February 16, 2018
Scott C. Morgan
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'Love Never Dies' a beautifully sung yet unnecessary 'Phantom' sequel
2.5 star out of 5
There's no denying that "Love Never Dies" boasts lush melodies, beautiful designs and impassioned performances. Yet composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to his 1986 smash "The Phantom of the Opera," now making its Chicago debut at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, ultimately suffers from a poor script that comes across like mediocre fan fiction.
"Love Never Dies" begins in a darkened limbo with the Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes) still obsessing over star soprano Christine Daaé (LaGrange native Meghan Picerno). Even though Christine rejected the Phantom's manipulative romantic overtures at the Paris Opera 10 years ago, he expresses the hope that someday they will reunite in the soaring solo "'Til I Hear You Sing."
Since this song originally appeared in the middle of Act I, it's not until the next number that we're told that the year is 1907 and that the Phantom has established a new vaudeville entertainment empire in Coney Island, New York.
He did so with the help of Paris Opera ballet mistress Madame Giry (Karen Mason, formerly of Arlington Heights) and her ballerina daughter, Meg (Mary Michael Patterson), who have grown embittered by the Phantom's neglect of their workhorse efforts to keep his business afloat.
The Phantom is further distracted by news that Christine and her family will be arriving soon in America. Apparently Christine's drunken husband, Raoul (Sean Thompson), gambled away their fortune in Monte Carlo, so she must accept a high-paying offer to sing at the new Manhattan Opera House.
As expected, the Phantom counters with a higher offer for Christine to perform in his Coney Island revue "Phantasma." The Phantom is also intrigued by Christine's musically gifted son, Gustave (Cary native Casey Lyons and Jake Heston Miller alternate in the role).
As someone who saw the 2010 world premiere of "Love Never Dies" in London, I can say that the structural revisions implemented for the musical's 2011 Australian premiere (which led to this North American tour) have helped to improve it. Yet the script by Ben Elton with lyrics by Glenn Slater still contains many questionable plot holes and suspect character motivations. And the ending goes into melodramatic overdrive.
For "Love Never Dies" to work, you have to believe that the Phantom and Christine had a fully loving relationship beforehand -- even though the original musical suggests otherwise. You also have to believe that Christine has conveniently forgotten -- or forgiven -- the Phantom's previous murderous behavior when she gives him permission to show Gustave around Coney Island.
What helps audiences throw logic out the window is the gorgeous production led by director Simon Phillips. Production designer Gabriela Tylesova and lighting designer Nick Schlieper go all out to dazzle with sinister spectacle. The rotating set features an onstage carousel, plus elaborately attired sideshow performers led by the recurring servant trio of Fleck (Katrina Kemp), Gangle (Stephen Petrovich) and Squelch (Richard Koons).
The amazing cast performs the material with utter seriousness, hitting all the right notes vocally and dramatically. And as with other Lloyd Webber musicals, the Puccini-esque melodies are often reprised so they get unforgettably embedded in your head.
Despite its flaws, "Love Never Dies" offers lots of visual and aural escapism. Yet it's likely that even some die-hard "Phantom" fans will question whether this sequel was necessary.