, …what?, good, good, hilarious

In my humble opinion, the biggest mistake the movie made was not killing off Rapunzel. Why? Because it pulls the entire second act apart. In the stage show, Rapunzel suffers from Post traumatic stress disorder and post natal depression from her treatment at the hands of the Witch. The Giant’s wife climbs down the second beanstalk looking for revenge on Jack for killing her husband and stealing their things. Fair enough.  In the initial confrontation, the Narrator is fed to the Giant, Jack’s Mother is accidentally killed by the Prince’s Steward, and Rapunzel is trampled to death. The Witch sings Lament over her adoptive daughter’s fate, and spends the rest of the show trying to give Jack over to the Giant in revenge.

In the movie, Rapunzel simply tells the Witch she wants nothing to do with her anymore and rides off with her Prince. And that’s it. We never see her again.

This plot change was revealed prior to release, but the producers assured us that Rapunzel would still have a tragic ending. But this is far from a tragic ending. The Witch singing Lament, while still a beautiful song, has much less impact when sung about a person who has simply released a toxic person from their life. Additionally, because Rapunzel doesn’t die, the Witch has zero motivation to go after Jack. She has no reason to want the Giant dead. This also waters down the Last Midnight, as the Witch’s role as the ironic voice of reason is lessened since she has nothing at stake.

I realise the producers probably didn’t want to upset the kids in the audience by killing off Rapunzel. But here’s my argument: just who do they think this story is aimed at? It is not a children’s story. There’s a number of reasons why there’s a junior version of Into the Woods. Fairytales were originally dark and gruesome. They were cautionary tales. Killing off Rapunzel is one of the many brave choices James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim made in the original. None of the characters are in the right. The things they wished for didn’t bring them true happiness. There have been serious consequences, including death. In most fairytales, the Witch would be the villain, but as I said above, here she’s the voice of reason. The writers of the musical were not afraid of these changes in the pursuit of the message and story they were telling. The movie is another example of Hollywood being terrified of giving audiences the truth.

But at the end of the day, this is still a good film of a very difficult adaptation and it’s not getting out of here without a recommendation. Still, I would also highly recommend checking out the original Broadway cast DVD. Whichever way you choose, Into the Woods is musical theatre at its finest.


There are some things in life that we as a species will never understand. Why is Family Guy still on? Why are there $2 fees at ATMs? Why do telemarketers always ring during dinner?

For me I will never understand, til the day I die, how on earth CATS ran for 18 years.

It may seem obvious, but I’m not a fan of this show. At all. I don’t think much of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s contribution to musical theatre is anything to scream about, with a few exceptions. I’ll always love Phantom, and Tell Me On A Sunday will remain a beloved part of my personal vocal repertoire.

But CATS, upon its recent return to Australia, having last played in 2014, seemed to reignite the flames of debate, of whether this is a beloved musical theatre classic or deserves to be shot. The casting of pop star Delta Goodrem in the iconic role of Grizabella caused more than a few raised eyebrows in the music theatre community. Once opening night rolled around and reports of a rapping Rum Tum Tugger appeared, the purists emerged from their ivory towers to cry sacrilege on fixing what was never broken.

Sorry, purists. This show is not only broken, it’s shattered into a million pieces and scattered to the four corners of the earth. It’s an unholy mess. It’s one of those musicals where I just shake my head and ask “How?”
How did this show run for 18 years?
How did it sweep the Tony Awards?
How did it win Best Musical? Best BOOK?!?

So, how did CATS all come about?
Well, the entire show is based on Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by the great T.S Eliot. It’s a collection of very creative poems about, what else, cats! It’s nothing phenomenal but it’s good harmless fun. Apparently, as a child, it was one of Webber’s favourites. And just to get this out of the way, there’s nothing wrong with adapting a childhood classic into a musical (Seussical, anyone?). It’s how you do it that makes or breaks it.
No, this is not a review of the current Sydney production. I suffered through this exercise in egomania once and not a lot could entice me to willingly sit through it again.
I’m not going to sit here and claim that CATS is destroying the source material. It’s not. And the poetry does lend itself to the musical theatre medium, but I’ll get to the music later. What I’m doing here is analysing the musical as part of the genre, and why I don’t think it works as a musical, to say the least.


Here’s your first hint

CATS is a curious case. It’s so awful, it’s actually kind of fascinating. There are times where I wonder whether it can legally be termed a musical, since most musicals have storylines and characters.
CATS does not possess these. See, T.S Eliot’s estate actually forbade the inclusion of a story and this is where things start to go wrong.
You can pretty much summarise the plot of CATS in five words. Weird creatures dance on junkyard. And that concludes our synopsis. I bet we’re going to be in for a wild ride here.
As the show opens, the audience is introduced to the Jellicle tribe. The cats dance around the stage and sing about all the wonderful and pointless things the Jellicle cats can do. And they’re also not kind enough to explain what the heck they are.
Clearly, these cats are not traditional felines, and they aren’t human. So….what are they? Where did they come from? What is their purpose? No? Nothing? Hello, confused audience here? ….Seriously?

Oh, they’ll happily tell you off as an audience for not knowing what they are. I’m dead serious. The following are actual lyrics from the end of the opening number.

There’s a man over there with a look of surprise
As much as to say well now how about that?
Do I actually see with my own very eyes
A man who’s not heard of a jellicle cat?
What’s a jellicle cat?
What’s a jellicle cat? (They repeat this 5 more times)

For a second you think they might actually tell you, but instead they launch into a rather creepy song about how they get their names. I don’t care how you get your names, I want to know what on earth you….things are!
And when they tell you how they get named, they don’t actually single out any cat so they have an identity. No, it’s just a list, a roll call of sorts, and it goes on forever. Actually, all the songs go on forever. WIth no dialogue, no story and nothing to hold your attention, I suppose it’s only fitting that they need to have something to extend the ‘action’ on stage. But there’s extending, and there’s pointless padding, which this musical has in spades. Every single song goes on for well over four minutes. Every. Single. Song. And remember how I said there’s literally no dialogue? I hope you have a comfortable seat, because things get boring fast.

As soon as the estate said a story was not to be included, this SHOULD have been a major red flag. Maybe, just maybe, musical theatre runs best when there is a flowing narrative.
I’ve had some fans try to tell me that the show is a song cycle. NO. Songs for a New World is a song cycle. Edges is a song cycle. CATS is not a song cycle. They’re clearly trying to tell something here, and with the restrictions placed on the production, it’s just not possible to make it the least bit interesting.


Great, you’re dancing again. Now will you please DO SOMETHING?

So there’s no story. Well, maybe the characters can be fun and bring some life to the proceedings? I think you give this show way too much credit. There’s about a much personality in these characters as a rice cake. The general ensemble of cats don’t even get much of a chance at development or identity so they all sort of blend together, and the cats that do get songs are rarely seen again. They aren’t even that important in the grand scheme of things. And you know what? When the show opened on Broadway, the cast was very confused about what they were doing.
When your own cast has no idea what’s going on, you’ve really run into trouble.

Despite being forbidden to have a storyline, there’s still a few laughable attempts at creating some kind of narrative. Macavity shows up occasionally, and for some reason the cats are disgusted by Grizabella’s presence, though neither “plot threads” are ever actually given any motivation or justification.
Macavity is allegedly the antagonist, though a presence is barely established. Don’t try to tell me that the less you see the better. That only works if there’s a build up to the climax, and there’s ZERO build up here. Macavity isn’t even mentioned until he first appears in the shadows with an evil laugh. They never say why Macavity is so evil or what his problem is with everyone else. He isn’t talked about, foreshadowed, and the song about him tells us very little. The most you glean is “he’s not there!”
*sigh* Two things.
1. What kind of criminal hangs around at the crime scene?  Do you honestly expect that?
2. These “crimes” Macavity is committing are little more than harmless pranks. And frankly he doesn’t seem scary to begin with so I have trouble believing he’d be pulling off anything worth worrying about.
The bottom line is, Macavity is a useless antagonist. He never seems a legitimate threat to anyone. So….WHAT WAS THE PURPOSE OF THIS GUY? Just a half baked attempt to put another pointless song in? That’s pretty weak.
Oh, Grizabella. Nice to see you suddenly appear for no reason into the plot. Oh, that’s right. We need to pretend there’s something going on other than dancing. Grizabella is an old grey cat, who was apparently once glamourous, but she isn’t anymore, and for some reason the Jellicle tribe hates her. She only comes on to get ridiculed before singing sadly and leaving. Le sigh. You could take her out of the show and you’d really not have a major difference. But of course, she sings that one song and everyone swoons.
And I’m just going to say this now. Memory can go die. In a fire.


My face throughout the entire show

This is definitely not a case of the music saving a show, like Chess or RENT. The songs for CATS are sub-par at best, even for Andrew Lloyd Webber. There’s song after song after song with no purpose. Pretty much the only thing you can get from these songs is that these are nominees for the Heavyside Layer. Riveting.
Normally I might not mind this. After all, Spring Awakening‘s score comments on the action rather than driving it forward, but like I said before, these cats are rarely seen again. They are not consequential. And from the second Grizabella staggers onto the stage, you know she’s going to be the one chosen.
By the way, what exactly is the Heavyside Layer? Yeah, they aren’t going to tell you that either.
For me, this is the most fascinating thing about CATS. And by fascinating, I mean fascinatingly bad. This show spends the entire running time explaining everything, and never actually manages to explain anything at all. Grizabella and Macavity are one thing, but what about the other questions that are never answered? What’s the Heavyside Layer? What are these things? What is going on? Why should I care? Can I stop watching now, please?

CATS is a marvel. Truly a gift to bad theatre. There’s just nothing here. Nothing to like. Nothing to be interested in. Nothing to care about, nothing to hold your attention.
I will give the cast a huge amount of credit, because to get through this show you need to be a superhuman. And the choreography is impressive, but after about ten minutes the sheen wears off and you crave something more.
The only reason this show won so many awards is because of Webber’s involvement. It was made at the height of his reign as King of Musical Theatre, so audiences were willing to swallow anything regurgitated onto the stage. It’s a dancer’s show, so it was kind of a new idea, and I’ve heard it referred to as the first ‘concept’ musical, though what ‘concept’ it was I would love to know. I can’t even give it the excuse of being style over substance. This isn’t like Love Never Dies, where I can at least understand people being sucked in by pretty visuals. See what you’ve done, CATS? You nearly made me justify Paint Never Dries. Bad kitty.

If you like CATS, fine. Go ahead and like it. And if you think it has a storyline or legitimate answers to any of the questions raised, then please tell me. I am beyond curious. I’m praying for the day the industry finally wakes up and realises that Australia needs and deserves better quality musical theatre, not just endless revivals of the same dull shows that aren’t even that great to begin with. Until then, and possibly after, I’m tossing this kitty litter out into the cold where it belongs.


Being Wendla Bergmann

Warning: Contains spoilers on Spring Awakening

From June 15th -17th 2015 I had the honour of playing one of the greatest female roles in modern musical theatre. Wendla Bergmann in Spring Awakening.
Even though we had a very limited season and the rehearsal period was long and stressful, as I reflect on the journey, I have no regrets on undertaking this character. I’m closing the chapter on the biggest role I have played to date, and I want to share some of my thoughts on Wendla and what she has meant to me.


Spring Awakening is a 2006 rock musical based on German playwright Frank Wedekind’s 1891 play of the same name. At the time of its 1906 premiere, Spring Awakening was so controversial in its unapologetic depiction of teenage self-discovery with themes of rape, abortion, sado-masochism, homosexuality, suicide, etc that it was deemed pornographic, and subsequently banned or censored. Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s take on the classic resulted in a wonderful juxtaposition of period drama and contemporary rock. With a thrilling score and clever staging (ok, maybe I am a little biased), Spring Awakening swept the 2007 Tony Awards, winning for Best Musical, Book, Original Score, Supporting Actor, Direction, Choreography, Orchestrations and Lighting.

The strangest thing about Spring Awakening and how it is treated in musical form, is that the contemporary influence shouldn’t work at first glance, but it honestly does. And the reason it works is because the story, characters and subject matter have stood the test of time and are instantly relatable. For me, the heart of the story is a cautionary tale about what can happen when people simply don’t communicate effectively. In Spring Awakening, the parents and other authority figures in town refuse to be honest with the teens about life and what they are going through physically, and this results in tragedy.

When I first found out that I had been cast as Wendla, I won’t lie, my first emotion was fear. I was terrified of the enormity of the task set before me. I had so many doubts it was hard to know what to think.

Can I really do this?

Can I carry a show?

How can I do this show, and this character justice?

But I was about to discover a lot about Wendla, and in turn, myself.


Despite popular opinion in the musical theatre world, Wendla is not a Disney princess (disclaimer: I’m referring to the early age princesses who literally did nothing. Snow White, Aurora etc. Belle, Megara, Jasmine etc are awesome). She’s told she’s a delicate flower, but inside, she’s Black Widow. This is a strong female, and she’s smart. Wendla has a brain, she’s just never been given permission to use it. And this is a big part of the tragedy of Wendla. There is wasted potential in a short life. And finally, she is not a victim. She’s a victim of circumstance, but that doesn’t make her weak.

Once I’d realised that I wouldn’t be playing a fourteen year old Barbie doll, I was able to delve deeper into Wendla’s story and what happens to her throughout the show.

©2010 Andy Snow

This was never going to end well

During the run, we had a matinée performance for schools, because Spring is now on the HSC syllabus. Unfortunately for these poor kids (some were in Year 10), the teachers forgot to advise them on some of the content, and it’s safe to say they were pretty shell-shocked by the end of the performance. We did a Q&A session afterwards to nearly five solid minutes of silence before they finally began asking questions.

Their first question? “Are youse two together?” one asked, referring to myself and Logan, who played Melchior (the looks on their faces when I pointed out that my partner was actually sitting at the drum kit with the rest of the band was beyond priceless). They wondered how I had coped simulating sex onstage with someone who I was not romantically involved with. Quite honestly, the hayloft scene was not the most confronting for me. (Interestingly enough, neither Wendla nor Melchior expresses love during their romance. The only character to say “I love you” is Ernst) I had wondered initially how I would cope with it, but in the end, it was much easier than I had expected. This was due to a few reasons. Firstly, I was very comfortable with Logan (Melchior), since we’d worked together before. Also, I had total faith in the directors, knowing they would never make me do anything I was uncomfortable with or that was distasteful without serving the base story.


I made my mother so proud in this scene…

Later, some of the students and their teacher approached me to ask more questions. They hated Wendla’s mother for not telling her the truth about where babies come from. Then they were worried that I had gotten hurt during the scene where Wendla gets beaten and seemed genuinely shocked when I explained that I was never actually touched by the stick. But what seemed to upset the students the most was Wendla’s death from a botched abortion. Even though it’s never seen by the audience, the mere thought is enough to make one’s blood turn to ice.
Wendla’s fate is nothing short of horrifying, and worst of all, it’s through no fault of her own. She seeks knowledge, and is denied it. She gets seduced into having sexual intercourse despite having literally no idea about what she’s doing, and ultimately winds up being punished for something beyond her control. With such a huge emotional journey throughout the show, I knew most of all I wanted to play Wendla with dignity and strength.

There’s a brilliant video series on called Character Study, where they film an actor getting doing hair/makeup before a show and discussing what makes their character tick. My favourite of these is stage legend Tony Sheldon discussing his role as Bernadette in Priscilla Queen of the Desert. “The scariest thing about playing Bernadette I think is letting people down who have actually lived her experience….they have to be honoured,”

(The full video is here:

His words have resonated with me ever since. I had a responsibility to Wendla and to people who have a similar story. Wendla is a fictional character, but make no mistake, her story is not unique. I did the research on the medical procedures of the day and it was beyond awful. I’ll admit, I even had nightmares about what I uncovered. But I’m still so glad I did my homework, because I don’t think I could have done it justice otherwise. I didn’t take this role lightly either way.


We didn’t get many reviews for Spring. Some were complimentary, one was rather critical. But in the end, it didn’t matter. The audiences loved what we did, and considering all the difficulties in bringing the show to the stage, I was very proud of my performance and the rest of the cast.

It’s now time for me to say goodbye to Wendla Bergmann. She’s been a good friend to me these past few months and I’ll miss her. She’s taught me so much about justice, life, death, innocence and bravery. I hope I did her story justice.

To sign off, one audience member asked me what my favourite song in the show is. And I would have to say The Guilty Ones, for the lyrics if nothing else.

Something’s started crazy
Sweet and unknown
Something you keep in a box on the street
Now it’s longing for a home
And who can say what dreams are?
Wake me in time to be lonely and sad
And who can say what we are?
This is the season for dreaming
And now our bodies are the guilty ones
Who touch and colour the hours
Night won’t breathe, oh how we
Fall in silence from the sky
Then whisper some silver reply……


Love Never Dies is Dead to Me, Part 3

And now, the final chapter!


The second act begins with Raoul sitting in a bar arguing with the bartender over whether he’s had enough to drink. I guess they tossed this done-to-death cliché in at the last-minute.


There has to be a checklist. There has to be!

Raoul’s wondering why Christine loves him, and to be perfectly honest, I’m wondering the same thing. Raoul was by no means my favourite character in the original but depending on who was playing him, I could understand why Christine fell for him. But now…all I can say is if I had a husband like Raoul is here, I would have shown him the door a long time ago.

Anyway, Meg Giry enters and explains through that she swims every day to combat stress in a boring slow song which lasts around two minutes. So she swims. Wow…that’s such a vital piece of information about Meg there. I could not have got through the rest of the show without knowing that laughable attempt at foreshadowing.
Meg tells Raoul that he must take Christine and Gustave and leave before Christine sings, lest the Phantom cast his spell on her again. Raoul says he’s not afraid of the Phantom, just as the Phantom shows up behind the bar – I know, just go with it – and makes a bet with Raoul. If Christine does not sing, Raoul may leave with Gustave and Christine and all his debts will be paid. If she does sing, Raoul must leave alone. This is all in song, of course, called Devil Take the Hindmost because that phrase is repeated every line whether it makes sense or not.


Which brings me to yet another issue I have. The songs. This is possibly the most forgettable score I have ever heard in my life. The melodies are boring, they don’t stay in your head and the lyrics make the listener die inside. The score is so obviously trying to live up to the score of Phantom and it just fails hard. Wait, no, I tell a lie. I did enjoy two songs. I liked ‘Til I Hear You Sing although that’s more due to the fabulous vocals of both Ramin Karimloo and Ben Lewis than the actual music. The melody itself didn’t actually become familiar until I listened to it about 10 times (I have a photographic memory so for me to say I struggle to remember something is a profound statement). I also give The Beauty Underneath credit since it does have a somewhat catchy beat. But again, the lyrics are so sub-par and in Beauty Underneath, the bizarre visuals kind of detract from the song. Not to mention the heavy use of electric guitars being so distracting and out-of- nowhere (by the way, I’m aware that the original used rock music for the title number. But in that song, it worked because the rock influence was subtle and one of many ways the song stays with you after you leave the theatre). Songs in musicals are meant to tell the story and show what the characters are feeling; it’s not a license to show off how much you can scrounge from Nightmare Before Christmas’ table scraps. Trust me, I’ll get to my complaints about the design of the show soon, but let me start by saying the set is there to create another world. It should not be used as a crutch to help the story limp along and it shouldn’t be the one thing praised about a show!

The song Devil Take the Hindmost has more like a repeated 2 note, 2 beat underscoring as opposed to actual musical accompaniment. And I need scarcely mention that this scene is just as bad as most of the others we’ve been subjected to. It’s slow, painful to sit through, and there’s absolutely nothing subtle about it. I should be used to it by now but it particularly stands out to me because there is one aspect here I simply can’t let slide. The Phantom delivers one of the worst lines in the show in this scene. “Our Christine will choose tonight: is she yours or mine?”


I’ve been trying to limit my use of this one, but the show isn’t helping.

* bang * What do you mean, she’ll choose tonight?!? Have you lost your mind?!? She already chose, you idiots! The first show spent the final 20 minutes on her choice, we all saw it! What, did you fall asleep or something? Are you seriously trying to bring back the already resolved conflict? This is just….painful!
Not only this, but the Phantom also hints about Gustave’s paternity, causing Raoul to sink into despair wondering what Christine will do and beginning to regret making such a stupid bet in the first place. So here’s our big dilemma, people. Will Christine sing or not?

stupidity knows no bounds

For heaven’s sake, children’s nursery rhymes have more drama than this! This story has no depth or tension at all. The main complication is starting in Act 2, and it’s not exactly riveting either! You can’t have a good, gripping story without some major conflict; this is primary school knowledge! Even uplifting shows like The Sound of Music know this!

My three favourite musicals are (in no particular order) Phantom of the Opera, Into The Woods and Wicked. (Edit: as of 2015, my three favourite musicals are Into the Woods, Seussical and Once) Why do I like them? Because the music is spectacular, the stories are solid, and it’s a visual feast that can take you out of this world and into its own for a couple of hours. Now I know there are some of you out there who hate Wicked and say “That was just a flashy neon spectacle, all they cared about was ruining The Wizard of Oz!”


I disagree and here’s why. Wicked knew what it wanted to be. Wicked knew the audience. It knew the show should be a light, fun comedic musical with serious messages behind the laughter. The show was carefully constructed with memorable music, sympathetic characters and mind-blowing visuals. Is it Les Miserables? No, but it’s not trying to be. Wicked may not be a heavy dramatic story like Next To Normal but it’s very entertaining and a heck of a lot of fun to watch, which in turn made the serious messages come across much stronger because you LIKE AND CARE ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS! The staging accentuates the story, and it pulls you into another world. It’s not a flashy spectacle for the sake of being a flashy spectacle. There’s PURPOSE!

But wait a minute! I can hear people saying. Wicked is a prequel to the Wizard of Oz! It’s destroying a classic story! I personally feel that Wicked is more about creating it’s own world and paying homage to a classic story than about changing it in any way. It asks hard questions and gives us some very moving moments. It’s all about giving us another perspective on a story we love. Wicked is truly it’s own creation. We never see Dorothy but there’s witty references to her throughout the show. Elphaba’s theme is a tribute to Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Yes, the original novel is fan fiction but it was thought out and the creators of the musical did a great job updating and creating their interpretation. Yeah, there’s a few clichéd plot devices here and there but the rest of the show is so sweet and uplifting that you really don’t notice. On top of that, Wicked essentially knew that the story had to be about the friendship between the two main characters. That’s the heart of the narrative, that’s where people can relate, and that’s where the drama comes from. It’s not about fan service or pandering to childish desires for a happy ending. It’s an enjoyable escape for all ages.

But back to Love Never Dies, that’s the one I’m talking about.



I’m on the home stretch!

Instead of developing the drama, we’re instead treated to Meg Giry’s striptease Bathing Beauty, easily the most dreadful song in the entire show. It’s about, and I’m not joking here, deciding which swimming costume to wear on the beach. * bang *

bathing beauty

This can’t be real. It can’t be.

Granted the choreography is impressive but the whole song I am literally praying for death. The lyrics are just embarrassing and the music is something you’d be more likely to hear in a Family Guy parody. But even they’d have more dignity that this rubbish!
Meg has five costumes in this number and by the end, she’s completely bare. Yes, she’s covered with the umbrella and I’m sure she’s wearing a unitard or something but really? She had to strip down to bare essentials? What happened to the quiet little ballerina who tiptoed around in a white tutu most of the time?

I truly don’t understand why the characters are so opposite to their established personalities. They were fine the way they were, and I’m not the only one who thinks so. Apparently, members of the original London Phantom cast either refused to see the sequel because they couldn’t see it working (including Michael Crawford) or working, and those who did see it, such as the original Meg (Janet Devenish) disliked the treatment of their old characters. See, people involved with the far better and more successful original don’t like this one. Are you still sure it’s worth the millions of dollars spent?

Now it’s time to talk about the design. I can honestly say that it appears all effort in this show was solely poured into how it looked. Costumes and sets. That’s it. The book? The score? Characters? Eh, we’ll mix something together ten minutes before the curtain. It’s like the 2004 Phantom of the Opera film adaptation. Style over substance. The set and costume design is terrific but apart from that, there is absolutely nothing below the surface. At all. It’s like watching money being burned. We’ve gone from interesting characters and dark dramatic action to a cheesy striptease. Maybe it works in the Rocky Horror Show. But this is Phantom of the Opera. Just….why?

While you try to grasp what the heck you just witnessed, Gangle announces Christine will be singing next as Meg gushes about her performance to her mother who tells her that while she was wonderful, the Phantom was with Christine and Gustave and didn’t see it, along with revealing that Gustave is the Phantom’s son. “We have both been replaced,” Madame Giry laments. Meg is shattered, I suppose, but because the lights go down within several seconds we don’t get much of an idea of the torment Meg is suddenly feeling. We’ve gone the whole show with very little character development or insight; we can last a little longer.

Meanwhile Christine gets ready for her performance in her dressing room and we see another nice but still glanced-over scene between her and Gustave. Raoul comes in and declares Christine looks as beautiful as she did the night he first visited her dressing room at the Paris Opera House. “And look at you, Raoul. You look just like that handsome boy in the opera box. The one who would always toss me a single red rose,”
Wait a second, when did that happen? The only time he visits her dressing room he brings a bottle of wine and he never tosses a rose from the opera box. Sweet heavenly lights, are you TRYING to add as many plot holes as you possibly can? Did you get ONE thing right? At all? And yes, I know I’m nitpicking here but damn it there’s so many things to nitpick!

Anyway Raoul gives Christine something resembling an apology and promises to change his ways if she’ll just leave with him now and not sing. Christine says she needs some time to think, unaware that the Phantom is watching through the mirror. I guess old habits die hard. He tells Christine she must forget Raoul and sing while giving her a necklace which doesn’t in any way resemble the Heart of the Ocean from Titanic, or, heaven forbid, the necklace from Moulin Rouge.

Love Never Dies, sequel to Phantom of the Opera

Actually, I heard someone point out that when Christine first appears onstage she looks an awful lot like Rose from Titanic. Heck, in this scene she’s also dressed like Rose and she’s looking in the mirror while the Phantom puts the necklace on her.

* bang * I’m surprised I’m still conscious.

The Phantom leaves as Christine reprises yet another melody from the original. Actually, I kept score of how many times I heard recycled tunes and direct quotes from the first show, and it totals 20. This is beyond desperate.
So while Christine debates whether to sing or not (what a chilling dilemma), we see a completely pointless scene where Raoul, the Phantom and Madame Giry wonder what Christine will do (and may I point out that we know she’s going to sing since she promised the Phantom she would; why would a couple of words from her loser of a husband change her mind?) while Fleck, Squelch and Gangle dance around Gustave before Meg…since there’s no dialogue I guess she tells Gustave to come with her and takes him somewhere in front of the Phantom who doesn’t even notice. Father of the freaking year, you are.

And while I’m on the subject, what the heck is Gustave doing unattended backstage? Raoul and Christine told him to go wait outside the dressing room so he could watch from the wings with Raoul. Why didn’t Raoul go and find him? Oh that’s right, he had to go and sing about the so-called dramatic climax, leaving a little child to fend for himself. No surprises that he’s going to be dragged off by a mentally unstable vaudeville dancer.

But of course what we all really want to know is if Christine will sing or not. Lo and behold, she appears onstage, unable to sing for several bars, but eventually she trills out the title song, written by the Phantom. And listening to it, it’s painfully obvious Andrew Lloyd Webber wanted this to be the centrepiece, the next big musical theatre classic. It’s not. Aside from the fact that it is note for note recycled from ALW’s The Beautiful Game, the tune is nice enough, but forgettable, and the words are horrendous. Thankfully I’ll never remember it so I guess that’s not going to haunt my nightmares or anything.


No, I’m not sure what peacocks have to do with this either.

Once it’s over, the Phantom is overjoyed by Christine’s singing. Just to clarify, he’s talking about the song that he wrote even though he spent the opening number singing about how he couldn’t write any music without Christine, yet somehow finished before she arrived. For the record, I know that he wrote it before she showed up because it was on the piano in the first hotel room scene. I hope some of you are keeping track of all the plot holes because I lost count a long time ago.

Also, am I the only one who can’t believe that they say the Phantom, the groundbreaking musical genius, went from Don Juan Triumphant in the first show, with lyrics such as “For the thrill on your tongue of stolen sweets/You will have to pay the bill, tangled in the winding sheets,” to this drivel?

Seriously, talk about losing your touch. Christine just sang “Who knows when love begins/Who knows what makes it start/One day it’s simply there/Alive inside your heart”
I’m sorry, even a Disney movie would laugh this off the stage. There’s just nothing there. It’s all superficial and did I mention a massive step down from the beautiful writing of the first show? But….I digress.

Now that Christine’s sung this song, the Phantom is fulfilled and Christine finally kisses him…again…..but suddenly she discovers Raoul’s note of farewell. And with another recycled Little Lotte, Raoul sings via the mirror – I’ll let that one go – that he’s leaving her since they are no longer the two people they were at the Paris Opera (the first accurate line of dialogue I’ve heard in this thing!). Yes, after his vows of “Say you’ll share with me one love, one lifetime” he’s just up and gone. No truthful explanation. No sticking to the marriage vows for better or worse. No memories of the promises he made on the Paris Opera rooftop. Just a note signed yours in regret.
Are you serious? I know it’s 1907 but is that really how you sign a goodbye letter to your wife?
In addition, he also says “May your Angel of Music watch over you now,” Yeah, you know, the man you spent the majority of the last show protecting Christine from. The man who tried to hang you in the final scene. I’m sure he’s a great one to leave your wife and the boy you raised (and most likely is!) as your own son with. For the love of all that’s holy, where’s social services?!?



But enough of that. It turns out Gustave is missing and the two worry that Raoul took him. However Squelch, without knowing anything about what’s happened, says Raoul left completely alone. So the next logical choice is Madame Giry, but she denies it. Then Fleck says she saw Meg with a small figure and says her dressing room was “silent as a tomb”. Clearly the lyricist went back to English class and changed this from the horrendously inappropriate original line “empty as a tomb,”
The Phantom somehow knows where Meg’s taken Gustave and they hurry after her. Apparently Meg has taken Gustave to a notorious suicide spot, the pier, which has only been mentioned once and therefore creating no connection, tension or buildup.

Down at the pier, Gustave tells Meg he can’t swim as the others try to talk her out of drowning the boy. Now that she’s finally gotten the Phantom’s attention a distraught Meg, inappropriately reprising Bathing Beauty, reveals that she has been working as a prostitute to provide his finances.

* bang * She’s been selling herself? What sick…twisted….how…. * bang * That’s it. I officially give up. No more logic, no more questions. There was no thought put into this whatsoever, they just didn’t care.

In the London production, Madame Giry is the one who forced Meg to prostitute herself. They must have had some sense penetrate their thick skulls for the Australian remake, since her own mother making her do something like this also doesn’t add up. While it’s true we don’t see a real lot of motherly love going on in either show, Meg does spend the majority of her appearances with her mother and she doesn’t really show any fear or resentment towards her. But even if Madame Giry didn’t make Meg do this, I’d love to know what possessed Meg to let herself do something so degrading and then cry about it!
I’d also like to mention that if they’re trying to make us feel sympathy for Meg, it’s not working! Why? For a start, she’s a secondary character. She’s not the focus of either story. We don’t see that much of her and every time we do see her, there is absolutely no hint that this has happened to her. You can’t just suddenly act like she was this big crucial character all along. It doesn’t work. We don’t feel sympathy for her, we’re just confused at this revelation. Plus, she was about to kill an innocent child! And what I really struggle to believe is that out of all the people who worked on this ridiculous script, not one person thought to question whether this made sense or not.

Ok. Sequel 101 guys:

A sequel is meant to logically continue the story using characters and hints at future plots given in the original source material. You should give careful consideration to what direction the story should go in and giving us more insight into established character traits with reasonable developments according to what we already know about them. A sequel isn’t an excuse to exploit what was an excellent piece of theatre in its own right by pulling characterisation and plot devices out of thin air. It has to make sense!!!!!!

So even though she was going to drown a ten year old, Meg needs very little persuasion to let Gustave run back to his mother before pulling out a gun and threatening to shoot herself. “No Meg, don’t!” says Madame Giry.

Now listen lady, you’re just as big a part of this since you’re the one who didn’t notice your own flesh and blood was sleeping around, even if you didn’t make her do it. You’re responsible here, and honestly, you shouldn’t be a parent if you neglect your only daughter like that. Again, one of those brilliant character choices they’ve made here. If Meg’s mother did make her do this like in the London production, that makes no sense because of the characterisation and if she didn’t notice that her daughter was selling herself, that still makes no sense! Did she ever think to question where all the money to buy Phantasma was coming from?

Also, Meg wanting the Phantom’s attention is a bit…sporadic. There’s no interaction between them until now, and they hardly mention that she wants approval.Why would she even want to be the subject of his obsession? She saw first hand what his obsessions mean.
Here’s yet another plot point they hardly explore and expect us to take seriously. You’re supposed to weave exposition into the story and dialogue, not wait until the last minute to tell the audience what they’ve been watching all along!
But…I digress.

The Phantom sings a little bit about beauty and tells Meg to give him the gun. She almost does, but then the Phantom makes the stupid mistake of saying “We can’t all be like Christine,”
* bang * That is the absolute worst thing you can say to someone who’s threatening to commit suicide because you gave all your attention to someone else! How thick can you get?!?

Needless to say, Meg isn’t too thrilled about once more hearing a certain name. “Christine? Christine?! Always Christine!” She accidentally shoots the gun and no prizes for guessing who gets hit.
Christine conveniently knocks out a section of the bridge as she falls so the audience can see her demise. Madame Giry and Meg leave the scene so we can have the long, drawn-out goodbye. Oh, and there’s no blood. I guess the budget didn’t allow for it. Or maybe they just didn’t want to stain the pretty dress.
Gustave calls out for his father and Christine decides it’s time to tell him the truth. Oh yeah, in addition to dying in front of your ten year old child, why not rock his world further by telling him that everything he knew was a lie?
Despite the Phantom’s pleas, Christine tells Gustave who his real father is. And for once, Gustave does what most children would do: he runs away. And somehow, despite apparently having minutes to live, Christine is able to half run after Gustave before remembering that she’s supposed to be dying and falling over again. * bang bang bang bang bang *

So they sing to each other — tell me you wouldn’t do the same thing — because for the finale we’re going to hear a reprise of nearly every song this train wreck has to offer. It’s like they knew nobody would remember the music, so they’re trying to cram it into the audience’s minds.


Why is it people who apparently have fatal injuries are always able to give a heroic goodbye speech or sing for ages? Just shut up!

By the way, Christine’s death is being stretched out to excruciating lengths, so I’m playing a little game here as I watch this scene. It’s a fun game the Nostalgia Critic introduced me to, and it’s called Try To Be Invested.
Seriously. I actually tried to care while I saw Christine die and I failed hard. I know, I have no heart and I’m going to hell and whatever else you want to say. But I’m sorry, this is so cliched, so contrived and so pointless that it has no effect on me. This is the kind of thing you’d see in Days of Our Lives, not a grand stage musical. The original show had a point with its sad but realistic ending. The whole show was building up to this big final confrontation and the first time I saw it, I really had no idea how it would end. When the curtain finally fell, nobody could deny the power of the final scene. It was so genuine, so real and so well played that it moves many people to tears even if they’ve seen it multiple times. We can relate to being alone and rejected, and it’s just heart- wrenching to see our complex leading character being so broken.

Here, this finale, and the whole show for that matter, is so carelessly thrown together that it’s just nonsensical. If you want to have a sad ending, fine, but there has to be a build up! You can’t just toss this incredibly spontaneous death scene at us and expect us to feel emotion for it. There is absolutely no reason at all for Christine to die and especially not like this. Why would Meg shoot Christine? Even by accident (in London it was played as a more deliberate shooting)? They’re friends; wouldn’t someone be a little more careful about pointing guns when their mother, their friend and the person whose approval they crave most of all are mere feet away? Coupled with Meg being revealed as a prostitute it only makes this ending more bizarre. It comes completely out of nowhere without giving any explanations or time for the audience to comprehend such heavy plot twists. Heck, Meg never even explicitly states that she was a prostitute; she cryptically sings about it, so the audience is basically expected to read between the lines. So this death scene only throws more at you in a short amount of time with no breathing space.

To the credit of these actors, they do this ending well, and while I know sometimes sudden character deaths can be sad, here it’s just a sad ending for the sake of being a sad ending. The first show managed to give us a very touching finale without killing off any main characters. And I repeat, these aren’t the characters we saw in the first show, so how am I supposed to feel anything for them? If Webber wanted a really moving, heartfelt finale to a show, he needed to look no further than the one that already exists!

Anyway, they sing some more, he kisses her one last time, she dies and he laments his loss by screaming “No!!!”
Now to be fair, I did feel sad seeing Gustave cry over his mother, but he quickly gets over his grief as Raoul (hi, how did Gustave find him?), Madame Giry and Meg return to have their moment with Christine. Gustave takes off the Phantom’s mask, but this time he doesn’t scream like a banshee. I suppose he just decided that it was beautiful too. The Phantom sings a few bars of the title song (this is the one time it probably would have worked to repeat the line “You alone can make my song take flight/It’s over now the music of the night” and they didn’t take it. But what should I have expected?), and the curtain falls leaving the door open for Phantom 3: Son of the Phantom (heaven help us).

So, just to recap everyone, The Phantom and Christine had a child together, Meg Giry was a prostitute the entire time, Madame Giry should have DOCS on her case, Raoul’s a drunken loser, and the real drama in a story is whether Christine sings or not.


How can anyone like this? HOW???

People, this show is bad. It really is. It’s dull, it’s predictable, it’s contrived, and honestly, it doesn’t know what the focus of the story should be. There is no drama here. Granted there are some lovely moments between Christine and Gustave but they’re pretty much glanced over and anything else which threatens to become engaging is quickly extinguished. I tried to watch this show with an open mind. A few things surprised me, but overall, it gave me pretty much what I expected: a stupid sequel to a story that didn’t need one. I’ve forced myself to slog through this mess and here’s what I have to show for it: 30 facedesks and two hours of my life gone.

What really shocks me is that the show had four writers. Four! And not one of them knew they were writing absolute rubbish. What were they thinking?!? What was going through the minds of these people when they sat down and actually read over what they’d done? I’ll never know, and frankly, I’m not sure I want to. Some mysteries of life are best left unsolved.

I could honestly tolerate the musical more if it was at least entertaining, like Wicked. But it’s not. It’s horribly put together. Plot twists that even a soap opera would laugh at, lyrics that make most people want to crawl under their seat and die quietly, melodies that you’ll only remember if you sing them as often as the cast does, a weak conflict that isn’t introduced until Act 2, and they’ve completely dissembled our main players. They just don’t work in this environment, especially in the London production. Visually, it was slightly better in the Australian re-imagining, but the flaws are still there and from a storytelling point of view, there is virtually no attempt at fixing them. Making a boring and incredibly unfeasible musical good can be done (Sondheim proved this with Merrily We Roll Along), but not if the only solution is to make it worth looking at. That’s like finding a burned-out car, giving it a shiny new paint job and attaching a bunch of pretty stickers. Sure, it looks nice and you’d admire the decorators for putting in effort, but it doesn’t make the car run.

The critics called the sequel Paint Never Dries. And sadly, they’re right. Phantom did not need a sequel. And certainly not one so poorly constructed. This is not the show for me and anyone else who enjoys intelligent, quality theatrical entertainment. I wouldn’t recommend it to a dog.
And my main problem lies with the story. I am all for suspension of disbelief, but I have my limits and the choices they made to go with the narrative are just mind-boggling. I can hardly comprehend it. And while the visuals are spectacular and the singers are undeniably brilliant, I get the feeling that they’re working overtime to give the show some credibility.  Sometimes a strong cast can save a horribly written movie or show, but in most cases, like the one we see before us, it actually hurts to see such talent wasted on such incredibly weak material.
The beauty of the original was its emotional impact. The sets and costumes were a visual feast but they weren’t the focus. The designs were there to give the show a setting. The focus of the story was where it should be: the three main characters. And that’s all that was needed.
With Love Never Dies, aside from marvelling at the set and admiring the vocals, there really isn’t much else to enjoy. Even as its own creation, it doesn’t work. It still has a weak story, unlikeable characters, bland music, and terrible lyrics. Which means that as a sequel to the most successful stage show in history it’s even worse.

And before I finish, here’s one last omen showing that Love Never Dies was a bad idea from day one. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s cat Otto reportedly clambered onto his digital piano and managed to delete the entire score. All attempts to recover the music failed but the score was eventually reconstructed.

Webber, even your cat tried to stop you. Next time, could you consider listening?

Love Never Dies is Dead to Me, Part 2

The Phantom asks Christine to sing one more time for him on Phantasma. She refuses just as little Gustave runs into the room after a nightmare and Christine introduces the Phantom as Mr. Y, a “friend”. You know, the man you just said you owed nothing to. The man who stalked you at the Paris Opera house, had a two-way mirror in your dressing room, built a life sized replica of you in his lair, abducted you twice, shot fireballs at you from your father’s grave, killed two people and threatened to strangle your fiancé. Your friend.

see with your heart

“This is Mr Y, he tried to kill your father. I’m sure you two will be great friends!”

Gustave isn’t at all intimidated by this masked stranger who promises to show him all of Phantasma. This revelation of Christine having a child prompts the Phantom to switches tactics, threatening that if Christine doesn’t sing, Gustave may just disappear. Terrific. This is so uplifting. But then again, this is more the Phantom we knew. Are you still sure he’s more three-dimensional this time around, Webber?

Raoul returns and he’s angry (of course) that Hammerstein never showed up to the meeting. Wait, wait, wait! Just hold up here for a second! So was this all the Phantom’s plan or not? The Phantom just said to Christine, “I know what Hammerstein’s paying you. I will double the amount,”

I thought the Phantom sent an anonymous invite, but now…are they trying to hint that maybe he didn’t? But if that’s the case, this makes it even stranger, because if Christine really was invited to sing at Manhattan’s new theatre, what are they doing on Coney Island? Why did the three MC’s come to meet them? Obviously the implication is that the Phantom sent Raoul a fake note so he could get Christine alone, but if this wasn’t his doing, did he plan for them to be there? Why would they be meeting Hammerstein on Coney Island if this new theatre is in Manhattan? What’s the deal? Look, I know I’m totally going off on a tangent here, but I thought they’d be pretty clear that this was all a big plot to lure Christine back to the Phantom, and now they act like it was just one big coincidence that he simply used to his advantage….it confuses me and makes me overanalyse.

But if I pull apart all the plot holes I’ll be here all day. On we go.

The next day Christine and Raoul run into Meg and Madame Giry. Meg is slightly dismayed that Christine will be singing at the performance which was meant to be Meg’s ‘lucky break’.
Listen Meg, just quietly, I think you’ve had a pretty lucky break already considering you’re the freaking leading lady of Phantasma! Really, it’s like Satine from Moulin Rouge; a girl isn’t satisfied with being on stage surrounded by adoring fans every night. Heaven knows how unfulfilling it must be to have your act introduced as the headliner at one of the biggest tourist attractions in the world!

Madame Giry gives Raoul a hint (read: flipping spells it out!) that “Mr. Y”, the owner of Phantasma, is in fact the Phantom.
* bang *
I thought Raoul was supposed to be the smarter one! This is the guy who brought Christine back to reality in the graveyard, who reminded Christine that the Phantom was nothing but a man. True, he thought it would only take a woman in the 19th century two minutes to change clothes but….this I just cannot believe. Raoul, you received a note, the person you was supposed to be meeting never turned up, you get taken to Coney Island by circus freaks and you’re in a place called PHANTASMA, run by a person calling himself “Mr. Y” where Madame Giry just happens to be? I know you thought the Phantom was dead but might I remind you that the Phantom is a master of illusion and disappearing acts which you personally witnessed therefore making it reasonable to assume that he could quite easily fake his own death!

Raoul….what have they done to you?


I suppose I should talk about the different actors here so I can give them the credit they undeniably deserve. Even people who saw the show and didn’t like it admitted that the actors are wonderful. So as the Phantom, in the London production we have Ramin Karimloo and in Australia he’s played by Ben Lewis. They’re both excellent singers and are doing their best with the tissue-thin material given to them. I love Ramin’s gestures and mannerisms and his characterisation is close to flawless. This is one of my favourite Phantoms, coming in after the legendary original, Michael Crawford.
Ben Lewis is also good. He has a great voice and he can certainly act, even if he is over-the-top.
They both have the required stage presence while physically and vocally embodying the Phantom as he should be….which unfortunately highlights how out of place this character is. He simply doesn’t belong in this world. As the excellent group/website Love Should Die pointed out, the Phantom already escaped from a travelling freak show so why would he want to be in charge of one?
It’s really strange and extremely distracting to see such an iconic character in this setting. And I must stress, this is not the actor’s fault. It’s the horrible writing. They have taken the Phantom, this wonderful complex character and simplified him to an almost insulting degree. Clearly the Phantom has not only taken some anger management classes (as one reviewer put it) but he’s also learning how to socialise as he’s constantly in the company of other people. I thought the Phantom was a reclusive genius, obsessed with composing music. But now he’s perfectly fine with running Coney Island and despairing over his lack of inspiration instead of sending threatening notes and causing chandeliers to crash during the curtain call.
So this isn’t the Phantom we left at the Paris Opera. Even his deformity is different! It’s not exactly subtle either; The Phantom doesn’t have the deformed lips and such like he did in the first one and as far as I know, plastic surgery didn’t exist in 1907.
I mean, I can understand the disfigurement being scaled back for the movie. We all know the film adaptation makeup looked entirely wrong and we rightly add it to our list of reasons to hate Joel Schumacher, but come on, this is a direct sequel and you actually redesigned the makeup? We very briefly see the new disfigurement in the London show, but in Australia, the unmaskings aren’t half as dramatic as the Phantom and you don’t see the gruesome deformity. Why hide it when we all saw it in Phantom? Stupid thing to do.
The Phantom is meant to be a secretive, complex character. And yes, Andrew Lloyd Webber, despite your ramblings that the Phantom is full of two-dimensional personalities, the Phantom is complicated. When a character can brutally murder two people in front of the audience and yet we still want to see him get the girl, there’s something special about him.
Why did they feel the need to change him so much? Well, the writers said they wanted the Phantom to have the qualities of love that he didn’t have in the first show.


So you’re saying that the man whose unrequited love for Christine, and music, which was the focus of the first show, didn’t love? So what made him let both Christine and Raoul go in the end? What causes his redemption? Why do audiences love him so much? Why would we empathise with him, even though he does some terrible things, if he didn’t have the capacity to love? It just doesn’t add up.

As for Christine, she’s played by Sierra Boggess in London and Anna O’Byrne in Australia. Sierra Boggess is well-known on Broadway, having played Ariel in The Little Mermaid and Christine in the original Phantom on Broadway and Las Vegas as well as the 25th anniversary recording. When you see her onstage in the original, she encapsulates Christine’s naivety and gentleness, as well as showing the torment Christine is supposed to be going through. In Love Never Dies, she also does a very good job in terms of singing and acting. It’s clear that she’s passionate and talented, and takes her work very seriously.

Anna O’Byrne on the other hand just started her career and to be fair, she’s doing rather well. Her take on Christine is very warm and motherly rather than just innocent. Acting wise she wasn’t bad at all considering what she had to work with in the first place. She’s charming and on the whole, I enjoyed watching her. Her singing voice is quite lovely too. I look forward to seeing her on the stage in future.

Deconstructing actresses aside, let’s look at the character herself. In the original Christine is your classic ingénue. Gullible, naïve, sweet, beautiful. At face value, there isn’t much else to her but by the end of the show, she finally gets some courage and is able to stand up for herself, ultimately saving Raoul’s life and giving the Phantom the only real love he’s ever known. There’s actual character development. Even though she’s naïve, we can identify with her because we can see the grief she feels over her dead father and how the thought of him really sending the Angel Of Music to her is something she’d completely fall for. Also, she has a genuinely moving solo number, Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again, sung at her father’s grave where the audience does see the pain she’s going through and how she’s afraid to let go of her gratitude to the Phantom since she feels it would be like abandoning her father’s memory. That’s a very sympathetic character trait and it’s something most people can empathise with.
In the sequel however, Christine is completely one dimensional and has gone back on everything we knew about her in the first show. There’s no mention of her father, she cheated on Raoul and can’t even work out who could possibly own Phantasma.

As for the poor actors forced to play Raoul, you have my eternal respect for going on every night. Please strike this production from your resumes. You honestly deserve better. Nobody should be made to have Raoul from Love Never Dies attached to their names.

And then you have Fleck, Squelch and Gangle, who…um….just assist the Phantom, I guess. Why he needs assistants at all, we’ll never know, because this acid trip will provide no explanation as to who these people are, where they came from, or if they even have personalities to speak of.
Squelch announces himself as the world’s strongest man. Great. Please show me how strong you are! Oh, you won’t? Just going to leave it at that? Ok. Gangle? Well, he just sort of stands there looking scary while Fleck bounces around. Why would you add these three MCs if they aren’t going to be established?

So essentially, the characters we knew and loved have been replaced by people who we’ll never get to know due to lack of development and characters like our three MCs, who could have been interesting or at the very least bearable, are tossed aside. And don’t give me the whole “people can change in ten years” argument. People can change but that doesn’t mean you can give them entirely new personalities.


Anyway, back to the story. Raoul is angry (of course) over discovering that Christine is working for the Phantom. Truthfully, I can’t blame him. But then off he goes to have a drink as Christine realises Gustave has gone. Wow, I wonder where he could possibly have got to?
We then see Fleck, Squelch and Gangle leading Gustave to meet “Mr. Y” for his promised tour of the island. The Phantom watches as Gustave plays a melody on the piano and realises “He plays like me….he’s just ten years old!”

* bang * Gustave plays the piano, he’s ten and he has dark hair. I do wonder where this will go. It’s throwing me on so many levels!


I can’t imagine what cliche this is leading to. Can’t imagine at all.

Hello, electric guitars and rock music! This number is called The Beauty Underneath and in all fairness, it’s not a bad song aside from the terrible lyrics. The Phantom begins to show Gustave the wonders of his world, meaning exhibiting to him glass cases full of more circus freaks, asking “Do you find yourself beguiled by the dangerous and wild? Do you feed on the need for the beauty underneath?”

I get that it’s a circus but in the original, the Phantom seemed perfectly happy with a giant chair, an organ and a few candles, so what’s with the embellished surroundings?

While browsing through a grotesque gallery of contortionists, people with fingernails a mile long, skeleton horse things and midgets with misshapen heads, Gustave is enchanted. “It seems so beautiful. So strange yet beautiful, everything’s just as you say,”


Take a shot whenever the word “beautiful” is said/sung. You’ll be blackout drunk by this point.

I’m sorry, WHAT TEN YEAR OLD IS THIS?!? Really, what little child could honestly look at a tattooed man with three eyes and say it’s beautiful? Who the heck wrote this? What, were they high?!? Do they have any idea how children think?
And just when you think this couldn’t get any more ridiculous, the Phantom, who is no longer a”loathsome gargoyle who burns in hell” decides to reveal ‘the beauty underneath’ to Gustave by taking off his mask. That’s right, the man who went ballistic if his mask was removed takes it off himself freely exposing his deformity. And this kid, who just called a mutilated attraction with extra limbs ‘beautiful’, screams in horror and runs away only to find Christine, who immediately comforts Gustave instead of smacking the little brat to kingdom come for running off.

Meg takes Gustave back to the hotel while the Phantom demands the truth. And he gets it. Yes, Gustave is his son. *bang bang bang bang bang*

jumping the shark

Forget jumping the shark. No, they’re going to freaking POLE VAULT OVER IT! This show is physically hurting me. You really had to sink to this level?!?
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they went here given the evidence so far. I hoped against hope. But no, we just had to have this tired cliché rear its bored head. Serves me right for thinking the writers had anything remotely resembling a brain.

Well, this does at the very least explain why they needed to have Christine go and find the Phantom before she got married, because their one night stand didn’t happen at any point in the original. It really didn’t.
Think about it: the only time it would ever have happened is the first time Christine went to the lair and we never saw it happen. Christine was asleep most of the time anyway! Furthermore, the rest of Act One is set the next day or at the most two days later, the second act takes place six months later and Christine clearly isn’t pregnant at the masquerade ball. I also pointed out above how the Phantom is blatantly obvious that he hasn’t and would do something like that, so this still makes no sense. At all!
And how does Christine know that the Phantom is Gustave’s father? Their one night stand was the night before her wedding and we all know what happens on the wedding night. Gustave could easily be Raoul’s. He could’ve inherited his musical prowess from Christine. We’re just expected to agree the Phantom is the father, ignoring all evidence because the kid’s ten years old. That’s really the extent of the evidence. I hate this show so much.
But all reasonings aside, it appears the Phantom and Christine did in fact have a child together. Despite all the evidence from the first show, this has still happened. They’ve jumped the shark, gone past the point of no return*, it’s all over, there’s no way this is going to be salvaged.

Love Never Dies, you are officially dead to me.


*See, Love Never Dies? I can make unnecessary references too!

To close Act One, Christine promises to sing at Phantasma before she leaves for good and swears to the Phantom that she will never tell Gustave the truth. The Phantom then decides to leave everything he owns to Gustave.
Madame Giry then appears from the shadows, having overheard everything. I would point out that it should be the Phantom who appears from the shadows having overheard everything but I think most people who cared about the original knew that already.

Giry is most displeased at this development, feeling all the years she and Meg helped the Phantom are for nothing. She sings about how she and Meg will be left destitute and are being tossed aside. She reminds the audience three times that it’s been ten years since the original and shrieks how it’s all Gustave’s fault.

Yet another element that makes no sense. Why are they making Madame Giry the villain? Seriously, there’s no reason for it. In the original show, like I said earlier, she’s mysterious and forbidding. As for helping the Phantom, the most we ever saw her do, apart from being the ballet teacher at the Paris Opera, is deliver the Phantom’s notes, give a few warnings and reveal some background information about the latter. So why are they trying to portray her as the wronged party who just wants her reward? I don’t get it, and I’m sure most fans of the original don’t either. In the original, Madame Giry constantly tries to save lives by warning people not to anger the Phantom and she shows Raoul the way to the underground lair so he can save Christine at the end. I seriously don’t buy that she now stands here verbally bashing the other characters, wallowing in self pity and blaming a ten year old child for circumstances beyond his control.

“All would be ours if that bastard had never been born!”

Great, lady. Real classy. Lovely lead in to the intermission there. (And is this really what they consider an appropriate ending to an act?)