LOVE NEVER DIES Special Interview: Anna O'Byrne
In honor of the encore screening of Andrew Lloyd Webber's LOVE NEVER DIES at Fathom equipped movie theaters across the US on March 7, following the rapturously received first showing late last month, this week we are highlighting the show's central stars, Anna O'Byrne and Ben Lewis, and speaking to them all about the spectacular Coney Island-set PHANTOM OF THE OPERA musical sequel. Following the previous interviews in this series with composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Glenn Slater, this LOVE NEVER DIES series shines a special spotlight on the risky and ambitious new theatrical venture, which originally began in London's West End and has now been thrillingly filmed in its completely reconceived and rewritten Australian iteration directed by visionary innovator Simon Phillips. In an unprecedented move, Fathom will be presenting the elegantly designed film of the stage show in over 500 movie theaters nationwide, making LOVE NEVER DIES an absolute must-see for Broadway babies curious to see where the story of the Phantom, Christine and the rest ends up ten years later - and, also, a real treat for just plain entertainment enthusiasts in general. To paraphrase from the musical drama itself, the special screenings of LOVE NEVER DIES prove that love does, indeed, live on.
Today, in this preview of the upcoming complete InDepth InterView, LOVE NEVER DIES star Anna O'Byrne and I discuss her affiliation with Andrew Lloyd Webber, the nature of playing Christine in the original PHANTOM and, now, its sequel, as well as performing musical theatre as an opera-trained actress - and much, much more!
You can purchase tickets to the encore cinema screening of LOVE NEVER DIES in Fathom equipped theaters across the US on March 7 here.
Look With Your Heart
PC: Right out of school you were cast in the Australian tour of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA starring Anthony Warlow, so you have a longstanding affiliation with the world of the Phantom, wouldn't you say?
AO: Yeah, that was my first job out of college. I joined the Australian tour and a couple of positions had come up, so I was cast in the understudy role of Christine - so, yeah, that was my first year out of college.
PC: Did you grow up knowing the show?
AO: Oh, yeah! I saw it when I was about 10 - I think it was one of the first musicals that I saw. I remember hearing the music again, and, obviously, knowing all those iconic characters, it was a little bit of a trip to me. [Laughs.]
PC: Do you remember where you first saw the show? Did you see it with Anthony Warlow?
AO: No. I remember my parents going off to see Anthony Warlow in it, but I saw Rob Guest, who was a very popular performer here in Australia. Rob was the first Phantom I saw, but, then, obviously, I saw Anthony in the show a number of times while we were on tour. [Laughs.]
PC: Of course. What was it like to see him in action?
AO: Every single time, he was just amazing.
PC: He's one of the great Australian musical theatre stars.
AO: He is a fantastic, fantastic actor. Anthony's voice is just so damn incredible that I didn't expect him to be such a fantastic actor - but, he is. He's just incredible. Seeing him work and getting to work with him, you realize he is a fantastic actor. He is so skilled. He is such a big hit in our industry here in Australia and internationally so it was a huge thrill to work with him on PHANTOM.
PC: Is there a moment in LOVE NEVER DIES that brings you back to playing Christine in the original PHANTOM? Of course, there is a reprise of "Twisted Every Way" in LOVE NEVER DIES.
AO: Absolutely! There are moments where I do specifically refer back to PHANTOM. You know, 10 years have passed, so it's not like I necessarily would be thinking of those moments as Christine within the show, but, obviously, there are musical motifs from PHANTOM in LOVE NEVER DIES. During "Look With Your Heart", the duet with Gustave, her son, I feel like she is dealing with her son and in PHANTOM she is dealing with the huge grief of losing her father. So, I have played her over a number of years now, really, so it's kind of like when you see a friend being really happy and a friend becoming really fulfilled, I feel like Christine is becoming a parent and that fulfills her in a way that nothing else can. So, yeah, that is a really cool moment to me.
PC: What an interesting insight. What other moments connect the two shows for you?
AO: There are a number of moments with the Phantom that link them, too, I think.
AO: Particularly when, in our show, he gets a little bit possessive of her and a little bit angry. Halfway through the first act, there is a little kind of reminder to me of the final lair and playing that scene, which is such a redemptive scene for him in the original.
PC: That moment is the most significant change in this vastly different version of the show, where the Phantom essentially is holding Christine ransom.
AO: Yeah! It really is.
PC: Tell me about how the show developed in rehearsals and how you became involved with Simon Phillips in the first place.
AO: Well, we started with Ben and we did every audition I did together. Actually, my last audition was a day of workshopping the material with what turned out to be basically the entire cast of principals - and, that was amazing. I am such a fan of his that to see Simon work in that way was so thrilling - refining things; put little bits of extra music in; flopping lines around; just refining the material. Just the idea of the Phantom forcing Christine's hand and threatening her son in order to get what he wants was a big, big change from Australia to London.
PC: And that exponentially changes everything.
AO: Yeah, that was a really important difference. While the Phantom as a character has changed and Christine gives him such redemption at the end of PHANTOM that I think has really carried on into his character, essentially, he is still, you know, very socially awkward! [Laughs.]
PC: And slightly unhinged, as well.
AO: He is still completely obsessed with Christine and he has this desire to possess her - and, she, on the other side of that, wants to be possessed by him, as well. There is something very deep inside of her that he accesses in that way. So, I think that it was important to have the Phantom still be a threatening presence in LOVE NEVER DIES.
PC: There is such a sadness to the Phantom in LOVE NEVER DIES - Glenn Slater called it an autumnal score, and it is.
AO: Totally. Totally.
PC: "Beneath A Moonless Sky" is a perfect example - it's about one night that will never be repeated.
AO: Absolutely. And, the reality of that sets in for them of the decision that they both made. It's a really sad moment. When we perform the show, I sometimes still really struggle in that number because I get a bit emotional! [Laughs.] I try to keep it together, but it's a very sad song. I think that song sort of encapsulates LOVE NEVER DIES - it's about regret and the passing of time.
PC: And its companion piece, "Once Upon Another Time", was at one point the title of LOVE NEVER DIES itself.
AO: Yes, it was. One of the early versions of it, I think.
PC: What song in the score is the song you get the most feedback on personally from audiences - "Love Never Dies"?
AO: Yeah, "Love Never Dies" is it. I get lots and lots of girls talking to me about my costume in "Love Never Dies" - it's so beautiful.
PC: The peacock motif is so striking.
AO: Yeah, it really is - what Simon has done with that song is so gorgeous. Then, to sing Andrew's melody that is so beautiful - Andrew just writes incredible melodies, particularly for soprano voices. That song has such a strong melody.
PC: Particularly pungent - even for the master of melody.
AO: It really is. So, yeah, people will talk to me about the big aria. You know, it comes at a big point in the show - I've got everything kind of leading up to that moment for me as Christine. It's a big feeling of relief once I've sung it every night, but it's a beautiful song to sing. I love singing the whole score, though.
PC: It may be his best score - certainly one of his best. Plus, to have motifs from PHANTOM appear make it a truly innovative accomplishment, I think.
AO: Yes. I agree. That makes it special.
PC: Being a performer trained in opera, do you recall seeing Kiri Te Kanawa premiere the first song from the sequel at Andrew Lloyd Webber's 50th birthday celebration?
AO: I am still a huge fan of Kiri - you know, she's from just across the road from us here in Australia; New Zealand. I didn't know the melody before I heard the score of LOVE NEVER DIES, though. When I heard that Andrew was writing LOVE NEVER DIES and when the London production was announced, I was really, really interested and I saw the videos of "Till I Hear You Sing" and, then, "Love Never Dies". I just thought the music was so incredible.
PC: And it is rendered so wonderfully well in the film.
AO: We're performing with a 21-piece orchestra, which, as you know, is really unheard of in musical theatre these days. The orchestrations are just divine. It's an amazing feeling to sing these songs with an orchestra like that.
PC: The sound design of the film is just thrilling - plus, the effects like the roller coaster going all around are terrific.
AO: Oh, I know! It's so exciting.
PC: Have you seen the finished film in a movie theater yet?
AO: We have! We had a special screening for all the cast and crew who were involved in it.
PC: What was your impression of the final finished product?
AO: It was pretty surreal. I am not very good at watching myself onscreen, so I think I watched the whole thing from behind my hands. [Laughs.] But, I thought everyone else was great! I thought it just looked beautiful and it sounds great. It's just come out really, really well and is a true tribute to everyone who has worked on it. Everything just looks fantastic. I think Brett Sullivan, who was the director of the film, has just done an amazing job. We did the whole shoot in four days, which is just unheard of!
PC: And the editing is like a film, omitting the scenic transitions. It differs a bit from the stage show in that respect, yes?
AO: Yeah, it does. We are on a triple revolve. I mean, you can obviously see that the rollercoaster is kind of circular, so everything kind of works in circles in the show. All of our scene changes revolve on, basically, which involves people putting bits of cloth and props and things behind curtains that revolve on for the next scene. Everything is very fluid in our show. So, for the film, for specificity, we changed some of the transitions and made some things a little bit more intimate.
PC: What was that like having the original staging ingrained in your memory?
AO: Well, that was a little bit challenging - especially since it was five minutes before they called, "Action!" [Laughs.] That was a little interesting. But, Brett's direction was so strong and, again, Simon's vision was so strong that they really worked together so well in making the transition of this into film. I mean, we are performing in a 2000-seat theater, so that is a big jump to make!
PC: To say the least - the camera is very up-close and personal in this filming.
AO: I think they handled it so well. The set looks amazing in close-up. The costumes and the lighting are gorgeous. I am really, really proud of it.
PC: Fathom previously presented Sondheim's COMPANY in movie theaters, as well as PHANTOM 25, this year. Would you have been interested in these showings as a theatre-loving kid?
AO: Oh, I think I would have been all over them! It's so amazing what they are doing.
PC: Also thanks to GLEE and SMASH, we seem to be in a very special age as the musical theatre fans, would you agree?
AO: Oh, yeah! Totally. With GLEE and with SMASH, I mean, Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison and Megan Hilty - these are extraordinarily talented people! It's just so exciting that their audiences are growing and growing and growing because of these shows. It's so exciting.
PC: I have to tell you that Glenn and Andrew have both done this column to discuss LOVE NEVER DIES and both have been so complimentary to the film and your performance in it.
AO: Oh, that is so, so nice to hear! I am so happy to hear that. We are all really so proud of it. It's so fantastic to have done this production and to know that it is being shown in movie theaters in the States is sort of surreal and very flattering.