Photos by Danny Knaub
By David Schultz
down from a yearlong tour this tantalizing sequel to the 30-year and still
running Phantom of The Opera is not to be missed. But alas, it is for
all the wrong reasons. Love Never Dies opened to a critically mixed
reception in 2009, and closed with a whimper 18 months later in its West End
run in London. No worries, Sir Andrew couldn’t let his most popular creation
wither and die…so it was rewritten, tweaked, shelved for a time, then with hope
everlasting, reborn yet again. The newly revamped production shifted scenes and
musical sections to accommodate its new direction and it debuted in Australia. It garnered a more positive response from audiences and critics, as it seemed to
work out the kinks from the original production.
major hurdle in both versions was the tepid book written by Ben Elton, based on
the novel “The Phantom of Manhattan” penned by Frederick Forsyth. Character
development and pacing were a major problem, as were the stilted lyrics by Glen
Slater. The simplistic color by numbers lyrics still remain with the new
version, with an assist by Charles Hart. Most theatergoers will find themselves
racing ahead of most songs, sensing what lyrics follow each other in rapid
fashion, innately smiling and groaning.
an unusual turn of events the Australian production was filmed and was offered
for sale to the general public for home viewing. As of this writing no plans
have been shored up for its final intended target…New York City. This current
expansive updated American tour would lead one to think that potential
producers and backers are waiting in the wings to drop their greenbacks to open
the show with a splash on the Great White Way. But for various reasons, it has
yet to come to fruition.
sequel now takes place in Coney Island circa 1907. Our beloved Phantom is the
secret impresario of a beachside freak show called ‘Phantasma’. His ballet
mistress from the Paris Opera House has joined the fold; Madame Giry (Karen
Mason) has also brought along her daughter Meg (Mary Michael Patterson) an
aspiring musical star to perform her sassy song and dance acts in the frequent freak
show musical acts. Both Madame and Meg have strong emotional ties to the
mysterious Phantom but these undercurrents are kept under wraps until the
second act when their true desires are fully exposed.
Phantom, ever the romantic fella, still burns a torch for his muse Christine,
and he obsesses over her with an unearthly passion and mad lust. Alas for his
yearnings and sorrow…she is coming to visit Coney Island, transformed into a
famous soprano, with her dour husband Raoul (Sean Thompson) in tow, as well as
their young son Gustave (Christian Harmston) making the family picture perfect.
Or so it seems. Christine is making her big musical splash in America,
as a famous impresario has set her up for her dazzling operatic debut. After
arriving into the port of New York, the Phantom intercepts her coach and offers
with a few mysterious street performers as their guide, a ride in a grand coach
that resembles a coffin in the manner of the Nosferatu film from the 1920’s to
a secure and desolate location...Which as it turns out, is actually on the
outskirts of the Phantasma fairgrounds.
is not well with Raoul and Christine, they are having various marital woes as
they warily circle around each other. When they are ensconced in their lavish
quarters, Raoul goes out for a walk alone, Gustave wanders outside as
well…..where did he go? (Cue the organ music please). The imposing armoire in
the sitting quarters is strangely lit, full length mirrors that front the armoire
open up to reveal the morose and lovelorn Phantom in full glory. He again
tempts the shell shocked Christine with his Svengali-like charms. Attempting to
sway her yet again to the dark side, she pulls away, yet knowing that the
initial spark of attraction from years ago still lies dormant.
Phantom insists that she sing…one last time for an aria he has penned just for
her. If not…hell hath no fury like a pissed off Phantom. The threat of
kidnapping her son is held as a veiled threat if she does not completely follow
throughout the evening three freak show performers gambol about and gleefully
give a menacing vibe as they ply their trade. Tall and loose limbed Gangle
(Stephen Petrovich), Squelch (Richard Koons) a rotund clownish dervish, and a 3.5
foot female dwarf named Fleck (Katrina Kemp) are deployed as entertainers and
sometime henchmen to do the bidding of their Phantom master.
plotlines are stretched out, toyed with….with varying degrees of success. The
overwrought dramatic steam ahead mode of stylistic performance is often
stifling. But if you filter the acting excess, and playing to the far reaches
of the back row sort of thing, it does resemble a silent film in full glory.
The eyes are dazzled by the gorgeous set and costume design by Gabriela
Tyesova. Nothing will ever match the original Phantom, but the visual aspect is
breathtaking and artfully executed with luxurious details. The elaborate
costumes are rendered in opulent style…nothing has been spared in the visual
aspect in this production. The music by Mr. Webber upon initial hearing is wan
and vaguely echoes the original classic work. Nothing on first hearing makes
you swoon, or sticks in your ear, as he is certainly wont to do. Upon second or
third hearing, one can discern a long melodic thru line. There is no denying
that this musical score attempts to ratchet up the romantic lushness of Mr.
Webber’s typical musical bombast. But time and again the mind and ear can’t
resist comparing this watered down version to the stunning original Phantom
fractured storyline of this sequel never fully coalesces into a satisfying
whole, as the tale finally reaches its tragic ending. Without giving away any
spoilers, I can assuredly state that there will not be a third continuation of
the tale. As for the potential of Love Never Dies opening on the Great
White Way, perhaps the producers of this still gestating tuner should enlist
the mesmerizing, magical powers of the Phantom to bring his Music of The Night
to his countless eager fans.
Philadelphia PA October 2nd-7th
October 16th -21st
Denver CO October 23rd-28th
Tulsa OK October 30th-November4th
City OK November 13th-18th
Rock AR November 20th-25th
Austin TX November 27th-December