Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
This musical had a long, bumpy gestation. Lloyd Webber first thought about a continuation of the story only a few years after The Phantom of the Opera was launched in 1986. Aborted versions, stops and starts followed. Love Never Dies first reached the stage in 2010 in London, where it met with critical disdain and only slightly more favor from audiences. An Australian production, with serious modifications was better received, filmed and released on DVD and blu-ray. It is this version that is currently touring, with dates listed into September 2018.
Those seeing Love Never Dies are probably going to be familiar with Phantom and any comparison is not favorable to the sequel. Phantom boasts "Think of Me," the title tune, "Music of the Night," "All I Ask of You," and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" as major numbers, a tight, emotion-driven storyline, and superlative staging, originally by Hal Prince, to cover any dull moments. Love Never Dies opens with its big number, the Phantom's "Til I Hear You Sing," proceeds through a couple of duets for Christine and the Phantom, "Beneath a Moonless Sky" (forgettable) and "Once Upon Another Time" (decent but over used), a solo for Raoul ("Why Does She Love Me?") a challenge duet for Raoul and the Phantom which is dramatically exciting ("Devil Take the Hindmost") and finally, Christine gets a big aria, the title tune. Only "Til I Hear You Sing" and "Love Never Dies" are good examples of the kind of long lined tunes Lloyd Webber is famous for spinning, and neither of them are up there with the best he has written.
Direction by Simon Phillips and choreography by Graeme Murphy AO are thoroughly professional, but not particularly inspired. The plotting, presumably by Lloyd Webber, Slater, Elton and Forsyth (all who share credit for the book), seems action driven where we had deep emotional subtext in the earlier musical. All of this makes Love Never Dies entertaining but by no means a great musical. Set in Coney Island, although for the life of me, I can not fathom why, I find it a bit like eating cotton candy. I suspect that were the show to finally find its way to Broadway, it would not be a success.
The cast is headed by Gardar Thor Cortes as the Phantom and Meghan Picerno as Christine. Both have very fine voices. Looking at their bios, I notice that both have serious opera credits, he as a tenor, she as a coloratura soprano. This surprises me because of the vocal ranges of their parts. The Phantom lies in high baritone territory, low for an opera tenor who never gets to show off his top. Christine is written both high and low. All of her conversational scenes require pushing the chest voice, then her showcase "Love Never Dies" floats at the top of the staff and above, right where she is at her best, and she stops the show with it. This is not a part that Sarah Brightman could ever cope with.
Sean Thompson is Raoul, handsome of bearing with just the right baritone sound for a manly presence. Christine and Raoul's son Gustave is double cast. I saw Casey Lyons, who nicely sang the treble soprano tessitura. Jake Heston Miller plays the part on alternate performances. Mary Michael Patterson plays Meg Giry, no longer a girl of 16 or 17 but still a soubrette. She is stuck leading two carnival ditties that seem completely out of place in this piece but are necessary to beef up her part so she can figure prominently in the denouement. Karen Mason gives lessons on how to dominate a production as Madame Giry. Sadly, she doesn't have a musical moment to open up, only character music. Katrina Kemp, Stephen Petrovich and Richard Koons are Fleck, Gangle and Squelch respectively, a carnival trio who add mysterious atmosphere.
Dale Rieling leads the orchestra, listed in the program as 14 pieces but sounding like more. Set and costume design is by Gabriela Tylesova, lighting design by Nick Schlieper and sound design is by Mick Potter. All are Broadway quality.
I enjoyed Love Never Dies as a fine touring production, lavish to look at, sit back and be entertained. I would not mind seeing it at $60-$80 a ticket. At Broadway prices well over $100 a ticket, I might decline.
Love Never Dies, through December 17, 2017, at Carol Morsani Hall, Straz Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N. W.C. MacInnes Place, Tampa FL. For tickets and information, visit www.strazcenter.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.loveneverdies.com/ustour.
Cast (in order of Appearance):