BWW Review: The Controversy Regarding LOVE NEVER DIES
Love Never Dies/book by Ben Elton/based on The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth/music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber/lyrics by Glenn Slater/directed by Simon Phillips/Hollywood Pantages Theatre/through April 22
Let's make one thing perfectly clear from the start. If you are expecting a sequel to Phantom of the Opera in Love Never Dies, you may be let down. This new show that is making its American premiere in the tour across North America, after a dismal opening in London in 2010, has been rewritten and reworked many times over, and is based on Frederick Forsyth's The Phantom of Manhattan, not on Gaston Leroux's Le Phantome de l'Opera upon which the first Phantom was based. Even Lloyd Webber stated emphatically that it is not a sequel, but a different story with the same characters. If you open your imagination and find it in your heart to believe that the Phantom and Christine consummated their love for one another by having sex and producing a son, you will enjoy much of the show. If not, and you want this production to follow the original from 1986, it will most likely not suit you.
I was never a great fan of the Phantom. I admired the performances but found it overly produced. Women love the romantic sequences especially the gondola ride in the sewers beneath the theatre. For me, it was lovely to look at, but hokey and artificial. So think of my consternation attending Love Never Dies this past weekend. After all I had heard and read, I was expecting the worst. But...I came away quite satisfied, not only by the brilliant operatic performances of Gardar Thor Cortes as the Phantom and Meghan Picerno as Christine, but by much of Ben Elton's book, manipulative, yes, but still engrossing. Lloyd Webber's music and Glenn Slater's lyrics offer little more than variations on the original score. However, I found it moving and suitable to the overall material. The circus environment of Coney Island's Phantasma where the Phantom has taken up residence in America is bizarre with its freakish characters and overblown effects adding edge to the deeply emotional, hardly gentle, story of the lead characters.
Simon Phillips has created an even pace through which to tell the story and the actors are all terrific. Since this is opera like Phantom itself, there is practically no spoken words; it is 99% sung. Cortes and Picerno add such color to the Phantom and Christine that their first meeting after 10 years is emotionally intense with some of the best acting I could possibly hope for. Musically "Beneath a Moonless Sky" and "Once Upon Another Time" are performed with such sheer electricity that the audience is moved to tears. Karen Mason as Madame Giry is formidable in every scene as is Mary Michael Patterson playing her daughter Meg, turning villainess at show's end. Sean Thompson makes the best of his role Raoul, who is the true weakling of the piece. He adds great strength to his inner struggle. I cannot say enough about the brilliance of Jake Heston Miller's performance as the young son Gustave. He is marvelously focused and should have a great career ahead of him. (The role is shared with Casey Lyons). Richard Koons, Stephen Petrovich and diminutive Katrina Kemp complete the cast as circus perfomers who rivet our attention not only to their slick moves but also to the darker more eery elements of the storyline.
Gabriela Tylesova as set and costume designer creates magic with a functional turntable centerpiece and glaringly bright background enhanced by Nick Schlieper's lighting. One scene I would remove is the "Bathing Beauty" segment, that as far as I am concerned serves no purpose...maybe some comic relief, but it does not move the plot forward.
If you loved the style of the original Phantom of the Opera you may find disappointment in Love Never Dies. Nevertheless, if you attend with an openness of spirit and willingness to be affected by its depth of emotion and theatricality, you may, like me, just find yourself enjoying it.
(photo credit: Joan Marcus)