June 7, 2018
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'Love Never Dies' is a crazy, mixed up, fun ride with the Phantom
2.5 stars out of 5
During intermission of Tuesday’s opening night performance of “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s unnecessary sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera,” I Tweeted that I had a hundred thousand million questions about the show’s erratic first act.
My early instincts reverberated with a few followers, but none more reassuringly so than from an account called Love Should Die, which “[exposes] the lunacy” behind the show, declaring it “condemned across the globe by theater critics and Phantom fans alike.”
I won’t go quite that far. All I said was I had questions. I still do, now that the show is over. And though I don’t like this show, and can’t justify its artistic or commercial value, I still enjoyed myself. Lesson learned: Should love ever die, like can save the day.
The story is just an absurd mess, a ridiculous, self-indulgent, hastily written, on the back of a napkin, kind of stupid, silly mess. To launch formal inquiry about the plot’s vacant logic, or the practicalities of its premise, or this property’s billion-dollar insistence that kidnapping is romantic if it comes with pretty music and good intentions, well I mean, we don’t need to do all of that.
The sequel, based on Frederick Forsythe’s “The Phantom of Manhattan” text, takes place ten years after the first musical left off, in and around Coney Island. (How does The. Phantom. travel across the Atlantic Ocean unnoticed? I can’t even.) He’s still writing music, still terrorizing his old friends from the Paris opera house where he vandalized property and murdered their colleagues. But they’re in America now, and in business together, so everything’s cool.
Suffice it to say, the thing makes negative-zero sense, and it will never make more sense than that. Whatever. This ride has begun, and we’re not getting off until it stops.
Enjoy the view along the way. Gabriela Tylesova’s grotesque-romantic Coney Island sets and costumes are seductive to look at, drool-worthy in their cinematic tones. Her palette borrows from a “Moulin Rouge” and Tim Burton-besotted mood board, a candlelit glow haunting every corner, as if rendered by Instagram and presented by Ryan Murphy. These jagged catwalks look sinful; those luscious window treatments look divine. This is some gorgeous, mature art direction that upstages its dramatic material in every scene.
It’s a sonic pleasure, too. Webber’s score is unfortunately more modern than his 1988 predecessor, whose pop-opera ratio was cleverly seamless. There are some hits and misses in this song list, but what works really works. A few familiar themes buoy the learning curve and connect the stories. The lush title song is a worthy younger sister to “All I Ask of You,” and is sung magnificently by Meghan Picerno, our matured Christine Daaé, now a mother and wife to standby arm candy, Raoul.
Phantom alternate Bronson Norris Murphy delivered handily, and with a spry step. (Does he age backward?) Jake Heston Miller delivered a stunning, focused performance as young Gustave. (Does he age in fast-forward?) And the great Karen Mason strikes as the bitter Madame Giry. (Does she age at all?)
There are plenty of attractions to buy a ticket to here. My questions may never be answered, but that’s true for lots of media. It’s here to have fun, to take us somewhere (very) foreign, to weave a story about love, travel, loyalty and economics. In a Paris opera house, this guy was a bit of a charmer. On American soil, he’s a washed-up Phantom of the Soap Opera, ready for his close-up and paycheck.
Where are we going to run into him next? On an iceberg? A kibbutz? Jury duty? Love never knows. But I’ll be there, ticket in hand.