October 27, 2017
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Review: “Love Never Dies” doesn’t live up to “The Phantom’s” high bar
A sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” is either bold or foolish. Or both.
And the hugely uneven “Love Never Dies,” showing through Sunday, Oct. 29, at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre, certainly straddles that line.
Revisiting “The Phantom” puts Andrew Lloyd Webber and his collaborators in a nearly no-win situation, as was proven when the first edition of the musical flamed out on Britain’s West End in 2010. It’s one of the best-loved and arguably one of the best theater productions of all time, inventive in both narrative and staging. Its ending wasn’t necessarily clear-cut, but it was certainly neat.
Flash forward -- 31 years since “The Phantom” in real life, a decade since the events in the original -- and we have the Phantom, having escaped late 19th century Paris, holed up in Coney Island as the mysterious operator of the circus-like Phantasma. Still pining for his muse Christine Daae, he lures her and her family in an effort to hear her sing again and perhaps rekindle their romance, with plenty of plot twists about their past.
The premise is solid, the execution wobbly. It’s easy to call “Love Never Dies” a tale of two halves -- but accurate. The first act is a turgid mess of trying to re-establish ties and establish new ambitions and agendas. Many of the songs and scenes go on too long -- particularly a hotel room encounter between Christine (a luminous Meghan Picerno) and the Phantom (unsteady understudy Bronson Norris Murphy on Wednesday’s (Oct. 25) media night) and a tour of Phantasm the Phantom gives to their son Gustave (the show-stealing Jake Heston Miller) -- and the songs are...well, let’s just say there’s no “Angel Of Music,” “All I Ask Of You” or “The Music Of The Night” here. Or even close -- despite revisiting some of “The Phantom’s” familiar and much-loved themes.
Most of all, the Phantom himself is not nearly as compelling with more stage time as he was as a more mysterious and threatening prescence in the original work -- although there were still a few appear-out-of-nowhere moments.
Fortunately “Love Never Dies’” second half is far superior -- more concise and bolstered by musical moments such as “Devil Take the Hindmost” between the Phantom and Christine’s husband Raoul (a fine Sean Thompson) and Picerno’s delivery of the title song, which is good enough it makes you wonder if Lloyd Webber, who made a second curtain call appearance at Thursday’s show, didn’t come up with it first and then decide to create a musical around it.
Salvaging the show somewhat is Gabriela Tylesova’s set design, a swirling, rotating stage filled with facile objects that’s as arresting as the groundbreaking eye candy of “The Phantom.” And the Phantom’s Phantasm freak squad -- Fleck (Katrina Kemp), Gangle (Stephen Petrovich) and Squelch (Richard Koons) -- is enormously entertaining throughout, providing some necessary levity to combat “Love Never Die’s” moribund romanticism.
This musical’s ending is more hopeful than happy and doesn’t really leave room for another sequel -- which is probably for the best. Love may never die, but it’s time for this tale to be put to an eternal rest.