by Noemi Arellano-Summer
Photography courtesy of Boston Theatre
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2010 Love Never Dies, the sequel to 1986’s Phantom of the Opera, is a beautifully-designed musical albeit one with a misguided, clunky storyline.
It is loosely based on Frederick Forsyth’s 1990 novel The Phantom of Manhattan. Webber began working on the project in 1990, but didn’t start writing the music until 2007. The project was further delayed because in May of that year, Webber’s 6-month-old kitten Otto climbed onto his digital keyboard and deleted all the work Webber completed.
The long-awaited project officially opened in London’s West End in 2010 to mixed reviews. The show was rewritten and redesigned for an Australian production in 2011, which was better received. Plans for a Broadway run were extended and continuously cancelled. Over the next few years, the show ran in Copenhagen, Vienna, Japan and Germany.
In late 2017, the show began a national U.S. tour, which made its Boston debut on January 30. The show plans to go to 25 cities through September of this year. It will run through February 11 at the Boston Opera House.
The story takes place in 1907. The titular Phantom (played by the alternate, Bronson Norris Murphy) smuggled his way out of France with the help of Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her daughter Meg (Mary Michael Patterson). Now known as “Mr. Y,” he runs a popular freak show carnival on Coney Island called “Phantasma.”
Now an internationally renowned opera singer, Christine Daae (Meghan Picerno) takes a lucrative New York job offered by Oscar Hammerstein. Her goal is to use the money to cover her husband Raoul’s (Sean Thompson) gambling debts. He and their young son Gustave (Casey Lyons) accompanies her to New York.
The design of the production shines, especially as so many of the scenes require extensive props, including a carriage, a mirrored set of doors, a bar and the brightly lit stage and backstage of Phantasma. The costumes are also exquisite, particularly the Phantom’s long coat and Christine’s deep green performance dress.
Murphy and Picerno push their classical opera training to the limit with several aching duets; “Beneath a Moonless Sky” and “Once Upon Another Time” stand out as two of the more enthralling pieces. Picerno especially proves herself as a true leading soprano with the stunning title track “Love Never Dies.” Lyons is an exciting find, with a haunting voice that soars, particularly in the quartet reprise of “Devil Takes the Hindmost” and “The Beauty Underneath.”
The scheming Mason and bubbly yet emotionally suffering Patterson work well together as a mother-daughter team. Despite all they have done for the Phantom, the pair still feels underappreciated.
Patterson is noteworthy for her performance “Bathing Beauty,” which features six on-stage costume changes. Patterson’s performances also reflect a heavy vaudeville influence, bringing out the lifestyle behind the Phantasma rehearsals and performances.
Thompson’s Raoul is an annoying tag-along character for the majority of Act One. He even has a song about it, titled “What a Dreadful Town!” His and Christine’s marriage suffers due to his drinking, gambling and debts, and it is only in Act Two that he tries to fix anything. Thompson plays this character well, but Weber’s characterization is a disservice to the complexity of his original role in Phantom.
Despite the glamorous costumes and extensive, colorful cast of character, the musical lacks a comprehensible, cohesive story to keep the audience’s attention. Despite the extensive rewrites, Act One is a confusing mess of changing character motivations, as well as having a somewhat contrived premise. Act Two centers on a few key plot points, and therefore flows better, bringing Love Never Dies to a resounding conclusion that is hard to see coming.
With starting prices at $44, Love Never Dies will stay at the gorgeous Boston Opera House until February 11, after which it will move onto the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago, IL.