"Love Never Dies" Is A Strange, Lifeless Start to the 2018-2019 Broadway Series at the Fox Theatre

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Meghan Picerno (“Christine Daaé”) and Bronson Norris Murphy (“The Phantom”) star in Love Never Dies. Photo: Joan Marcus.

"The Phantom of the Opera" is, unfathomably, they longest running Broadway musical of all time. It's also a disturbing gothic rape fantasy, for which Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote a masterful score. When the Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri, announced that Webber's sequel "Love Never Dies" would open the 2018-2019 Broadway Series, the thought off sitting through another long, sung-through, gothic rape fantasy chased with a double shot of stalker fantasy all set to more Webber orchestration was not one of love. Of course, there was always the possibility that Webber's music paired with Glenn Slater lyrics and Ben Elton's book would raise this continuing tale of unlikable Parisians above its overachieving predecessor. 

Almost immediately, that hope was dashed. The show opens with The Phantom (Bronson Norris Murphy) struggling in the dark to write a piece of music. 'Til I Hear You Sing brings the audience up to date, as The Phantom is still in anguish without his muse, opera diva Christine Daaé (Meghan Picero), these past 10 years. The next couple of scenes explain where The Phantom is: Coney Island in 1907. Why in Webber's cat-obsessed world would the Phantom relocate to the bowels of Brooklyn, New York, USA? Why would he be wallowing in self pity in a rank sewer under America's oldest amusement park? 

Not for nothing, Brooklyn isn't the kind of place high society opera aficionados flock to in any century. Bringing a quintessentially European villain to America felt too contrived. The rest of the first act is basically Cirque du Phantom, as he sends circus freaks Fleck (Katerina Kemp), Gangle (Stephen Petrovich) and Squelch (Richard Koons) to escort the newly arrived Christine, conveniently invited to star in Oscar Hammerstein's newest production, her husband Raoul (Sean Thompson) and son Gustave (Christian Harmston, Jake Heston Miller) to their Phantom-arranged lodgings. Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson) and her mother Madame Giry (Karen Mason), Christine's rival from ten years ago, had already relocated to Brooklyn, so all the players were arranged for another round of professional and personal jealousy. 

Act Two is a predictable round robin of Meg Giry trying to impress the Phantom, the Phantom trying to impress Christine and Christine trying to juggle her husband's emotional baggage and her brief bit of Stockholm Syndrome regarding the Phantom. By this time any hope I had that "Love Never Dies" would wipe out the miserable recollections of "Phantom of the Opera" from my memory was dead. As events come to the inevitable conclusion the show is so deeply buried in melodrama it's almost comedic. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but I left the Fox wondering why anybody loves these absurdly tragic and tragically ill-conceived characters at all.

As bad as the story is, the production does have some nice performances. Webber's orchestration is enjoyable, particularly his circus-inspired pieces. Music Director and Conductor Dale Rieling lead the orchestra to a rousing performance. Meghan Picerno was a strong Christine and young Christian Harmston stole scenes and hearts, receiving loud accolades at his curtain call. Unfortunately, Bronson Norris Murphy didn't register as The Phantom. His voice seemed raspy, he didn't project as particularly sinister or redeemed, and even his costume lacked punch. The iconic Phantom mask just seemed to blend into his face, and even from just a few rows from the stage it was hard to tell if he was even wearing it. Perhaps this was due to poor make-up choices or oversaturated lighting? Either way it was hard to concentrate on what Murphy was trying to convey when I was preoccupied with wondering if a missing right eyebrow was the extent of this Phantom's disfigurement. 

Despite the many shortcomings, "Love Never Dies" was ever so slightly more enjoyable than the original "Phantom of the Opera." Webber finally gave the audience someone to care about in young Gustave, and his punchy Cirque du Phantom music was fun even though it felt out of place in the Phantom mythos. To date, "Love Never Dies" has not played Broadway and the original London run was quickly shut down. If that doesn't tell you all you really need to know about this Andrew Lloyd Webber sequel, well, like they say in Brooklyn, "Fahgettaboutit!" 

If you're a diehard fan of "The Phantom of the Opera" and are eager to judge "Love Never Dies" for yourself, the US National Tour will haunt the Fox Theatre September 18-30, 2018. Visit www.fabulousfox.com for ticket information and upcoming shows. Visit https://www.loveneverdies.com to see when "Love Never Dies" plays a stage near you.  

2.0 / 5.0