Entertainment » Theatre

Love Never Dies

by Jack Gardner
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Nov 10, 2017
Love Never Dies

On November 7, The Broward Center for the Performing Arts in association with Broadway Across America presented the South Florida Premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Love Never Dies."

This show, which opened in London in 2010, was conceived as a sequel to Lloyd Webber's immensely popular 1988 musical "The Phantom of the Opera." Like many sequels, it does not quite live up to its predecessor.

There is much to love about "Love Never Dies" and there is much to hate and a bit that is mediocre. The biggest problem with the show, which has yet to have a Broadway run, is the book and lyrics by Ben Elton, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth. The sheer number of book writers credited should give you a hint at the problems. Since its 2010 London production it has been revised multiple times, but the lyrics are still cringeworthy at times and the plot has a lot of holes.

In a nutshell, "Love Never Dies" asks you to believe that Christine and The Phantom shared a night of passion during "Phantom of the Opera" that resulted in a child. Now, going back and listening to the Original Cast Album of "Phantom" I can, in no place, find where this may have happened, and it would seem drastically out of character for Christine, but for the sake of argument, let's run with it.

So, Christine obviously passes off the child as Raoul's since she marries him, but he obviously suspects. Raoul gambles away all their money and Christine is having to take singing engagements to pay off their debts. Now it is 1907 and she is offered a lucrative contract to come to America to sing for Oscar Hammerstein. This is where the show opens.

In the 10 years that have passed between "Phantom" and this show, The Phantom has relocated, for some unknown and bizarre reason, to Coney Island where he now runs a freak show with the help of his long-time compatriot Madam Giry. Madam's daughter, Meg, is the star of the show. Lo and behold, the Phantom, still obsessed after all this time, hears of Christine's arrival in America and offers her a more lucrative contract to make her debut at his theater. Suspension of disbelief is needed here because no opera singer in her right mind would make a debut at Coney Island but, moving on.

During the course of this, the Phantom figures out that Gustave might actually be his son. End of Act One.

Raoul figures out what's going on and he objects. He and the Phantom make a bet that if Christine sings, Raoul will leave but if Christine cancels, the Phantom will disappear from their lives. Christine is as stupid in this show as she was in "Phantom" so despite Raoul's pleading, she sings and Raoul attempts to leave.

The villain of the piece however, is not the Phantom but Meg Giry, who is upset that she has been, once again, upstaged by Christine. She takes Gustave to a pier with a gun. Of course, everyone chases after her and there's a big melodramatic ending after the eleven-o'clock number and one of the characters gets shot and dies. I won't tell you who, but I am sure you can figure it out... it's not The Phantom.

This plot has more holes than Swiss cheese and a friend of mine who happened to be at opening night dubbed the show "Baby Daddy The Musical" during intermission. She wasn't wrong.

Still, Lloyd-Webber's score has some high points. They are mostly the quotes from the original "Phantom of the Opera." The music of "Love Never Dies" is pleasant enough but somewhat unmemorable. The tunes you walk out humming are "Prima Donna" and "Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again" which are from the original show.

The eleven-o'clock number, the titular "Love Never Dies" is nice enough but feels like an aria written for a soprano past her prime rather than someone who is at the peak of her career. It is musically challenging and there are no fireworks. Even 1907 audiences would have been bored with it. If the repeat had been given some ornaments and vocal fireworks, it would have been a much more memorable and moving piece, but as it stands it is nice but forgettable.

The best new number in the production is the "Dear Old Friend" quartet near the end of Act One. Sung by Christine, Raoul, Meg and Madame Giry, this is a charming piece and one of the highlights of the show.

The worst number in the show is also in Act One. "The Beauty Underneath" is Gustave and The Phantom and in the middle of it we have a nice rock and roll riffed-out version of the original "Phantom of the Opera" song, which feels sonically and musically out of place with the rest of the score. It is jarring and I understand why it is there dramatically to tie the two shows together but it could have been orchestrated better to make it fit more cohesively into the whole.

All of this aside, I can give you three reasons to attend this production: Meghan Picerno, Mary Michael Patterson and Karen Mason. These three leading ladies in their respective roles of Christine Daaé de Chagny, Meg Giry and Madame Giry, are delightful and talented beyond reason. Their performances on a blank stage would make this show palatable. Luckily, they had more than that to work with.

Picerno has a lovely coloratura soprano voice that is under-utilized by Lloyd Webber's score. It doesn't matter. Every note she sings is a gold-encrusted bubble that floats through the theater. It is absolutely delightful. It's hard to judge her appropriately as an actress because the script is so melodramatic but as a singer she is brilliant.

Patterson has a less operatic but no less charming voice. She is perky and bubbly during her numbers and is fun to watch on stage. She doesn't make a very good villain at the end but, once again, I think that is more the script that the actress. Her "Bathing Beauty" number was fun to watch.

Mason is a well-known and much-loved Broadway veteran. She is a seasoned performer and in the role of Madame Giry she is perfect. The only flaw could be that she is not on stage enough. Her belter's voice is a nice contrast to the voices of the two younger women and she shows the most emotion of any of the characters on stage during her Act One closer "Ten Long Years."

In the role of Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, Sean Thompson is handsome and pleasant. For the opening performance, Casey Lyons sang the child's role of Gustave and he did it very well.

As the Phantom, Gardar Thor Cortes seemed to be having some problems on opening nights, there were cracks and obvious wrong notes. His big Act One duet with Christine "Once Upon Another Time" had moments that seemed shockingly out of tune. You can tell from listening to it, that the score is a punishing sing for the Phantom, who apparently can never decide if he is a high tenor or a bass-baritone, and Cortes' voice may simply just be tired.

The set and costumes, designed by Gabriela Tylesova, is amazing. Dazzling lights and sweeping curves that evoke the Belle Époque, Art Nouveau and all of the tackiness that was Coney Island at the turn of the 20th Century. Tylesova nailed this design and it is a shame that New York critics won't get to see it. It is the true showstopper of "Love Never Dies."

Sound Designer Mick Potter is the first tour sound designer who has managed to defeat the Broward Center Curse of inaudible lyrics and dialogue. Except for a few minutes at the very beginning, the sound was crystal clear and completely intelligible.

Music Director Dale Rieling conducted the 14-piece orchestra as if he were conducting a Beethoven symphony. Which is as it should be.

At the end of the day "Love Never Dies" is enjoyable fluff. You will have a nice two and a half hours, hear some good singing and see an amazing set. Then you will go home and put on your CD of "Phantom of the Opera." The show is worth seeing, but probably won't have a long-lasting emotional impact.

"Love Never Dies" runs through November 19 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Ave. in Fort Lauderdale, FL, 33312. For tickets and information, call 954-462-0222 or visit BrowardCenter.org

Jack Gardner has been producing theater in Dallas and Fort Lauderdale for the past 8 years. He has performed in operas, musicals and dramatic works as well as doing voice-over and radio work. Jack lives in South Florida with his three dogs.


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