‘Love Never Dies’ stands superbly on its own

by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

When you have a favorite movie, television show, or stage musical, you probably imagine what happens to the characters after the end credits.

Movie studios know this and often will offer sequels that do just that. They ask a director and screenwriter to dream up a story that answers the question, what happened next?

Sometimes, the sequels are just as beloved such as “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” Sometimes, they land with a thud like the superfluous “Home Alone 3.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” is adored by his many fans. And many of the fans of the show will see the show again and again and again.

So, we can understand why Andrew Lloyd Webber teamed up with Glenn Slater (lyrics) and Ben Elton (book) to provide audiences with a “Phantom….” sequel, “Love Never Dies.”

The creators could at least justify the existence of a “Phantom…” sequel because noted author Frederick Forsythe (“Day of the Jackal” and “The Odessa Files”) had written a sequel himself, “”The Phantom of Manhattan,” which provided the bones for the book of “Love Never Dies.”

But, still, when “Love Never Dies,” which arrived in Hartford on May 29 after never reaching Broadway, the question loomed—was it going to be any good? Was the audience going to be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as the original “Phantom of the Opera?”

First of all, if you’re going to make a direct comparison with “Phantom of the Opera,” you’ll find “Love Never Dies” is lacking. It’s lacking the big tunes that made “Phantom” a sensation. And the fact that the score alludes to some of those “tunes,” such as “Music of the Night,” even Webber knew audiences would need a reminder of the first “Phantom…” to keep themselves humming.

However, if you take “Love Never Dies” as its own entity, it is very entertaining.

The show finds the Phantom still alive, having been whisked off to America by two of his minions. In America, he sets down in Coney Island and becomes the impresario behind a freak show/ circus on the boardwalk. The story is set into motion when he learns his love from the original, Christine Daaé, is due to arrive in America for a performance—and she is accompanied by her husband Raoul and her son Gustave.

The score, other than the climax “Love Never Dies,” lacks that pop punch that “Phantom of the Opera” had. There are no real “singles” to squirm its way into the Top 40.

However, the score probably is more “classical,” more “orchestral” than “Phantom of the Opera.” And the ensemble numbers like, “Bathing Beauty” are less jarring to the flow of the plot.

The atmosphere also is darker than the original. There is a nightmarish, hallucinatory feel to the set and costume design by Gabriela Tlesova and the lighting design by Nick Schlieper. It reminded me of steampunk meets “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”

This production also plays down some of the melodramatic plot histrionics of the original.

The road show is also bolstered by the performances of the cast.

Meghan Picerno, as Christine, does a superb job with the vocal gymnastics Webber has created for her character. She also does a fine job portraying the turmoil she faces as she must choose between her love for The Phantom and her husband Raoul—and keeping her son safe.

For the May 29 performance, Bronson Norris Murphy—The Phantom’s understudy—took to the stage. Although Murphy may have been a little more physically slight in how I imagine the Phantom to be, vocally, he did a superb job stepping in to perform at press night at The Bushnell. Again, like Picerno, he easily handled the melodic gymnastics created by Webber.

The Phantom’s Coney Island minions—Fleck (played by Katrina Kemp), Gangle (Stephen Petrovich, and Squelch (Richard Koons) did a great job in playing creepy “freaks,” doing their master’s bidding. They added to the nightmarish bent of the show.

Jake Heston Miller, who plays Christine’s young son Gustave, also was delightful. His boy’s soprano was freakishly strong and he gave the older vocalists a run for their money.

Sean Thompson, as Raoul, also gave the most emotionally nuanced performance of the evening. He was a man who tried to be all bluster and dignity, but had feet of clay as he watched his world changing in the wake of nearly losing everything.

“Love Never Dies” in many ways works because it is more intimate. We don’t have to contend with the awe of the Phantom’s lair and the celebrated chandelier. This show is more about the characters than the mechanics. And it is a show that is more about performance than spectacle like the original “Phantom…” was.

Does “Love Never Dies” best “Phantom of the Opera?” Not really. Does it work as a piece of art on its own? Yes, it does. And the creative team and cast have crafted an intriguing, enjoying, and immensely watchable piece of musical theater as long as you recognize that this isn’t “Phantom of the Opera.”

I give “Love Never Dies” three out of four stars.

“Love Never Dies” continues at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford through Sunday, June 3. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Matinees are Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

For tickets, go to bushnell.org

When you have a favorite movie, television show, or stage musical, you probably imagine what happens to the characters after the end credits.

Movie studios know this and often will offer sequels that do just that. They ask a director and screenwriter to dream up a story that answers the question, what happened next?

Sometimes, the sequels are just as beloved such as “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.” Sometimes, they land with a thud like the superfluous “Home Alone 3.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Phantom of the Opera” is adored by his many fans. And many of the fans of the show will see the show again and again and again.

So, we can understand why Andrew Lloyd Webber teamed up with Glenn Slater (lyrics) and Ben Elton (book) to provide audiences with a “Phantom….” sequel, “Love Never Dies.”

The creators could at least justify the existence of a “Phantom…” sequel because noted author Frederick Forsythe (“Day of the Jackal” and “The Odessa Files”) had written a sequel himself, “”The Phantom of Manhattan,” which provided the bones for the book of “Love Never Dies.”

But, still, when “Love Never Dies,” which arrived in Hartford on May 29 after never reaching Broadway, the question loomed—was it going to be any good? Was the audience going to be disappointed that it wasn’t as good as the original “Phantom of the Opera?”

First of all, if you’re going to make a direct comparison with “Phantom of the Opera,” you’ll find “Love Never Dies” is lacking. It’s lacking the big tunes that made “Phantom” a sensation. And the fact that the score alludes to some of those “tunes,” such as “Music of the Night,” even Webber knew audiences would need a reminder of the first “Phantom…” to keep themselves humming.

However, if you take “Love Never Dies” as its own entity, it is very entertaining.

The show finds the Phantom still alive, having been whisked off to America by two of his minions. In America, he sets down in Coney Island and becomes the impresario behind a freak show/ circus on the boardwalk. The story is set into motion when he learns his love from the original, Christine Daaé, is due to arrive in America for a performance—and she is accompanied by her husband Raoul and her son Gustave.

The score, other than the climax “Love Never Dies,” lacks that pop punch that “Phantom of the Opera” had. There are no real “singles” to squirm its way into the Top 40.

However, the score probably is more “classical,” more “orchestral” than “Phantom of the Opera.” And the ensemble numbers like, “Bathing Beauty” are less jarring to the flow of the plot.

The atmosphere also is darker than the original. There is a nightmarish, hallucinatory feel to the set and costume design by Gabriela Tlesova and the lighting design by Nick Schlieper. It reminded me of steampunk meets “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”

This production also plays down some of the melodramatic plot histrionics of the original.

The road show is also bolstered by the performances of the cast.

Meghan Picerno, as Christine, does a superb job with the vocal gymnastics Webber has created for her character. She also does a fine job portraying the turmoil she faces as she must choose between her love for The Phantom and her husband Raoul—and keeping her son safe.

For the May 29 performance, Bronson Norris Murphy—The Phantom’s understudy—took to the stage. Although Murphy may have been a little more physically slight in how I imagine the Phantom to be, vocally, he did a superb job stepping in to perform at press night at The Bushnell. Again, like Picerno, he easily handled the melodic gymnastics created by Webber.

The Phantom’s Coney Island minions—Fleck (played by Katrina Kemp), Gangle (Stephen Petrovich, and Squelch (Richard Koons) did a great job in playing creepy “freaks,” doing their master’s bidding. They added to the nightmarish bent of the show.

Jake Heston Miller, who plays Christine’s young son Gustave, also was delightful. His boy’s soprano was freakishly strong and he gave the older vocalists a run for their money.

Christian Harmston, as Raoul, also gave the most emotionally nuanced performance of the evening. He was a man who tried to be all bluster and dignity, but had feet of clay as he watched his world changing in the wake of nearly losing everything.

“Love Never Dies” in many ways works because it is more intimate. We don’t have to contend with the awe of the Phantom’s lair and the celebrated chandelier. This show is more about the characters than the mechanics. And it is a show that is more about performance than spectacle like the original “Phantom…” was.

Does “Love Never Dies” best “Phantom of the Opera?” Not really. Does it work as a piece of art on its own? Yes, it does. And the creative team and cast have crafted an intriguing, enjoying, and immensely watchable piece of musical theater as long as you recognize that this isn’t “Phantom of the Opera.”

I give “Love Never Dies” three out of four stars.

“Love Never Dies” continues at The Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford through Sunday, June 3. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Matinees are Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

For tickets, go to bushnell.org