After nearly 25 years of massive international success comes Andrew Lloyd Webber’s follow-up to everyone’s favorite phantom musical. Re-emerging from the depths of a Paris opera house, the mystic Phantom of the Opera returns in LOVE NEVER DIES. Some may say this sequel is nothing more than a continuation of the beloved Phantom and Christine’s story, but I would say that LOVE NEVER DIES is a perfect accompaniment to its predecessor! This lavish American-tour production perfectly intertwines classic melodies from the original while still introducing powerful new music and performances one has come to expect from the genre.
I’m here to tell you LOVE NEVER DIES delivers everything it should, even with it’s melodramatic falters, it shouldn’t actually be faulted for them. This is THE Phantom of the Opera character after all. With the original Phantom of the Opera musical already an untouchable classic, I’m concerned many have forgiven the original shows over-the-top performances and overdramatic storyline. This genre is already unapologetic when it comes to drama, and then you throw in Phantom of the Opera melodies… what are people expecting?!
Unquestionably, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LOVE NEVER DIES – THE PHANTOM RETURNS makes no excuses for its romanticized characterization, storyline, and even its design. I expected no less going in as The Phantom of the Opera is essentially no different. Those seeking an incredibly clever, multi-layered story, may want to regroup prior to their viewing.
Set 10 years after the events that occurred at the Paris Opera, the Phantom has now taken residency at Phantasma, a new Coney Island amusement park attraction. Set in 1907 (yes, the timeline is a bit off if you really know your “Phantom”), the beginning focuses around a sideshow of sorts with classically-labeled freaks from yester-year. Filled with acrobatics and circus acts, the Phantom is awaiting his next act for Phantasma. Struggling with the absence of the one thing he obsesses over, Christine Daae, he seeks her voice for his show in order to hear her sing “once more”. His relentless infatuation remains as strong as ever and anonymously invites her to come perform in America, although the clues are quite clear.
With Christine’s husband Raoul and son Gustave by her side, she travels to America with much fanfare and runs into another leading lady who idolizes her, Meg Giry, but also resents the fact she is taking away her big shot. Christine must convince her family that she must do this performance while Raoul and the Phantom fight for love.
Upon entry into Segerstrom Hall, the stage is unlit with a black scrim and a faint star-like cutout. What appears dull and boring is brought to life with immense color, and enormous set pieces following the Phantom’s opening, “’Til I Hear You Sing”. I am sucker for big theatrics, and this show has plenty. LOVE NEVER DIES nails it with the wow-factor! With a turnable stage feature and gorgeous set choreography, the set design allows for some masterful scenery that engulfed me into each moment. However, what I found to be a complete and fulfilling show, some may find its story to be less than complex.
As briefly mentioned before, this is a melodramatic opera with incredibly romanticized characters. LOVE NEVER DIES should not be faulted for a story-arc that is near perfectly explained within the title of the show. Why am I defending the show so much? Simply, I fell hard for it and find some over-critiquing worth counter-arguing.
The performances helped with my recently found love for the show. As we entered we were informed that the alternate Phantom would be taking the stage tonight (and possibly for more of the run). I found myself nervous thinking that we would be in for underwhelming performance. WHOOPS! Bronson Norris Murphy was everything you want out of a Phantom hitting those boisterous deep notes and delivering the intensity required for most of his scenes. In fact, his voice was a bit deeper than the cast recording. The Phantom’s counterpart Christine, played by Megan Picerno, had a plethora of chemistry with Murphy and takes the climax of the show with as much triumph as the best of the best. She even dealt with an especially slobbery Phantom performance… and didn’t miss a beat as spit splattered across the stage.
The shows surprise performance came from the little boy playing Gustave. Our nights performance had the role was played by Jake Heston Miller. This kid brought the audience to thunderous applause with “Beautiful”. A much different, stronger version than recordings I have heard. Those reminiscent for The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack will find much appreciation for this song.
LOVE NEVER DIES stays true to what The Phantom of the Opera has always been. A powerful love tale with momentous musical numbers that attempts to prove our leading characters love is of the purest form. The message may be a bit murky, but really… this is a love story that follows a phantom that appears through mirrors and carries his voice through walls. This is in no way a story resembling real life, but perhaps provides a bit of romanticism for us to believe in, which deserves a place to exist is our real world.
LOVE NEVER DIES is playing at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa thru May 5th, 2018.
Visit SCFTA.org for more information.