December 14, 2017
Lisa L. Kirchner
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Love Never Dies but it may not survive till Broadway
The long-awaited Phantom sequel is.. curious. And also not perfect.
Andrew Lloyd Webber began writing this sequel to The Phantom of the Opera in 1990, but it didn’t hit the stage until 2010. Since then it’s been rewritten, scrapped, and reopened several times, and is only now touring the U.S. Even the title has been changed. The only thing that hasn’t been killed off is Lloyd Weber’s enthusiasm for the project.
Clearly a passion project for Lloyd Webber, whose billion-dollar shows include Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, and Cats, the question now is whether Love Never Dies will ever get to Broadway. That will be at least as thrilling to watch as the musical.
Oh, it’s got all the glitz. The score offers up satisfyingly memorable lines and call-backs, and the costuming and set designs are captivating. Die-hard Phantom fans will make their pilgrimage. But will this bring in fresh devotees?
The story takes place in 1907, 10 years after the Phantom disappeared from the Paris Opera House. Here he is re-emerged as the (already less compelling) cryptic Mr. Y. Some may be disappointed by the downgrade to Coney Island, but I loved the attempt to place Phantom in his freaky element.
From the first moments we see the old gang back together, however, it’s a foregone conclusion that Christine is better off without her nasty old husband Raoul, and besides, that 10-year-old son Gustave is a blindingly obvious omen.
This is where I can’t divorce my feminist self from my enjoyment of a romantic musical. The dramatic “tension” is created as Christine must make a choice between Mr. Y, who — in his one truly Phantom-like moment — threatens to kill her family, and Raoul — a drunkard and a dick. Meanwhile, she’s a world-famous singer with working pipes. Lose ‘em both, I say. Hence, I don’t write romance.
But I also see this as a broader problem with the story. The plot comes down to whether or not she’s going to sing the song that Mr. Y wrote for her, the single number that will pay off her husband’s gambling debt. Well, what do you think? You’re right.
There’s a bit of a side note about Meg, who finds herself in similar straights to Christina of yore, but that’s all dealt with tidily, too.
All that said, as a lover of all things camp, there was much to love in this more stripped down yet spectacular production. The fantasy underground world created by Gabriela Tylesova to evoke Coney Island was enormously satisfying, both for the clever mechanics and the voyeurism. It was well set off by Paule Constable’s lighting, which brought everything from piers to dressing rooms to roller coasters to life.
While both acts opened with the men, it wasMeghan Picerno’s Christina that most ably moved around a complex score and took us along for the ride. Meanwhile, our Mr. Y and Raoul lacked anything terribly interesting to do. Perhaps that made the Coney Island numbers all the more enchanting.
In short, while there’s much to enjoy in this show, the most haunting question that remains is why Lloyd Webber has gone through such machinations to keep it alive. He once testily quipped, "Clearly, it is a sequel, but I really do not believe that you have to have seen Phantom of the Opera to understand Love Never Dies.” I might add, however, seeing the former would help to make one care about the latter.