‘Love Never Dies’: ‘Phantom of the Opera’ sequel has haunting power of its own (review)

January 13, 2018 GMT

‘Love Never Dies’: ‘Phantom of the Opera’ sequel has haunting power of its own (review)

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Did the world need a “Phantom of the Opera” theatrical sequel?

I’d lean toward “no.” Not because I don’t like “Phantom,” but rather because the story is complete as is ... not to mention one of the most perfect musicals of the last 30 years (and the longest-running show in Broadway history).

Andrew Lloyd Webber, however, said yes. And when the man who first brought “Phantom” to the stage — and of course, “Cats” and “Evita” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” — says yes, it happens. In a big way.

The sequel the impresario extraordinaire envisioned as far as back as 1990, and which opened in London in 2010, finally wound its way to Cleveland last week, directed by Simon Phillips.

Despite mostly tepid reviews in London and New York, the show at the State Theatre at Playhouse Square is thoroughly enjoyable, if not comparable to the great “Phantom.”

There’s no crashing chandelier, no “Music of the Night,” but several songs are as good as anything Lloyd Webber has written, including the tender ” ’Til I Hear You Sing” and the soaring title number. The kaleidoscopic sets re-creating early 1900s Coney Island are enchanting.

The cast is strong, too — especially the three leads, the Phantom (rich tenor Gardar Thor Cortes), Christine Daaé (thrilling soprano Meghan Picerno) and the angelic-voiced Jake Heston Miller as her young son, Gustave.

Set 10 years after the Phantom fled the Opera House and alleyways of Paris, the sequel has him now living in, of all places, Coney Island, New York. There, he runs a vaudeville-style freak show called Phantasma.

His show is populated by outcasts like himself: Fleck (Katrina Kemp), the sassy midget; Gangle (the lankily alluring Stephen Petrovich, channeling Tim Curry), the demented ringmaster; and the fat, tattooed Squelch (Richard Coons). His show also includes Meg Giry ( the sweet and sassy Mary Michael Patterson), who has followed him to New York with her mother, Madame Giry (a steely Karen Mason).

The Phantom is at home among these outsiders, and yet still he yearns for his one love, Christine, now a renowned diva, wife to Raoul (Sean Thompson) and mother of Gustave. So, he lures her to New York, to sing once more for him.

What follows is a dark and tragic melodrama. It doesn’t have the epic thrill of “Phantom” — what does? — but its conclusion has more emotional heft than a crashing chandelier. A few of the subplots are a bit convoluted, especially Meg’s, but no one is seeing Andrew Lloyd Webber for verisimilitude. They’re there for the songs, and spectacle. “Love Never Dies” does not disappoint on either count.

Gabriela Tylesova’s set and costume design is fantastic, in the most literal sense of the world, conjuring up turn-of-the-20th-century Coney Island from the boardwalk to the rides, stage and dressing rooms. Steampunks, carnies, society ladies and showgirls come alive in her whimsical designs.

Graeme Murphy’s choreography is equally striking, especially on the kicky vaudeville “Bathing Beauty” chorus girl romp led by Meg.

As fun as this frolic is, it’s the meatier operetta numbers that stand out: the eerie Phantom-Raoul duet “Dear Old Friend”; the swooning “Once Upon Another Time” interplay of Christine and the Phantom; the lilting “Look With Your Heart,” a duet of Christine and Gustave; and the Phantom’s gorgeous ” ’Til I Hear You Sing,” which opens the show.

But nothing tops the title track. “Love Never Dies” is a soaring tearjerker that brings down the house as Christine’s swan song. Soprano Picerno was flawless at Wednesday’s performance, her crystal soprano voice spiraling as she was framed in gorgeous peacock-inspired scenery and a stunning blue Edwardian gown.

“Love Never Dies” may not have the power of “Phantom of the Opera,” but this Coney Island fantasy has a haunting power of its own.

Love Never Dies

What: The KeyBank Broadway Series presents the sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera.” Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Slater, Ben Elton and Frederick Forsyth. Choreography by Graeme Murphy. Directed by Simon Phillips.

When: Through Sunday, Jan. 28. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays - Fridays; 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sundays.

Where: KeyBank State Theatre, Playhouse Square, downtown Cleveland.

Tickets: $29 - $109. Go to playhousesquare.org, call 216-241-6000 or visit the Playhouse Square ticket office at 1519 Euclid Avenue.

Approximate running time: 2 hours and 25 minutes.