“I don’t regard this as a sequel—it’s a stand-alone piece.” Andrew Lloyd Webber, the composer of the longest running Broadway show in history (“The Phantom of the Opera” – 30 years and counting), was speaking of “Love Never Dies,” his show that runs at the Fox Theatre through Dec. 3.
That may be, Sir Andrew, but it is helpful if one is familiar with “Phantom”: helpful, but not necessary. For “Love Never Dies,” lush and soaring with arias worthy of Callas and Sutherland, is quite dazzling all by itself. In fact, it features some of the finest singing I’ve ever heard in a musical, especially by its leads – Bronson Norris Murphy (The Phantom) and Meghan Picerno (Christine Daaé). Their voices are so gorgeous they bring tears to the eyes.
Still, “The Phantom” is “The Phantom”; therefore, comparisons are both odious and unnecessary. Its worldwide success and longevity may never be surpassed. And it’s more dramatically compelling than “Love Never Dies”; that is, until the end of “Love’s” Act II. More about that shortly.
It’s 1907 — a decade after the original “Phantom.” Christine Daaé is invited by an anonymous impressario to perform at Phantasm, an attraction on Coney Island, where Gabriela Tylesova’s set and Nick Schlieper’s lighting are dazzling. With her husband Raoul (Sean Thompson) and son Gustave (a marvelous Casey Lyons), they journey to Brooklyn, unaware that it is The Phantom who has invited her. You see, he owns the whole Phantasm shebang. Good name, wouldn’t you say?
No, The Phantom didn’t die at the end of “Phantom,” even though we only see his mask. The ending was deliberately ambiguous.
He’s positively flourishing in Brooklyn, still mourning his lost love Christine. But with the help of Madame Giry (Broadway star Karen Mason) and her unstable daughter Meg (Mary Michael Patterson), he is running his amusement park of burlesque and freak shows. The Phantom is now called Mr. Y.
I can’t give you much more plot without risking a spoiler, but I must mention again Christine’s charming young son Gustave, who sings in a beautiful boy soprano voice. Gustave’s presence changes everything: It changes everyone’s priorities; the whole dynamic of the show shifts. Can you guess the key reason Gustave is able to do this? I’m dying to tell you, but I shall not.
“Love Never Dies” asks an awful lot of its incredible singers; there are no underground lakes, no falling chandeliers, no spooky walking through mirrors (wait; there’s a little bit of that). It simply doesn’t have the dramatic tension and “thrill” factor of “Phantom,” despite a lovely orchestra, and charming score. By the way, Mr. Webber of course wrote the music; Glenn Slater wrote the lyrics; direction is by Simon Phillips.
It is only when we come to the second half of Act II that suddenly real drama takes over; and those disposed to tear up at powerful scenes (count me in) may have a field day. By the end of the show, the huge audience at the Fox was emotionally cheering at the curtain call. You know the Biblical quote “A little child shall lead them”? Just bear that in mind.
“Love Never Dies” is a huge, professionally wrought entertainment. As you may know, Mr. Webber has his detractors; I’m not one of them. “Love” may not be among the top ten musicals of all time, but there are moments that give you goose bumps. You’ll see. This is the show’s first North American tour.
For tickets and information, visit foxtheatre.org.