REVIEW: LOVE NEVER DIES at the Denver Center

by Mona Lott

Sequels seem to be greeted with great anticipation, though they rarely live up to the magic of their predecessor, even when that magic was dependent on smoke and mirrors. Such is the case with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Love Never Dies, a sequel to his mega hit Phantom of The Opera.

Though Love Never Dies is grand in scale and rife with spectacle, it lacks substance and heart. The opening of the show is cold and lacking any empathy and although it’s sung with great angst and gorgeous operatic tone by Bronson Norris Murphy as The Phantom, I’d say it’s the most boring opening to any show I’ve ever seen and foreshadows the emptiness of the first act.

We’re asked to believe that the Phantom’s old paramour Christine is a sensation in France and yet has jumped at an offer from Oscar Hammerstein to perform in New York.  If that were the only leap of faith to take it might be a safe landing, but we’re also asked to believe that it’s been ten years since that fateful evening when the Phantom disappeared and yet the time period is actually several more years later than that.

It’s not surprising when the path this show took in creation is full of more twists and turns than any lair under the Paris Opera House, or in this case below Coney Island. Indeed, Love Never Dies has yet to play Broadway, though roles were cast and companies rehearsed a series of openings, closings, rewrites, cancellations and rescheduling have brought an Australian version to us rather than the London version which was panned by critics.

It’s this Australian version that fared better with the critics, no doubt in part to the spectacular set and costume designs by Gabriela Tylesova, a creation of glamour that twists and turns to reveal a dark and sinister carnival that serves as Coney Island. This Coney Island is populated by The Phantom known now as Mister Y and his cast of circus freaks and beautiful chorus girls       led by Christine’s old friend Meg from the Paris Opera House and her mother Madame Giry who now choreographs the burlesque show for Mister Y.

The hysterics throughout the first act continue to bark like a dog with no bite. All bluster and high notes sang double forte like an old car stereo missing its volume control. It’s truly tragic as Murphy and Meghan Picerno as Christine prove to be more than capable of singing the operatic like score and both do a more than admirable job finding truth with cold dialogue that does little to bring beloved characters back into our hearts. Even Christine’s husband Sean Thompson as Raul,  suffers from character assassination with gambling debts and a bickering relationship with his wife and a more than cantankerous role model for their son, Gustave played by Christian Harmston.

A sense of relief is found in the second act as it begins with one of the most honest moments in the show as Raul laments, “Why does she love me?” With some clever staging, he finds himself face to face with the Phantom and the two engage in a vocal duel accompanied by several over turned bar stools and some well-placed jabs sung right into Raul’s achilles heel.

The top of the act gives way to a much more successful act as the plot is carried out to it’s thrilling end. The last ten minutes prove to have more character, more emotional tension than the entire first act and the melodramatic hand to the forehead acting is abandoned for some real moments of emotional depth.

I won’t say that Love Never Dies is bad theater. It’s not. The performances are skilled, embodied in experienced actors of Broadway quality and the vocals are performed with perfection. The set and costumes are a visual splendor and leave you gasping at the technical expertise required to pull this show off. It’s an entertaining night at the theater, the only thing missing from Love Never Dies is a heart and that is a requirement to keep Love alive.

 

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