BWW Review: Learn to See 'The Beauty Underneath' in LOVE NEVER DIES at the Benedum
Ten years after the epic conclusion of The Phantom of the Opera, we find ourselves on the shores of the Atlantic- an ocean away from the Paris Opera House where years prior Christine, Raoul, and the Phantom first met. Christine and Raoul would flee together, leaving the Phantom to the mercy of the encroaching mob. It is the most recognizable love triangle in musical theatre- one that ends in the questionable disappearance of the Phantom. But Andrew Lloyd Weber could not let the Phantom's love and story end there; thus gives us the basis for his sequel Love Never Dies.
The beginning of the twentieth century was the dawning of a new era for America. Some of the world's greatest inventions were about to be unveiled, and the world was changing at a rapid pace. For the Phantom, the beginning of the century meant the beginning of a new life in America as Mr. Y, the mind behind the Coney Island amusement park/freak show Phantasma.
Madame Giry and her daughter Meg accompany the Phantom on his new endeavor, helping with the production and staring in the acts, respectively. Still, there is a void in the Phantom's heart, one that can only be filled by Christine Daae, and when he learns of her coming to perform in the city, the Phantom does everything in his power to steal her back again. In addition to her husband, Raoul, Christine also brings her son Gustave with her.
The pageantry of Coney Island and the eerie vaudeville performers give this show a bit of a sinister twist. A little electric guitar here and there also compliments this darker side to the show in numbers like "The Coney Island Waltz" and "The Beauty Underneath." The latter seems out of place and like a spooky dream, but for Weber, this is hardly a surprise or a deviant of his style.
Despite being caught off guard by the song, this song is one of the two main themes that run through the show. Seeing with heart and not with eye to the beauty behind the mask, whether it be a physical white one or a metaphoric emotional one, pervades this show and is a phantastic metaphor to take outside the theatre and into the world of reality.
The other theme, being the title and a song in the show, love never dies manifests itself through the passion and objectives of the characters in the show. The Phantom and Christine feed off the love and music of each other, while someone like Meg screams for attention in the most dramatic of fashions later in the show.
Love Never Dies is best digested as one two separate and nearly unrelated acts. The first act contains characters from the original show while the second act uses the characters in a more anticipated accord. Between the first and second acts, there is a disjointed arch in style, intensity, and plot. The first act is so abruptly different from the original show, with the newer using Coney Island as a focal point, that is disrupts the unity that made me fall in love with the original musical.
The second act follows much more closely on the romance between the three principals, with an eyebrow-raising revelation driving most of the plot. It is more tightly woven to classical conventions and has an ending that gives the original musical a run for its money.
Now enough about the show as written, let's discuss the presentation of the show, starting with the whimsical amusement park setting that is completed with a revolving stage in the center. This carousel floor is wisely used to change scenes and move large pieces of scenery effortlessly through the space. The costumes for the performers were right and glimmering, especially Christine's dress for her aria "Love Never Dies."
Played by Meghan Picerno, Christine beautifully delivers a powerful piece and remains consistent throughout the entire show. Gardar Thor Cortes, who plays the Phantom, is able to control his voice as well, but at times I almost wish he did not have a microphone to pick up every sibilant and accentuated consonant noise. The role of Gustave (Casey Lyons) is nicely intertwined with the story of the Phantom, and his youthful voice adds a nice contrast to the booming voices of the adults in the room.
Is it necessary to have seen The Phantom of the Opera before seeing Love Never Dies? Although I do not believe it is necessary, I am fairly confident that those who have seen the prequel and those who have not will have a very different interpretation of this show, for better or for worse. As someone who has seen its predecessor, I can say that it is not a Wicked to The Wizard of Oz, but it is a nice night out at the theatre - this time, without the theatre's chandelier crashing to the floor!
To see or not to see score: 5/9; Approved Show
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus