Dr. Blackwell's BLOG

Friday, August 3, 2018

Theater Review: LOVE NEVER DIES

Filed under: Performing Arts — Dr. Christopher Blackwell @ 01:44

Almost ten years ago, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies, his sequel to his beloved The Phantom of the Opera, premiered in London’s West End. While the original production was headlined by Broadway and West End megastars Ramin Karimloo (as the Phantom) and Sierra Boggess (as Christine), it was instantly panned by critics and failed to hold ground, earning the negative nickname “The Paint Never Dries.” But that wasn’t entirely Webber’s fault. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the same time the show began previews. Because he was battling cancer, he wasn’t able to devote the time necessary to make the changes the show needed to become a success. After the London production shuttered, Webber was determined to give Love Never Dies the justice it so desperately deserved.

He determined the next stop for the show would be Australia, where he brought in a new director and an entirely new production team of artists to redesign major elements of the musical, making it vastly different than the staging in London. The result was beyond efficacious. Critics and audiences lauded the Australian version of show. It become a huge success and ran for seven months at the Regent Theater in Melbourne. The Australian production gave breath to the show Webber absolutely loved. It had been resuscitated and given a new life as an absolute musical masterpiece that appropriately reflected Webber’s musical genius. He would even claim that Love Never Diesis the best score he’s ever composed, second only to EVITAand is something he is, “very, very proud of.”

With this new and well-received production settled, there were plans to bring it to Broadway. But brand new revivals of Sunset BoulevardandCATSjoined the long-running School of Rockandoriginal Phantomto give Webber a record-breaking 4 shows running at once. This resulted in shifting resources for Love Never Dies, that would instead, be toured around North America in a beautiful production that very closely mirrors the Australian version of the show.

I have been able to see this touring production four times now, twice early in its embarking in Orlando and most recently in Dallas. It was quickly evident from the start of the tour that this show was going to be something truly magical. And as the tour has progressed, the cast’s chemistry has meshed incredibly well, resulting in what should be a genuinely respected and admired piece of musical theater.

Love Never Diesis set ten years after the original. After his destruction of the opera house in Paris, the Phantom has escaped to the shores of Coney Island, where he has founded one of the world’s first carnivalistic amusement parks with the help of his long-time friend Meg Giry, and her daughter, Meg. Despite his new life in America, he is unable to forget his love for Christine Daaé, who is now an international operatic superstar. He concocts a scheme to get close to her by outbidding Oscar Hammerstein for her American debut performance, which would take place in his concert hall. Other major players in the show include Daaé’s now-husband (and drunken gambler) Raoul, son Gustave, and sideshow performers that provide a cohesive attachment to the carnival-like atmosphere that serves as the story’s backdrop.

All of the actors in this production are absolutely phenomenal. Not a single one is anything less than stellar. Bronson Norris Murphy brings the Phantom to life and possesses some of the strongest and best vocals I have ever heard in the theater. He is incredibly talented and has a solid grasp of the necessary dynamics of the role; and he is able to extend his vocal nuances to the gorgeous songs of Love Never Dieswith perfection. He brings down the house with the opening number Til I Hear You Singand is given an early opportunity to not only demonstrate his chops but also his expert breathing and spacing techniques.

He is matched by the equally talented Meghan Picerno, who meshes entirely with Murphy in strikingly beautiful and soaring numbers like Beneath a Moonless Skyand Once Upon Another Time.The performance by Karen Mason as Madame Giry is also incredibly strong. She articulates the duplicitous nature of her character exceedingly well, and brings the house down in the final number of Act I. Mary Michael Patterson plays Giry’s daughter Meg, who gets several numbers that allow her to showcase her immense talent and vocal abilities. Sean Thompson (fresh from the Broadway revival of Sunset Boulevard) portrays a very unlikeable Raoul and fulfills the role exquisitely.

Due to his age, the actor playing Gustave varies. Jake Heston Miller played the role in both performances I saw in Dallas and was marvelous, although assisted with some backtracking in The Beauty Underneaththat largely escaped the audience’s notice. This number is his duet with the Phantom at the end of Act One, which has been reworked for the touring production. While the number is still outstanding, it is not as good as the version of the song as heard in the Australian and London productions. Fleck (Katrina Kemp), Richard Koons (Squelch), and Stephen Petrovich (Gangle) also give strong performances as the Phantom’s henchman. Their characters help interweave scenes and set changes while interjecting some comedic relief and adding to the mysterious air of the story.

The sets (supervised by Edward Pierce, the Broadway set designer of countless Broadway shows, including Wicked and Bright Star) work flawlessly, utilizing a turntable that centers and shifts much of the action. This is joined oftentimes with large left and right stage pieces that, along with some amazing lighting (by Nick Schlieper), create an ultimately dark and incredibly appropriate setting. The costumes (designed by Gabriella Tylesova, also responsible for the show’s scenic design) are also magnificent and couldn’t be any more (at times) beautiful, opulent, and seamless.

Spectacular performances punctuated with truly phenomenal singing combine with a gorgeously beautiful and lush score, perfectly implemented sets, costume, and lighting to produce what is simply put, one of the best pieces of musical theater to ever grace the stage. It will be truly a travesty if Love Never Diesis unable to make it to Broadway, where it rightly belongs. But of course, to make that happen, millions of dollars are needed. And in an ever-increasingly competitive landscape, getting a show to a Broadway stage takes an incredible amount of risk, even for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who has probably the best track record of success of any Broadway composer in history.

So—don’t risk waiting for Love Never Diesto make its way to NYC. Find out where the tour is stopping near you and GO SEE IT!It far eclipses most of the current showson Broadway and achieves the rare feat of surpassing its predecessor. Andrew Lloyd Webber and his creative team have created a masterpiece that here, has been placed in the hands of performers who have ensured it is executed with absolute sheer perfection.

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