Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Love Never Dies
Unfortunately, the performance I attended was hampered by sets that arrived late from the production's first domestic engagement, in Detroit, resulting in the curtain going up nearly an hour and a half past schedule. Considering the number of logistical concerns in a touring production, some sympathy is merited. But a portion of the audience left before the show even started, and more did not return after intermission. When it did start, there were still some set malfunctions, and at one point the actors were forced to pantomime riding a horseless carriage that did not materialize. A falling chandelier was a visual metaphor in Phantom; hopefully this is not an omen for this production.
Love Never Dies begins ten years after the original, with the Phantom (marvelously sung by Bronson Norris Murphy, on for Garðar Thór Cortes) pining for another opportunity to hear his love and muse, Christine (an equally marvelous Meghan Picerno), sing once more. He has been lured to America by Madame Giry (talented Broadway veteran Karen Mason), who hopes her daughter Meg (a delightful Mary Michael Patterson) will capture his affection. But the Phantom, who oversees a circus-like entertainment called Phantasma, has invited Christine to make her American debut at his establishment. Christine arrives in America with her husband Raoul (a dashing Sean Thompson) and son Gustave (an amazingly talented Jake Heston Miller), and we quickly learn that all is not well with her family. Christine's love, for her husband and for the Phantom, will soon be put to the test, with a rather unexpected outcome.
Comparisons to the original story are inevitable. I question whether a sequel to such a classic musical was necessary, but the book by Webber, Ben Elton, Glenn Slater, and Frederick Forsyth has some new ideas for these characters, some of which may not sit well with fans of the original. Andrew Lloyd Webber has written some lovely new melodies, but they do not live up to the majesty of the original. This score has one or two memorable songs hidden among numerous lesser achievements. He delivers a Coney Island pastiche in two songs featuring Meg Giry and, though they are entertaining, they do not match the humor of Phantom's opera scenes. The most effective humor in the production comes in the song "Dear Old Friend," a welcome tonic in a show steeped in dark, foreboding love. Ironically, Meghan Picerno as Christine does not receive many chances to show off that glorious singing voice. Meanwhile, the Phantom steals applause throughout, though he does little more than repeat his signature theme.
Bronson Norris Murphy's Phantom is immediately welcomed by the audience on the strength of his opening number, "'Til I Hear You Sing," a highlight of the score. Meghan Picerno does not get to really show off her amazing soprano until late in the second act, which seems a waste of amazing talent. Karen Mason, who may be best remembered for her portrayal of Tanya in the original Broadway production of Mamma Mia!, continues to amaze with her voice and presence. She is truly an underrated actress, who can never be given too much time on the stage. Though she gets to close out act one with the song "Ten Long Years," this isn't sufficient to establish Madame Giry's position in the Phantom's life or to fully showcase the powerhouse voice Ms. Mason has.
The real delight of the production is Jake Heston Miller as Gustave, Christine's young son. A true talent through and through, with an amazing voice equal to that of the main protagonists, Mr. Miller also does not receive enough time on stage to showcase his talent. Gustave shares several songs with other characters but does not have one of his own, which is unfortunate. The characters of Fleck, Gangle, and Squelch (portrayed respectively by Katrina Kemp, Stephen Petrovich, and Richard Koons) seem to be merely an attempt to add some humor to the production and to provide something for the audience to look at during set changes. These characters easily could have been combined into one, though it's unclear whether they are the Phantom's henchmen, if they are good or bad, and ultimately why they are a part of the story in the first place.
Director Simon Phillips has assembled a top-notch creative team for this show, and above all, designer Gabriela Tylesova. Her costumes are stunningly beautiful and are by far the best part of the production. Her set design is gorgeous, too, especially the set for Coney Island. Lighting design by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Mick Potter enhance the ambiance of the production.
But Love Never Dies seems to be lost in what has become a common dead-end in entertainment today: an ill-advised attempt to capitalize further on a lucrative franchise. This production has spent time in London and Australia but hasn't yet made it to Broadway, and it remains to be seen whether fans will bear out the idea that love for the Phantom truly will never die.
Love Never Dies is presented by SunTrust Broadway, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham, NC 27701 through November 5th, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at www.DPACnc.com, www.ticketmaster.com, or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person or by phone at 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit www.loveneverdies.com/ustour.
Composer: Andrew Lloyd Webber