Dallas — After a run on West End and several international tours, the first North American production of Love Never Dies sweeps into the Music Hall at Fair Park, presented by Dallas Summer Musicals. The much-anticipated sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic hit Phantom of the Opera premiered in 2010 and has enjoyed worldwide success. The book by Ben Elton is based on Frederick Forsyth’s The Phantom of Manhattan.
This incarnation directed by Simon Phillips features an extensive facelift from its original London opening, with set and costume design by Gabriela Tylesova, choreography by Graeme Murphy, lighting design by Nick Schlieper. Music by Webber and lyrics by Glenn Slater (with Webber and David Cullen providing orchestrations) receive a solid treatment by the large orchestra conducted by Dale Rieling.
The musical’s plot picks up about 10 years after the tragic events at the Paris Opera House, and the Phantom (Bronson Norris Murphy) has escaped to New York City where he directs a popular feature at Coney Island. Christine Daae (Meghan Picerno) travels to the bustling city through an invitation to sing, which she accepts due to her family’s desperate financial situation. Through trickery that only the Phantom can conjure, Christine, Raoul (Sean Thompson), and their son Gustave (Jake Heston Miller on press night) find themselves in the eerily whimsical world on Coney Island where old friends reunite, plot turns abound, and Christine must make a choice once more.
The production overall is a polarizing mixed bag, in that the elements are either extremely well done or absolutely dismal. The moments it gets right are executed so magnificently, I’d recommend seeing it just for those parts; but the negatives are so laughable, confusing, or forgettable that it can take some serious mental power to set aside those details. It creates an odd viewing experience, so let’s start with the bad news.
Webber previously stated that this isn’t necessarily a sequel, rather another story with the two main characters, and it’s not necessary for an audience member to have seen the first one to enjoy this show. Maybe it’s a good thing to forget the course of events in Phantom, because some of the narrative leaps this production takes are quite incredible and confusing. It definitely requires the usual suspension-of-disbelief to be taken up a notch.
Other plot points and character development fall flat or prove utterly head-scratching. Also, for a story about music, many of the songs in this one are either bland or altogether disappointing, compared to those in Phantom.
Fortunately, production elements, staging, and execution redeem the dullness of the songs, and therein lies the show’s strongest aspects—if you can get past the absurd story and lackluster tunes. The world of Coney Island exudes a Tim Burton essence, from the set and light design to the costumes, with the performers’ movement qualities completing the fantastically odd aesthetic. The expanded entertainment world of the island provides ample opportunities to display multiple talents, and the evening includes much more dancing than Phantom.
All performers showcase exceptional talent and determined commitment to their roles, but a few shine the brightest. Picerno is the perfect Christine, with her exquisite singing and dramatic range, while Murphy rises up to the occasion as the intense, obsessed Phantom.
Miller absolutely steals the show, though. DSM audiences have seen some pretty outstanding child actors on the stage in recent shows, but he is by far the best; an absolute gem. The amount of talent required for his shining voice and sincere delivery is remarkable.
Katrina Kemp, Stephen Petrovich, and Richard Koons combine an uncanny physicality and embellished expressions for mesmerizing results, and their consistent presence proves a high point of the show.
Astounding performances are one reason to make it out to the Music Hall, as are enthralling visuals and intricate staging. That alone makes the less-than-stellar songs more appealing, and the rock anthem “The Beauty Underneath” is one that benefits from creative designing and choreography, making it the best one of the performance. A stunning costume and backdrop bolsters Picerno’s spotless performance of the titular song.
Overall, it’s an imaginative production. Just don’t think about the plot too much or overanalyze the music.
» Love Never Dies plays at the Music Hall at Fair Park through Aug. 5; and then plays Aug. 7-12 at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth.