June 27, 2018
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LOVE NEVER DIES sequel fails to bring back that loving feeling
He's still obsessed with her, and it's creepier than ever.
The Phantom, who disappeared in a flourish at the end of composer Andrew Lloyd Webber's "The Phantom of the Opera" — leaving his mask glowing tantalizingly onstage — has reappeared in "Love Never Dies," Lloyd Webber's 2010 sequel to his blockbuster musical.
In the touring production, up through Sunday at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, the disfigured composer stalks Christine Daaé, the singing star he swears he cannot live without. Eerily, he shows up at her hotel and in her dressing room. When she first sees him, she faints. No wonder, for he's always moving toward her with his arms outstretched like crab claws aimed at her neck.
Christine might need a restraining order.
The problems with "Love Never Dies" are not only moral but aesthetic. The show feels like something made up mostly of leftovers, with a few new things thrown in — the stage version of a salad with the last of the Thanksgiving turkey.
It moves slowly — a lethargy that partly stems from Ben Elton's book, based on Frederick Forsyth's novel "The Phantom of Manhattan." A decade after his fling with Christine in the Paris Opera House, the Phantom (Bronson Norris Murphy) has landed in Coney Island, where he's running a freak show. Time may have passed, but things have not progressed that much, heart-wise. He still pines for his muse (Meghan Picerno).
For her part, Christine has a school-age son, Gustave (Christian Harmston), of uncertain paternity and a husband, Raoul (Sean Thompson), who has a weakness for the bottle.
While Lloyd Webber's compositions are brooding and lush, the score lacks a strong defining song. "Once Upon Another Time," a duet between the Phantom and Christine, is cute. "Ten Long Years" by Madame Giry (Karen Mason) feels, well, long. The most interesting number is "Devil Take the Hindmost," a duet between the Phantom and Raoul that gets us to look up that 16th-century idiom about taking care of one's interests.
Since the principal characters in "Love Never Dies" are not all that interesting, the Coney Island setting becomes something of a character — a freak fest that's rolled out time and again as flavoring (or filler): Look at this weird acrobat/scary clown/adorable little person.
Murphy, who just took over the Phantom role, is a better actor than singer, but Picerno displays a powerful operatic soprano voice, and youngster Harmston is also impressive.
The best feature of "Love Never Dies" is the design. The set, by Gabriela Tylesova, who also did the garish costumes, nods to the surreal, with an abstracted mask looming stage right and a suspended Dali-esque eye stage left. A turntable rotates the pieces on and off.
Director Simon Phillips and choreographer Graeme Murphy Ao could have sped things up quite a bit. Love may never die, but it certainly can turn stale.