May 31, 2018
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‘Love Never Dies’ is a sequel in search of a purpose
In the lexicon of sequels we never asked for, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies” isn’t the worst of the bunch, but it certainly isn’t the best.
At least, unlike some plays, the original writer actually wrote this show.
“Love Never Dies” is the follow up to the immensely popular “Phantom of the Opera,” which has been running on Broadway for 32 years.
“Love Never Dies” has yet to even make it to New York City. Instead it originally opened in London in 2010 to mostly negative reviews.
Its 2011 Melbourne, Australia, production was a marked improvement but still received mixed reviews. The national tour now at The Bushnell is essentially a touring production of the Melbourne show.
The biggest problem with “Love Never Dies” is its expectation of suspension of disbelief by the audience.
Basically, if you think “Phantom of the Opera” ends on a happy enough ending and you like it, don’t see “Love Never Dies.”
It is a cynical and bitter show, tearing down everything that audiences hope for after the Phantom disappears at the end of the “Phantom of the Opera.”
With the assistance of former ballet director Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her daughter, Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson), The Phantom (Bronson Norris Murphy) has fled to the United States and has set himself up at Coney Island as the mysterious manager of a variety show.
Christine Daae (Meghan Picerno) and her husband, Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny (Sean Thompson), are in financial straits. Christine hasn’t performed in years, and Raoul has squandered his fortune in gambling and alcohol.
They travel with their son, Gustave (Christian Harmston or Jake Heston Miller depending on the show), to New York City with the hopes that it will revitalize Christine’s career.
It is revealed early on in the song “Beneath a Moonless Sky” that on the eve of Christine and Raoul’s wedding, she snuck off and had a romantic tryst with the Phantom, from which Gustave is the product.
It doesn’t make any sense. It is never adequately explained how Christine finds him, or why the audience should believe she would run off to have this affair with a man who was ready to force her into being his musical slave or watch Raoul die at the Phantom’s hands at the end of “Phantom of the Opera.”
As terribly executed as this plot is, there is remarkable talent on display here. The Coney Island set design by Gabriela Tylesova is mesmerizing and engaging with a brilliantly lit backdrop of lights depicting the famed amusement park. The set pieces look like pieces of a rollercoaster that has fractured, with a ramp that rolls around the stage.
The cast is superb as well. As terribly weak as the disjointed the plot is, Murphy and Picerno are mind-blowing vocalists. Webber’s music lacks the emotional punch of the show’s predecessor, but he does write some staggering vocals for the two leads.
Picerno deftly sings notes in near stratospheric range with seemingly casual ease in the title song and Murphy brings a tragic passion through his performance as The Phantom.
“Love Never Dies” isn’t the worst show in the world. There are several good songs, the set is incredible, and the cast is superb. But I’d much rather have seen Webber write a show about turn of the 20th-century Coney Island than suffer with the audience through what is a failed attempt at bringing tragedy to a story that never wanted it in the first place.