LOVE NEVER DIES full of songs and spectacle

LOVE NEVER DIES is a sequel, and according to the creator, also able to be a standalone piece to its famous predecessor THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. Playing at the San Diego Civic Theatre through Sunday, April 1st, this show is much like the Phantom at its core; it’s over dramatic, tortured, longing to be loved, and not afraid to use a heavy dose of revisionist history and reminiscence to get it. Never fear, if you loved the original then you will love this show for those very same reasons.

It opens with the Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes) alone at his organ, as if he never left it in the first place. He is no longer beneath a Paris opera house; no he’s moved on to dwell underneath a carnival at Coney Island, naturally. After the opera house fell, the Phantom fled to New York and renaming himself Mr. Y started a fantastically (phantasmically?) successful freak show.

LOVE NEVER DIES

Ten years have passed. He has money, power, and a whole troupe of freaks, dancers, and performers ready to entertain and delight audiences. What he does not have is his beloved Christine singing his songs any longer. Even after a decade he can’t shake her memory or her voice from his head as he sings to her portrait (which is no way to successfully recover from a break up).

He is delighted when he finds out that Christine (Meghan Picerno), her husband Raoul (Michael Gillis), and their son Gustav (Jake Heston Miller) are coming to New York so she can perform. Raoul has developed a bit of  drinking and gambling problems in the last ten years and marriage and a kid have turned the lovers into snarky shadows of their former selves. Seizing this opportunity, the Phantom finds a way to turn the tables to his advantage and get the family to his venue so he can see his precious Christine once more.

This show has many elements that fans of the original production will enjoy. It has massive and intricate sets, gorgeous costumes, and fantastic singing. The music is opulent, full of lush strings, roaring crescendos, excessive melodramatics, and old school spectacle.

Cortes and Picerno are excellent singers and elevate what they have to work with both in plot and score. Cortes has an excellent and powerful voice, showcased well in the songs. Yet, the music is missing the sophistication and the seduction of the original Phantom’s songs, which make this incarnation seem less intriguing and more brash and bullying.

In the original when the Phantom appears in the mirror it can seem to some romantic and mysterious, now it just feels like a histrionic stalker. Where before he was a crazed but brilliant and manipulative outsider willing to send chandeliers crashing into an audience to compel others to let Christine sing his music, it is harder to root for this more emo and obsessive Phantom who holds all of the power and influence in the situation.

Picerno easily and beautifully hits Christine’s high notes. She fully takes the spotlight and leaves the audience breathless and applauding during the second acts title song “Love Never Dies.”

Stern ballet mistress Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her daughter Meg (Mary Michael Patterson) are back from the original as well. Madame and Meg have are the reason the Phantom could escape and find success. Madame schemes for more power and control, while Meg is heartsick for some form of encouragement from their mysterious boss after all that she has sacrificed.

Mason, as Meg has a lovely voice and brings much needed lightness to the boardwalk with her “Bathing Beauty” number, a piece that harkens back to burlesque style fun with multiple costume changes.

While plot may never be the strongest suit of Andrew Lloyd Webber show, this one has been worked and re-worked, both in London and Australia, before coming to the States and even with all of that work it is still filled with seemingly absurd plot points and melodrama.

It has been called both a standalone and a sequel to the original PHANTOM, so don’t worry if you’ve never seen it because this show has a lot of exposition. Some of these moments are to fill in the gaps in time, but a lot of it is to rewrite some of the interactions in the original between the Phantom and Christine to better suit the current plot.

As the Phantom sings near the end of the show “Diamonds never sparkle bright if they aren’t set just right”, this show has the potential but the story setting and elements don’t let it sparkle as brightly as it could. Still those who love Webber and his Phantom will find themselves standing and cheering like the audience sitting around me. This one is for those whose love for the Phantom never died.

LOVE NEVER DIES is playing through April 1st at the San Diego Civic Theatre. For tickets and showtime information go to Broadway San Diego at www.broadwaysd.com

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