Pittsburg Post Gazette
January 3, 2018
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Stage review: The story lags but the spectacle of 'Love Never Dies' lives up to its 'Phantom' rootsThe haunting splendor of “Love Never Dies” thrills in a way the rest of the sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” never quite matches. But oh, how it tries.
The follow-up is foremost an anomaly — sequels are as rare as unicorns in musical theater. Then again, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom” is the longest-running show on Broadway by a mile, at more than 12,000 performances. Who could resist another go at such beloved characters?
Not Sir Andrew. In this incarnation, the Phantom of the Parisian opera is no more. He’s out out in the open, still masked and unbowed as the king of the macabre in circa-1907 Coney Island.
“We bring glamour from afar, plus a touch of the bizarre,” the lyric goes. A touch? A windfall is more like it. It’s a glorious sight, while the familiar “Phantom” sounds of emphatic music, with the occasional repeated refrain from the original, are here put to mostly unfamiliar and wearying stretches of singing.
The story and music are melodramatic to the max, with a book by Mr. Webber, Ben Elton, Frederick Forsyth and lyricist Glenn Slater. “Love Never Dies” first bombed in London’s West End, then was reworked by Australian director Simon Phillips and became a hit there and in Germany before a tour found its way to North America.
It begins 10 years after the Phantom menace of the Paris Opera House was left for dead. There is no reveal or mystery about the man behind the mask this time around. The Phantom, played by Icelandic-born Gardar Thor Cortes, is the first sight we see, now a lovelorn impresario who yearns to hear his beloved Christine Daae sing once more.
Just in case the opening song doesn’t exude the notion that the man’s passions are larger than life, there is a humongous portrait of Christine for him to gaze upon and pine over.
With enormous help from the dedicated Madame Giry and her talented daughter, Meg (Karen Mason and Mary Michael Patterson), the Phantom has created his own show, as the “Mister Y” in Mister Y’s Phantasma, where sideshow attractions apparently pair nicely with world-renowned opera singers and ditzy vaudeville ditties.
The Phantom seems almost like regular folk amid the garish, ghoulish Phantasma.
Christine (Meghan Picerno) arrives in the United States as a celebrated singer who has fallen on hard times. Husband Raoul has a title, but his drinking and gambling have them in debt and quarreling. The couple, with son Gustav (Casey Lyons on opening night), have come for what they believe is a prestigious and profitable gig for Christine, singing for Oscar Hammerstein.
Instead, the Phantom whisks them to what we can only assume is his own ornate hotel, where he is determined to win over Christine.
If you have seen “The Phantom of the Opera,” as so many have, you know a mirror is never just a mirror. The Phantom is ever the man in the looking glass, and Dracula-like, he brings fog with him when first he enters Christine’s room.Their drawn-out reunion raises lots of questions about their feelings: Is he controlling Christine, or does she truly love him? How does he fit in with the state of Christine’s marriage to Raoul? And can we get these people some parenting pointers?
The pace and sense of wonder pick up whenever the denizens of the Phantasma are showcased.
The eerily harmonious chorus of Katrina Kemp, Stephen Petrovich and Richard Koons, sinister and delightful in equal measure, are standouts amid the heavy drama that plagues “Love Never Dies.”
The performers are uniformly strong singers, including young Mr. Lyons, who as 10-year-old Gustav has caught the eye of his mother’s Angel of Music. Ms. Patterson’s Meg is a pleasure to watch, commanding the stage for everyone except “Him” — after 10 years, the singer-dancer is still striving for but never achieving the Phantom’s attention.
“Love Never Dies” loses some of its clout with a Phantom who seems less a danger to life than a threat to a marriage, particularly when his competition is Raoul. Sean Thompson is in fine voice as the Vicomte de Chagny, but his wimpy character puts him in poor standing for our empathy. When he sings “Why Does She Love Me?,” we totally get it.
The hero of “Love Never Dies” is Gabriela Tylesova, the set and costume designer who has created a spectacle to rival any grand production. The colorful, bizarre Phantasma exists in the shadow of the best-known sights of Coney Island — the Parachute Jump, Wonder Wheel and Cyclone roller coaster — realized through brightly lit outlines against an always dark sky. You don’t need a chandelier to fall on you to be awed by some of the imaginative set pieces in “Love Never Dies,” which also features a turntable and many moving parts for actors to navigate.
On opening night Tuesday, intermission dragged well beyond its usual timing due to microphone issues that were not a problem in the first act or after the show resumed. With so much going on, it’s a wonder that every opening night in a new city doesn’t find a glitch here and there.
As a Brooklyn girl who has fond childhood memories of a less glitzy Coney Island, I think of it as more out of a Woody Allen movie than an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. This lavish vision of the beachside amusement park that I knew in the 1960s and ‘70s couldn’t be further from my experience or more intriguing as a setting for, of all things, the Masked Man of modern musical theater.
The hand-to-forehead drama that plays out in “Love Never Dies” never quite caught my imagination, but the spectacle was a sight to please even the Phantom’s lofty standards.