Theater Review: LOVE NEVER DIES (National Tour at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago)

by Lawrence Bommer on February 16, 2018

in Theater-Chicago,Tours

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THE PHANTOM NEVER DIED,
BUT SHOULD HAVE

Gaston Leroux knew: The original author of The Phantom of the Opera concluded his horror romance with his disfigured serial-killer as dead as Lon Chaney, while Christine Daae, stalked and sexually harassed throughout the Paris Opera House, was safe in the arms of her trusting Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny. In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 mega-hit, you would think, the ending was equally conclusive and irreversibly fatal.

Wrongo, half-hearted suspenders of disbelief.

Because, it seems, love never dies (a totally debatable title): We are to believe that it was ardor, not obsession, and devotion, not the desire to control (both his “music of the night” and his chosen Muse), that inspired this unnamed squatter in the bowels of the building.

Because in 1907, a decade later, the masked avenger has escaped from France (no explanation for why he didn’t die), with the help of the venal Madame Giry and her courtesan daughter Meg. Together these illegal immigrants have joined with three legitimate freaks (prettily named Fleck, Gangle and Squelch) to create a Coney Island amusement wonderland named Phantasma. In Love Never Dies the Phantom returns.

But, again, the P-man is an invisible impresario, so it’s up to our mother-and-daughter villains to operate this entertainment emporium, making sacrifices (including Meg’s busy body) to keep the customers coming… So to speak. To complicate their challenges, it seems that the Girys’ competitor, famed producer Oscar Hammerstein, has invited the now-notable soprano sensation Christine Daae to perform in his Coney Island attraction, accompanied by Raoul, her tippling gambler spouse, and their son Gustave. Somehow, egged on by the masked man, the Girys must lure this Christine, a threatening rival, to their gaudy venue or lose the fickle public.

Of course, no one reckons with the unfinished passion between Christine, now bored with her help(less)mate, and her Svengali-like master manipulator. And, it seems, the lovebirds managed to copulate in Paris (a scene clearly cut from novel and musical): Leroux wrote a bodice-ripping Harlequin novel after all.

So, as the revolving stage turns with the plot, will the still-rhapsodic — and, even more strangely — still-young Christine again succumb to her serial seducer? Will Gustave, little but wise in sensing souls, discover his true father? Will there be blood on the Coney Island Pier 150 minutes after the overture? Do sequels exist to milk a cash cow dry?

Yea verily, the answers are written in the songs (not to be confused with a recent mocking travesty called Paint Never Dries). To be fair, Lloyd Webber is not above quoting the still-lush tunes he wrote a third of a century ago, as well as occasionally reminding us, as with the florid title number, that this septuagenarian hasn’t lost the knack. Grandiloquent production numbers, like the chorines “Bathing Beauties,” prove that all the melodies aren’t played out.

A touring production now playing Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, Simon Phillips’ suitably lavish production furnishes enough spectacle to distract from a plot more fueled by déjà vu and wishful thinking than probability or psychology. As fascinating as the mystical underground lake beneath the Palais Garnier opera house, set designer Gabriela Tylesova’s Coney Island is a fun-house fantasyland filigreed with Art Nouveau pretensions. Her dazzling costumes lavish escapist touches and textures on stock characters.

No chandelier gets dropped, so the make-believe in this second coming depends on sturdy performances from proven artists. Meghan Picerno is reliably enchanting as marvelously malleable Christine, as scintillating as her gowns and as moving as her music. Fresh from the Hamburg production, Gardar Thor Cortes is the once and future Phantom, his scarred skin somehow less repellent than a decade before. Sharing the role with Jake Heston Miller, Casey Lyons is young but knowing Gustave who seeks, like his song, “The Beauty Underneath.”

The support is sterling: Chicago favorite Karen Mason incarnates Madame Giry, the grimly protective, malevolent matriarch. Pretty Mary Michael Patterson is the sultry soubrette Meg who never met a gun she couldn’t fire. Salacious show folk, the Phantom’s posse consist of diminutive Katrina Kemp, epicene Stephen Petrovich, and sardonic Richard Koons.

It’s hard to jump-start a story whose source satisfactorily concluded 108 years ago. You need to know when to let go. It’s doubtful that anyone who loved The Phantom of the Opera will necessarily even like the “aspects of love” in Love Never Dies (it sure doesn’t while there’s money to be made). Not all spells bind: Lord Webber’s sequel has not played Broadway, just the West End and Australia. But, face it, you can’t keep a bad facially challenged, frustrated composer down.

photos by Joan Marcus

Love Never Dies
national tour
ends at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre on March 4, 2018
for tickets, call 800.775.2000 or visit Broadway In Chicago

tour continues through 2018
for dates and cities, visit Love Never Dies

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark February 21, 2018 at 9:20 am

I agree! I loved The Phantom but not this. The story was hard to accept for me, and the soprano’s too high pitched. I would rather remember the Phantom (does he have a name?) as an outcast loner, anyway, than this.

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Larry Bommer February 21, 2018 at 2:01 pm

Glad to hear it. This Phantom is not for Valentine’s Day…

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