It’s no ‘Phantom,’ but ‘Love’ is a grand spectacle
BOSTON – The problem for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was always: How do you follow up a show that’s been playing for 30 years on Broadway?
“The Phantom of the Opera” recently celebrated its 30-year run on Broadway, and the $845 million is has earned on Broadway is a fraction of the estimated $6 billion it has earned worldwide since it debuted in London in 1986.
So the biggest question dogging the team behind the sequel “Love Never Dies” was always: “Why?”
After you’ve hit a grand slam home run, the only place to go in your next at-bat is down.
So if I tell you that the national touring production of “Love Never Dies” at the Boston Opera House isn’t up to the standard set by “Phantom,” that doesn’t mean it couldn’t ultimately be successful.
The show has already been rewritten and remounted several times, and this revamped production that debuted in Australia would like to follow its “father” to Broadway. If only it could get on track earlier than the entr’acte at the beginning of Act II.
The book by Ben Elton based on the novel “The Phantom of Manhattan” has recycled many of the characters from the original “Phantom” and, indeed, Lloyd Webber has carried over whole swatches of music into the sequel.
“Love Never Dies” has many of the same qualities that helped make “Phantom” a hit: Spectacular production values, lush orchestrations by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber, familiar characters and a love story that seemingly ups the ante at every opportunity.
Still, the setup to get to the goods in the second act – even if Act I is indeed handsome and spectacular at times –is just too long and tedious. The story does ultimately have some fun twists and turns.
Music Director Dale Rieling has done a lot of great work at North Shore Music Theatre and here he and he and the orchestra give full voice to Lloyd Webber’s sumptuous score, with a title tune that you will hear many different times in many different ways before the final curtain.
As with “Phantom,” the money being spent is right up there on the stage as a theatrical spectacle of the first order, with superb sets, lighting, sound and costumes.
Ten years after the end of “Phantom,” the show is set in Brooklyn’s Coney Island in 1907. Ballet dancer Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson) and her mysterious mother, Madam Giry (Karen Mason) have helped The Phantom (Bronson Norris Murphy) escape from the Paris Opera House and get to New York City, where he takes up residence in Brooklyn’s Coney Island.
There he operates an attraction called Phantasma and his masked appearance as “Dr. Y” blends in with the other human oddities such as Fleck (Katrina Kemp), Gangle (Stephen Petrovich) and Squelch (Richard Koons).
The Girys have joined The Phantom there and Meg, finally out from under the shadow of soprano Christine Daae (Meaghan Picerno), is performing in the Phantasma (“Only For You”).
But things change quickly when Christine receives a substantial offer from Oscar Hammerstein – she believes – to perform at Phantasma.
To cover the gambling debts of husband Raoul (Sean Thompson), she accepts and her arrival, with Raoul and their precocious young son Gustave (an excellent Casey Lyons) in tow, includes a gilded carriage ride and a welcome from the freaks.
The invitation is real, but the person behind the invitation isn’t – it is The Phantom, ready to pick up where he left off a decade earlier, much to the consternation of not only Raoul but the Girys, who once again feel shunted aside.
If you hang in there, things really start to take off in Act II as Raoul and the Phantom face off with Christine as the stakes to the winner.
Gabriela Tykesova’s magnificent set designs and costumes allow scaffolding used one way to morph into a lit-up Coney Island; the scaffolding at times suggests a roller coaster. A giant archway in the shape of The Phantom’s mask often frames onstage scenes, and the costumes – especially in numbers such as “Bathing Beauties” – are simply sublime.
On press night at the Opera House, The Phantom was performed by listed understudy Murphy – whom you may have seen in North Shore Music Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol.” – and he was just fine, suitably overwrought when he had to be, while Picerno shines with every chance she gets. Thompson as Raoul doesn’t have quite the cachet of the other two principals but Lyons as Gustave is simply wonderful.
There are some fun production numbers linked to the Coney Island setting, including one in which Patterson as Meg Giry undergoes six – count ’em, six – costume changes on the fly in“Bathing Beauties.”
The ending is a Broadway-style tearjerker – watch out for the woman scorned – but it should satisfy those looking for an emotional fix.
Director Simon Phillips performs the role of ringmaster of all the elements with with aplomb.
Will “Love Never Dies” follow its “father” to Broadway? Possibly, if the tires of Act I can be pumped up a bit more.
The Troika Entertainment production of “Love Never Dies.” Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Ben Elton based on the novel “the Phantom of Manhattan” by Frederick Forsyth. Additional lyrics by Charles Hart. Directed by Simon Phillips. At the Boston Opera House through Feb. 11. broadwayinboston.com