BWW Review: LOVE NEVER DIES at The Fox Theatre
LOVE NEVER DIES, Andrew Lloyd Webber's sequel to the hit Broadway phenomenon THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, has made its way to The Fox Theatre for the Atlanta leg of the national tour. Starring Bronson Norris Murphy and Meghan Picerno as The Phantom and Christine Daaé, respectively, this pseudo-sequel (Webber himself has claimed that no prior knowledge of the Phantom's world is needed to understand LOVE NEVER DIES.) follows the lives of Meg and Madame Giry as they attempt to help the Phantom build his Coney Island carnival, Phantasma. But after ten years, the Phantom is still haunted by the music that only Christine Daaé can bring to life and sabotages Christine's plans to sing for Rogers and Hammerstein during the opening of their new Manhattan opera house, bringing her, along with her husband Raoul and their ten-year-old son Gustave, to Phantasma.
If the plot of LOVE NEVER DIES sounds convoluted, it's because it is. Though it's not based on original canon material, the plot is based loosely on the book The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth. And while Webber claims that this piece is a stand-alone work, the nuance of the score would not be fully appreciated by someone completely unfamiliar with its predecessor.
In all of the rewriting that was done, Webber still failed to tap into the more interesting characters and chose to focus on a struggling Christine and demented Phantom. But despite their minimal stage time, Gustave (Casey Lyons and Jake Heston Miller) and Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson) remain the stars of LOVE NEVER DIES.
The descent of Meg Giry into madness was the most interesting thing about this show and something that a stronger iteration of the work would have explored more fully. And Meg's final number performed heartbreakingly by Patterson captured the rage, confusion, and neglect felt by the character who, may have been neglected in the writing by Webber to amplify her fury and mystery in the eyes of the audience who has seen her onstage for all of forty minutes.
The beauty of the majority Webber's orchestrations distracts from the, at times incoherent, storyline and highlights elements of PHANTOM that have been reimagined for this psychedelic continuation of the lives of beloved characters. Between the concept album, Australian production, and the North American Tour launch, many numbers were cut and rearranged, and while this was done to improve the show, it is my opinion that the cuts made did anything but help.
Opening numbers that were imperative to establish the time and setting were axed and replaced by the incredibly long and uninformative "Til I Hear You Sing." This ballad, sung by the Phantom as the show opens, is nothing more than impassioned complaining about his inability to write without Christine there to sing.
And numbers that were meant to be showstoppers like "The Beauty Underneath" fall flat because of Webber's insistence that songs from PHANTOM be reprised and tacked onto the beginning of new material with no transition between the two. This was disappointing because in LOVE NEVER DIES it was evident Webber was able to beautifully interweave material from PHANTOM in several songs, like his use of "Twisted Every Way" as Christine has to, yet again, choose between her life and The Phantom.
But in moments where the old work and new creations melded together perfectly, the audience was reminded why they fell in love with PHANTOM in the first place and why they yearned to see more of these characters, no matter how strange their lives became.
In Meg's final number, the Phantom sang, "Diamonds never sparkle bright if they aren't set just right," and this sentiment seems to be found throughout LOVE NEVER DIES. The production was gorgeous, the actors were talented, but there was something about the writing that was never set just right, so this diamond, though it sparkled, was not as bright what came before it.
LOVE NEVER DIES plays at The Fox Theatre in Atlanta through December 3. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Fox Theatre's box office. Photos and other reviews from the show can be seen on social media by searching #LoveNeverDiesATL.