Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies will play at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through May 13, 2018. Get tickets and more info here.
Over the past 50 years there have been several attempts at a musical theatre sequel. There was “Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public”, and two attempts of that lovable orphan with “Annie II” AND “Annie Warbucks”. There was even “Bring Back Birdie”, and a bevy of other attempts for various musical hits. Why haven’t you heard of these? Because Musical Theatre sequels DO NOT WORK! The latest try is by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. His sequel to his mega-hit The Phantom of the Opera is the musical/pop-opera “Love Never Dies”. It opened Tuesday night at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre and, like its sequel predecessors, deserves to be forgotten.
The story continues “10 long years” (as we are constantly reminded) after the famed incidents at the Paris Opera House. Erik (the Phantom) is now running a ‘freak show’ at Coney Island Amusement Park. Meg Giry (watched over by her mother, former opera mistress, Madame Giry, who evidently hasn’t changed costume or hair style in ‘10 long years’) is becoming a music hall singing star. Meg and her mother (who were there for the first appearance by the ‘Opera Ghost’) decided to smuggle Erik out of Paris “10 long years” ago, and help him become established in the United States. When it is announced that Christine Daaé will be making her North American debut for Oscar Hammerstein (the year is 1907), the Phantom connives a plot to bring her to his lair on Coney Island so she can sing his one, last great song that he wrote for her. Ms. Daaé is traveling with her husband Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny, who is now a bitter man resentful of his wife’s success, heavy into gambling debts, and a bit of a drunk. Christine also travels with her young son Gustave, a ten year old boy that happens to be a musical prodigy (see where this is going?). When the Phantom is confronted by Raoul, they make a vicious bet; if Christine sings the Phantom’s song she stays with him forever. If she does not, then he will relinquish his hold on her, and let Christine leave with her husband and son. The fact that no one asks Christine what she wants seems to go unnoticed.
What could go wrong with a storyline like this? Just about everything. It makes no sense at all. When Christine is standing in front of a mirror (like in the first musical) we know the Phantom will appear (like in the first musical). When she sees him, she’s not horrified, terrified, or even verklempt about his resurrection from death (10 long years ago), but instead professes that “love never dies. She now professes her beloved memory of that one night when she was seduced by the Phantom under the Paris Opera House. The fact that the Phantom was a stalker, a sexual predator, a murderer, and (albeit talented) an absolute psychopath that threatened her life, the life of her husband, and pretty much anyone that got in his way (’10 long years ago’), seems to have completely left her memory. [Audience members actually laughed out loud when she introduces her son to the Phantom as ‘my friend’]. When Raoul encounters the Phantom, he obviously, has the same amnesia that prevents him from remembering how the Phantom chased him through the sewers of Paris, or the several attempts at murder. It’s an extremely rare thing that amnesia can simultaneously afflict so many different people on two separate continents, and Raoul decides it is ok to make a bet with the Phantom using his wife Christine as the prize. No one seems perturbed, disturbed or even concerned that the Phantom is alive again, and they treat him like an irritated boss instead of being a psychotic murderer.
The music by Andrew Lloyd Webber definitely carries the show. But then again, it did in the first musical as well, and much of this music seems familiar. There are many refrains reused from the original Phantom to make sure the audience recognizes the connection between the two productions. There are several musical refrains from Lloyd Webber’s other shows as well, and those with a good ear for music will hear the familiarity of “Sunset Boulevard” or the lesser known “Woman in White” during shorter, conversational intervals. Not even the title song is original. “Love Never Dies” is practically the same exact song (note-for-note) as the song “Our Kind of Love” that Lloyd Webber wrote for the extremely disappointing musical, “The Beautiful Game” back in 2000. Only the lyrics (this time by Charles Hart and Glen Slater) have been changed and personally, they are indifferent. Much like in “Cats”, the audience waits the entire show for THE ONE song to be sung, and while it is beautiful (as it was originally in 2000) the show ends very shortly after its presentation.
Can anything good be said about this production? Yes. The lead singers possess incredible voices and talent. Christine Daaé is played by Meghan Picerno, a woman that obviously has classical opera training. Her soprano voice is powerful, clear and easily reaches the rafters of the theatre. The Phantom is played by Garder Thor Cortes (making his US debut). His voice is rich and strong. It’s easy to hear and pleasant to listen to as well. The character never seems as menacing as it was back in Paris, and there’s really no reason why he should be. We are exposed to his grotesque early in the production, so it immediately dissolves any of the audience suspense.
In another few years, when Lloyd Webber needs yet another manse, I’m sure he will complete the cycle of “Phantom Song Trilogy”. Erik and Raoul now live in the swamps under Disney World, raising their son as a gay couple, and changing his name to Elsa. Why not? The cold [reviews] never bothered him anyway.
Love Never Dies is based on the fan fiction short story, The Phantom of Manhattan written by Frederick Forsyth. The musical sequel was originally conceived (by Lloyd Webber) in 1990, and he began composing for it in 2007. The show opened in 2010 on London’s West End with mostly negative reviews. Over the last eight years, the show has seen much reworking. Seattle is the premier tour with a rumored opening on Broadway sometime late in 2018.