Andrew Lloyd Webber diehards rejoice: LOVE NEVER DIES, the sequel to that opulent music theater classic THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, has arrived in Chicago. Every single element of this production is overblown and visually stimulating. Webber’s score is big, dramatic, and lush. And while the score has the kind of beauty and magnificence expected from Webber, book writer Ben Elton’s storyline is crammed full of superfluous plotlines and Glenn Slater’s lyrics are mostly full of musical theater clichés. That said, I was highly entertained throughout the entire evening. This is escapist musical theater fun at its finest.
LOVE NEVER DIES transports audiences from the Paris opera house to Coney Island of all places, ten years after PHANTOM ended. The titular Phantom himself now owns an amusement park/catch-all for sideshow characters entitled Phantasma. Phantasma’s various attractions include singing protégée and aspiring star Meg Giry and her overbearing, grumpy mother Madame Giry, as well as three circus performers named Fleck, Gangle, and Squelch who serve as awkwardly placed narrators. While this trio are entertaining, they are inconsistently used throughout the piece and are not necessary dramatic tools to move the story along.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a PHANTOM sequel without an appearance from Christine Daae, and she soon arrives to make her American debut—with her husband Raoul and her son Gustave in tow. From here, LOVE NEVER DIES piles on more and more subplots so as to become entangled in a thorny forest of illogical storylines. It almost seems as if the writers decided to keep adding plot points instead of working to refine those that were already there.
And while the storyline is nonsensical, Slater’s lyrics are unfortunately mostly trite. For example, when Gustave feels insecure about Raoul’s distant behavior, Christine reassures him with a song in which she advises “Look with your heart/not with your eyes/A heart understands/A heart never lies.” Such lyrics are emblematic of the entire show. That said, LOVE NEVER DIES has a few moments of lyrical cleverness: the sly number “Dear Old Friends” has Christine, Raoul, Meg, and Madam Giry embracing one another in a seemingly joyous reunion—while making legitimately witty asides to the audience about what is really happening.
LOVE NEVER DIES is a visual marvel. I do not think I have ever seen as many costume or set changes for a touring production as there are here. Set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova’s work here is magnificent and dazzlingly, fittingly over-the-top. The show becomes more and more opulent as it unfolds. This starts with the early scenes in which the stage is transformed into the amusement park itself, with glittering roller coaster tracks and a huge entryway designed to look like the Phantoms face, mask and all. I cannot fathom the number of sequins and glitter that were used in putting all of the costumes together, but they are consistently breathtaking. Mick Potter’s sound design and Nick Schlieper’s sound design further add to the decadent and enjoyable sensory experience of LOVE NEVER DIES.
Webber’s complicated and showy score also luckily is performed by a cast up to the formidable vocal challenges. As the Phantom, Gardar Thor Cortes has the deep, resonant vocal quality to carry off the role—though his enunciation could use some work in the first few songs. PHANTOM fans will be relieved to know that Christine can still sing, too—both as indicated in the show’s script and also as evidenced by the resplendent work of Meghan Picerno in the role. Her performance of the title song is every bit the showstopper it was designed to be. Though Fleck, Gangle, and Squelch do not make any sense dramaturgically, Katrina Kemp, Stephen Petrovich, and Richard Koons are sinister and splendid to watch in these roles. The entire ensemble is consistently marvelous, even as LOVE NEVER DIES itself becomes more and more ridiculous as the evening wears on.
While LOVE NEVER DIES often plays like grandiose chaos, it is never ever boring. Webber’s big and beautiful score sounds fantastic in the Cadillac Palace space, and the show dazzles the entire evening. PHANTOM OF THE OPERA fans will find much to enjoy in a return to the world of the elusive Phantom and his singing muse Christine.
LOVE NEVER DIES runs through March 4 at Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre. Tickets are $35-$100. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com for more information.
Photo by Joan Marcus