“LOVE NEVER DIES” is currently playing the KeyBank State Theatre at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square now through January 28, 2018, and the lifeblood of this production lies in the awesomeness of the cast, and the pretty things that surround them.
The show has music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater, book by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Ben Elton, additional lyrics by Charles Hart, and Orchestrations by David Cullen & Andrew Lloyd Webber. But despite these big names, the elephant in the room is this: WHY?! Here’s the plot (the praise of the cast is coming, so bear with the summary first).
“The year is 1907. It is 10 years after his disappearance from the Paris Opera House and The Phantom has escaped to a new life in New York where he lives amongst the screaming joy rides and freak shows of Coney Island. He has never stopped yearning for his one true love and musical protégée, Christine Daaé (who believes him to be dead).
Now one of the world’s finest sopranos, Christine accepts an invitation to travel from Paris to New York to perform at a renowned opera house. Christine’s marriage to Raoul is suffering at the hands of his drinking and gambling and they desperately need the financial rewards that America can give them… but, The Phantom lures her, Raoul, and their young son Gustave, from Manhattan to the glittering and glorious world of Coney Island – not knowing what is in store for them.”
There will be a few paragraphs further on in this article about why all of the above is a bad idea – so if you’re here for that please scroll further down*.
What is the most wonderfully baffling about “Love Never Dies” is the fact that there are so many amazing elements to the production – despite the story. The greatest asset to the show is the robustly talented cast of brave souls singing their hearts out with tremendous skill, acting the hell out of characters that are nothing like the originals that the world came to know and love back in the original “The Phantom of the Opera” days. The cast members are powerful. They are fearless. They are brimming with artistic gifts.
VIDEO INTERVIEWS WITH THE “LOVE NEVER DIES” CAST
CLICK HERE for cast members KAREN MASON (Madame Giry) and MARY MICHAEL PATTERSON (Meg Giry) as they talk about their musical influences, tour life, advice for performers and more!
CLICK HERE for cast members KATRINA KEMP (Fleck), RICHARD KOONS (Squelch), and STEPHEN PETROVICH (Gangle) as this trio talks about their audition experiences, growing up performers, and what’s in their suitcases!
CLICK HERE for cast members MEGHAN PICERNO (Christine) and SEAN THOMPSON (Raoul) as they discuss first ever musical roles, training, advice for performers, and who got their suitcase under the weight limit at the airport on January 1!
The production itself has so many beautifully layered costumes, fantastic makeup, curious and detailed set pieces, combined with lighting to rival a rock show. The spectacle is gorgeous. Mirrors, staircases, a huge turntable, tracking and human set movement bring to life ginormous environments backed with hundreds of lights and drops to make one gasp.
*And yet none of this can save the story. Yes, friends, this is the point in the article where questions arise.
THE FREAK SHOW: Part of the allure and mystery of the original “The Phantom of the Opera” is the Paris setting with the creepy opera house and its vast catacombs. Although the theory is that the Phantom grew up in a carnival and that he now feels safe in the familiar setting of the Coney Island freak show (which is exquisitely imagined by the designers), the feeling is that the place is no more than a sad backdrop to the story – the drama could actually take place anywhere (a lake, a castle, a beach.) The shadowy yet colorful new home of the characters almost feels thrown away and out of place.
THE STORY: The characters we’ve come to know and love are ghosts of their originals. Christine’s hope and curiosity are crushed by Raoul’s jerkish behavior (apparently he’s a gambler and a drunk now?!) The Phantom himself is just kind of a weird shade of “emo Phantom,” and their reunion comes across like some awkward modern Dr. Phil episode about past lovers returning to torture themselves over a youthful relationship gone wrong. Again – pointing out that this has nothing to do with the efforts of the actors themselves, but the way they are written for the unnecessary sequel. The awkward luring, the weird deception, the romantic “uncertainty,” and a very unsatisfying ending all make this tale a tough one.
THE MUSIC: Lacking the blockbuster might of hits that populated “The Phantom of the Opera,” the score is patchy, at best. Although there are a few lovely moments, the whimsy gets lost when the overall tone of the musical is jolted by a burst of what one audience member categorized as “sudden heavy metal,” as Webber goes from an enchanting tune like “Beautiful” into “The Beauty Underneath” – the most completely out-of-place number in the show. Think “death guitars”… thank you.
Despite numerous points causing audience members to wonder what the author was smoking, the show has several moments that are worth noting.
Christine’s song “Look With Your Heart” is a touching piece that exudes a mother’s strength and wisdom. Here, Christine sings to Gustave – the delivery is exquisite, and the moments between them are heartwarming.
Christine’s final performance of the title song “Love Never Dies” is both visually stunning as it is vocally incredible. She appears in a gorgeous blue gown, adorned in jewels, and is framed by a rich, layered peacock backdrop that transports the audience to another realm. And of course, Picerno’s performance is magical and heartbreaking.
Meg’s one-off performance of “Bathing Beauty” is adorable, as the song is light and showcases a fun strip-tease of sorts as she changes costumes several times on stage during this peppy beach number. Out of place? Maybe a little – but it’s an audition of sorts for her “act” and it’s a nice “up” moment for a show that’s such a downer.
Gangle, Fleck, and Squelch are three under-utilized and underappreciated new characters that could be used a lot more. Dolled up in circus garb with freak show makeup and plenty of physical movement, the trio works like a well-oiled creep machine. So much potential!
Gustave is a rock star. Jake Heston Miller (playing the part on the evening of the review) will no doubtedly have his own gig of some sort, and be making a lot more money than this reviewer well before he’s even old enough to drive a car. THE PIPES ON THIS YOUNG ACTOR ARE ASTONISHING!
Cortes is overall outstanding vocally as the Phantom. He never misses a nuance in any of the notes, and in general everything that comes out of his mouth is a treasure. But a special moment right at the end hits hardest, as the Phantom sings a reprise of “Love Never Dies” to Gustave. There is so much weight in the delivery of his words. The emotion is so palpable, that it resonates not only in the ears, but in the soul.
A shout out to the hard-working crew and excellent orchestra for keeping the chaos together. The talent on the tour is both on stage and off. It’s just too bad they don’t have something a little more cohesive to work on.
There is truly a lot of energy and care put into this musical by many different people. It is apparent that the cast, crew and production staff have done everything to make this show accessible to audiences. The applause here goes to all of these people.
“Love Never Dies” plays the KeyBank State Theatre at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square now through January 28, 2018. For tickets, visit playhousesquare.org or call 216-241-6000.
For more information on the production, please visit www.loveneverdies.com/ustour.