Her Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny – Simon Gleeson

by L. Chrystal Dmitrovic

Simon Gleeson may have played 15 roles in one stage play, Rupert – the story of media mogul Rupert Murdoch – in Australia and more recently overseas this year in 2014, but playing the one role of Raoul in Love Never Dies (LND) was an ongoing discovery for the actor. In this sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber's 2004 film, The Phantom of the Opera, a much more complex Raoul had to be brought to life. Gleeson's LND visualization appears very similar to the character in the original Leroux novel, playing Raoul as a romantic lead with heroic and negative traits.

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The whole LND cast in general were enthusiastically and continually tweaking and evolving their characters throughout the run, and you really can't get any better proof than that of a cast's devotion to a production. The reason why Gleeson's and the other players' performances on the 2012 DVD release, filmed in 2011, especially shine must be because no one was content to just “walk through” their role. Dedicated acting in its purest form definitely shows.

Gleeson has acknowledged in the Australian press that having such creative freedom to experiment with their characters was primarily due to director Simon Phillips' easy-going approach for the production. As the actor related to Stage Whsipers in 2012, “He’s great at getting what he wants but being open and malleable enough to be influenced by the cast....When people are trying things, and are nervous, and putting themselves out there physically and emotionally, you need to know you’re in an environment where that’s going to be supported. People will go out of their comfort zone, challenge themselves, and come up with something which they didn’t even know was possible.”

He and LND co-star Ben Lewis were both essentially playing villains, with both characters, Raoul and the Phantom, reforming themselves although not exactly in the same way. And it was not a case of role reversal of good and evil, but a slow evolution. Christine's love was changing the Phantom for “good,” while her love could no longer hold Raoul as he drifted away from the “good.” Regardless, it didn't alter the fact that both characters wanted Christine in their lives. And genteel reason up to that point was not working. Intimated Gleeson to Stage Whispers about the very physical confrontation between Raoul and the Phantom, “I also get to have a bit of a blue with the Phantom, and that’s fun too, because you don’t often see men in very masculine fights through song.”

The Phantom and Raoul seal their deal with a handshake over Christine....

Even though Raoul had slid down into a bleak pit awash in alcohol and debt in LND, Gleeson still gave his character an unequivocal bravado. With as strong-spirited a nemesis as the Phantom, it was necessary, to keep a sense of ideally matched combat between the two men. A weak-willed Raoul, in addition to his faults, would have made his character a pushover. That Raoul would stand up to the Phantom gave that scene a strong underscore of contest and conflict. Christine would not be easily won.

It's evident that a lot of great talent has come out of the acclaimed Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) – like co-star Ben Lewis and his wife, actress Melle Stewart, and Gleeson and his wife, also an actress, and Dean Vince (LND's Gangle). Gleeson, who has been building a respectable reputation over the last decade on the stage, in television and feature film, will return to the stage later in 2014 in his most challenging role yet, as Jean Valjean in Australia's LES MISERABLES.



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The Girys – Maria Mercedes and Sharon Millerchip

Greek-Australian actress Maria Mercedes has been a familiar face and voice since 1975 on television, feature films, and of course the theatre. In 1981, she did a cover version of The Crystals' "Then He Kissed Me." Her first movie role came in 1978 when she appeared as a nurse in the Australian Gothic thriller, Patrick. As the alternate Norma Desmond in the original Australian production of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard at Melbourne's Regent Theatre during the 1996/1997 season, she starred alongside Hugh Jackman as Joe Gillis in almost 100 performances.

For many, Maria Mercedes is the Madame Giry, imparting the right amount of school marm as the caring mother of daughter Meg. As well, she was a companion of sorts to the elusive Phantom, her master's keeper, and was certainly his right hand person for the ten years since fleeing Paris and building Phantasma on Coney Island. Mercedes' authoritative and expressive voice, with that convincing terse edge, enabled her character to command obedience and respect and perhaps also to install a measure of fear.

The Madame and Meg Giry characters are expanded considerably in LND and are an integral part of the sequel storyline. In Webber's 2004 film, the Girys were still more or less in the background, which was still more than their virtual non-existence in the 1925 silent version of TPOTO. Madame and Meg are in full blossom in LND, at first admirable in the bouquet of Phantasma hierarchy and performers; then, little by little, their own peculiar motives darkly crystallize to cast billowing shadows over the future of the Phantom and Christine's chance for true happiness.

Madame was a practical realist and chiefette who would hold out her hand for a penny or a pound, a direct complement to the Phantom's decadence and dedication to creative pasttimes in his Phantasma; she would naturally brood over her own future. Meg's naivety, and longing to be a star in the Phantom's eyes – and heart – stood as a more worrisome combination. While mother would make plans as her efficient personality would suggest, Meg because of her obsession would be more likely to act out compulsively against the unsuspecting Christine and Gustave – the two who would stand in their ways of maintaining the status quo.

Mercedes and Millerchip as mother and daughter expertly employed all the shades of subterfuge of their characters' more macabre inclinations. (In fact, most of the actors in the LND filmed production skillfully emoted very much with their eyes – which is such a thrill to see in this day and age when many modern films favour muscle and wardrobe malfunctions over acting talent – the emoting reminiscent of what viewers were accustomed to in the era of silent film. This may have been intentional, or just a bonus from the cast having had so much experience performing the play; the moment the costumes went on, they became the characters.)

Without transformations to the characters of Madame and Meg Giry, LND would have had to either invent new villains or refashion Raoul even more, or perhaps return the Phantom to the more grotesque creature of the 1925 silent film. But Leroux had written the Phantom as having a great heart; it would have been an insult to the character to throw him back down into the horrors of reliving the worst of his past – or worse of all to repeat it in a different setting. The carefully crafted villainy of Madame and Meg in LND was essential to translating a humanized Phantom to a new setting and to provide a totally new and unexpected conclusion to his life and close-to-his-heart dreams. Like a Shakespearean allegory, music in the form of Christine was his food of love; the Girys fed on greed and obsession. Love Never Dies sustained both....

Maria Mercedes, other Career Highlights:

Maria Mercedes on the IMDb:http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0580224/

Sharon Millerchip first starred as Meg Giry in the original Australian cast production of The Phantom of the Opera in 1990, with Anthony Warlow in the title role. Coming full circle and re-creating her role as Meg in LND, she received a Sydney Theatre Award nomination and a Theatrepeople Online Best Supporting Actress Award.

She gave her Meg in LND a wonderful bouncy edge, and a joie de vivre in her musical sequences. As Meg, she gave the superb impression of a schoolgirl with a crush trying to hide behind a smooth unrippled surface, which concealed her character's turbulent depths. The mirror cracked slowly, with her performance pulling the audience along with her as the story rolled forward in an ever-increasing wave of suspense.

Sharon Millerchip as Meg Giry holding the Phantom's mask in a publicity photo from the 1990 Australian production of The Phantom of the Opera


Millerchip as a seasoned actress has not rested on any laurels before or after LND, and she continues to gain groups of fans worldwide. She was also a member of the cabaret trio COMBO FIASCO, who performed throughout Australia and the USA, earning a MAC Award nomination for Best Vocal Comedy Act in New York City. A performance of the cabaret show was broadcast live as well across North America on the NBC today Show.

Sharon Millerchip, other Career Highlights

WEBSITE: http://www.sharonmillerchip.com/index.php

AWARDS: http://sharonmillerchip.com/awards/

The Talented, Musical Gustave – Jack Lyall

Five fine young actors in all played Gustave, “son” of the Vicomte de Chagny in the Australian version of the stage musical. They included George Cartwright Bush, Trent Heath, Lachlan Kelly, Kurtis Papadinis, and Jack Lyall. Apart from appearing as Gustave in both the Melbourne and Sydney runs, Jack was chosen to co-star in the filmed version. Well-prepared and rehearsed, he appeared very at ease, confident and relaxed in the filmed production – a state many seasoned professionals would love to achieve even after years of being on the stage. On cue, and on his marks, Jack enlivened a scene in his own way, giving it all the dash and panache required. This was especially evident in the challenging, lengthy and demanding Beautiful/The Beauty Underneath, which had so many intricate pieces of the set and the ensemble moving and interacting stage-wide throughout the number.

Jack stated on his starnow profile: “ My biggest achievement to date is being in the Love Never Dies DVD, now released worldwide. Working with Simon Phillips and Andrew Lloyd Webber was a dream come true. I would love to continue with more musical theatre or maybe even a movie, as recording for Love Never Dies was an amazing experience that I would enjoy doing again.”

In addition to singing, he enjoys dancing, with hip hop and breakdancing being among his favourite styles. He also has had classes in more traditional Ballet, Jazz and Tap. All in all, with Jack involved in singing, dancing and guitar lessons, he really is a very “talented, musical” young performer, with a style all his own. All the world could very well be his stage one day.

Jack Lyall, other Career Highlights:







The Phantasma Trio – Dean Vince, Paul Tabone and Emma J. Hawkins

In the centre, Tabone, Hawkins and Vince in the tall red top hat,
with the Love Never Dies ensemble. (Photo: Jeff Busby)

Master of Ceremonies Gangle from LND, Dean Vince, is another graduate from WAAPA, achieving his Bachelor of Arts (Musical Theatre) in 2002. He received a Green Room Award Nomination for Ensemble or Full Ensemble Performance for Love Never Dies in 2011, which included his Phantasma Trio cohorts, Paul Tabone and Emma J. Hawkins. Accentuating his dialogue and gesticulating with pantomime flair, in surreal face paint and costumed in a vibrant red ringleader uniform and tall red top hat, he was a great standout emcee.

Dean Vince, other Career Highlights:




Paul Tabone, known as “Squelch, the world's strongest man” in LND, gave an important and strong hand, along with Dean Vince, to their other Phantasma member, Fleck, in many a lift and routine during their acrobatic song and dance intros to the musical numbers proper. His intensive operatic training and musical background gave his vocals and dialogue a distinct and charming European flavour. Prior to his involvement with Love Never Dies, he was awarded as the “Most Promising Voice for Music Theatre” in 2007 and 2009 at the Central Queensland Conservatorium of Music. With a move to Italy in 2012, and a first name change to Paolo, the tenore lirico has since chosen to follow a career in serious opera.

Actress-dancer Emma J. Hawkins exudes a delightful gusto as Fleck, the “aerialist extraordinaire” of the Phantasma Trio in LND. She has also appeared as an actress with the Sydney Theatre Company, and she worked for a year with CircusOz, featured in stilt walking, and as tap dancing acrobat. Her award winning dance theatre act, One More Than One, travelled to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival. From Shakespeare to fairy tales, this multi-talented powerhouse of an actress has covered it all.

Emma J. Hawkins, other Career Highlights












Television/Film Credits: