By Daniel Skora
It’s a softer, kindlier Phantom that’s returned in Andrew Lloyd Weber’s sequel to his phenomenally successful musical “The Phantom of the Opera”. Love, of course, can do that to the most tormented of hearts, and “Love Never Dies” focuses not on the story of a deranged genius but rather on a man desperate to be with the woman he loves.
“Love Never Dies” is opening its new North American Tour at Detroit’s Fisher Theatre with a stunning production that features glittering sets, dazzling costumes, and soaring vocals. The time is 1907, ten years after the events of the original “Phantom” took place. The Phantom has escaped the authorities and now resides in New York where he’s a shadowy figure among the freaks and oddities of Coney Island. He’s also the owner of the nearby vaudeville theatre Phantasma. Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her daughter Meg (Mary Michael Patterson) also appear in the musical, having been of service to the Phantom in his escape from London.
The Phantom’s former protégé Christine Daaé (Meghan Picerno), now a world renowned soprano, is coming to New York to give a recital at the invitation she believes came from Oscar Hammerstein. Very soon she will discover that the invitation had in fact been made by the Phantom. Christine has brought along her husband Raoul (Sean Thompson), her love interest from the original musical, and her ten year old son Gustave (alternately played in the production by Casey J. Lyons and Jake Heston Miller). In the years that have intervened, Raoul is no longer the man he once was, having accumulated considerable gambling debts and taken to drink.
What ensues when all parties come together is a tug-of-war between The Phantom and Raoul for the very soul of Christine, with Madame Giry and Meg involved in a subplot that involves the son Gustave.
Though the musical’s storyline pales in comparison to that of its big brother, “Love Never Dies” is an interesting and entertaining successor. The show’s sets, which include scenes at Coney Island’s side shows, are spectacular. Though the musical contains no songs that can compete with the best from the original “Phantom”, the score is uniformly excellent. Opening night saw understudy Bronson Norris Murphy playing the role of The Phantom, and what he lacked in physical stature, he more than made up with his magnificent vocals. (The lead is normally played by Gardar Thor Cortes.) Picerno was equally outstanding as Christine, turning in a tear jerking rendition of the title song. Others featured in the cast of thirty include Katrina Kemp (Fleck), Stephen Petrovich (Gangle), and Richard Koons (Squelch).
A special treat for the opening night audience was seeing its creator Andrew Lloyd Webber sitting in the audience enjoying his creation and taking a bow onstage with the cast at curtain call.
Music for “Love Never Dies” is by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics are by Glenn Slater with additional lyrics by Charles Hart. Book is by Webber and Ben Elton. Set and costume design are by Gabriela Tylesova.
“Love Never Dies” runs through October 29th. Tickets are available at the Fisher Theatre Box Office, all Ticketmaster locations, by phone at 1.800.982.2787, and online at www.BroadwayinDetroit.com or www.TicketMaster.com.