January 13, 2018
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Love Never Dies, Or Does It?
No, I’m not asking a philosophical question about the lasting nature of romantic love, though that is the question addressed in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to the smash Broadway show, Phantom of the Opera. I’m directing this question directly at the musical itself.
If you loved Phantom, will you find similar affection for its sequel, Love Never Dies, The Phantom Returns—now playing through Januaray 28th at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square as part of the KeyBank Broadway Series?
You might. But sadly, that wasn’t the case for me.
Last month I posted my first story about a Playhouse Square production (On Your Feet!), because I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed it, especially after considering swapping it out for an alternate show.
This month the opposite has happened. Seeing the familiar white mask on the show tickets, we were filled with optimism as we headed downtown to Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre.
The optimism faded with the opening number, and unfortunately never returned.
Long, long ago, my parents taught me if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all; and I believe this is excellent advice…thanks mom and dad. My plan with this blog had been to adhere strictly to this guiding principle. “If I visit a destination or see a show I don’t particularly care for, I simply won’t write about it.”
That had been my game plan up until I was chatting at a Christmas party with a friend who noted that I might lose some credibility or authenticity if everything I wrote was pure sunshine and roses. I see the wisdom in her observation, but at the same time, I don’t want to abandon a spirit of kindness either. There’s enough venom and incivility on the internet already; I certainly don’t want to fall into that muck.
So, I have decided that while I won’t seek out destinations or things I can pan, I also won’t avoid sharing when I am less than impressed either. But I will always try to season my negative impressions with as much graciousness as I can, pointing out the positives along the way.
So, here is why I did not embrace Love Never Dies—despite the production’s positive points.
While the set and costumes were fantastic, the orchestra solid, the vocal talent at the requisite level for an ‘opera,’ and the amplification and sound quality well-executed; the story was predictable and not particularly interesting, the setting seemed silly, the song lyrics were not convincing, and the performances were exaggerated (not because the actors failed in any way, but rather because the play was written as such).
For me, the character of the Phantom himself epitomized the problem of exaggeration, he was painfully consumed with angst that led me to want to grab him by the collar and try to shake it out of him.
This over-the-top-ism was evident the moment the curtain rose.
The opening number was an emotional whopper. I felt as though I had somehow stepped into the climax of the story, not the opening scene. If this overly-dramatic and wounded solo was any indication of what was yet to come, I worried the show would become an emotional burden to bear rather than a story to enjoy. It was, and it did! At least until the actual climax of the story, when the intended tragic scene, struck us instead as comical in its predictability and overblown intrigue. My husband and actually I had to suppress our laughing, but we certainly welcomed the levity (even if unintended).
As my husband, our friends, and I discussed the highs and lows on the drive home, the four of us concluded that perhaps it was just us. “It was a musical opera, after all,” we noted, “perhaps we’re simply not sophisticated enough to appreciate it properly.” That, indeed, is perfectly possible!
As always, I’d love to hear your viewpoint, both on Love Never Dies, if you’ve seen it, and on this post. (Please scroll down for comment form.)
I’d also like to note that evenings out at Cleveland’s theater district are always fun, even on those occasions when you find the show just so-so.
Playhouse Square is an historic treasure in Cleveland—as I’ve written about in a previous post—and the KeyBank State Theatre is one of my favorite venues (best ladies room by far, though the seats are on the tight side). It boasts an elegant, 320-foot-long lobby that is said to be the longest in the world, according to Playhouse Square’s history page. The lobby walls are adorned with four 50-foot murals by American Modernist James Daugherty (1890–1974).
Plan to arrive early to enjoy the historic setting and murals, and to look through the playbill. Arrive even earlier to have a bite or beverage nearby. This month we shared a New Year’s toast with our friends at Bin 216, right inside the theater complex—a relaxing, well-appointed spot for pre-show gathering, with the added benefit (especially on cold, wet, or snowy Cleveland nights) of indoor access to the theaters.