Raise your hand if you think Christine should have stayed with the Phantom in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical Phantom of the Opera. Sure, the Phantom could be creepy and possessive, and okay, a little manipulative. But that’s only because he was never loved, right? You’ll be happy to know the Phantom gets another chance to ensnare Christine and get rid of that pesky Raoul once and for all in the touring production of Love Never Dies, continuing through April 22 at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre.
The action takes place on Coney Island, New York, where the Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes) has set up shop with Madame Giry (Karen Mason)— who had smuggled him out of France ten years earlier— and her daughter Meg (Mary Michael Patterson).
The Phantom’s new theatre is the carnival-esque Mister Y’s Phantasma, set against a backdrop of glittering Coney Island rollercoasters. Among the circus acts and attractions, Meg sings and dances, hoping the Phantom will notice her. Three clowns— little person Fleck (Katrina Kemp), tall Gangle (Stephen Petrovich), and round Squelch (Richard Koons)— accompany us through this vivid, zany world.
The now famous Christine (Meghan Picerno) has been lured to sing in this realm on the promise of money, since husband Raoul (Sean Thompson) has a gambling problem on top of his alcoholism. But that’s not all! They also have a young son in tow, Gustave (Casey Lyons and Jake Heston Miller), whose vulnerability makes Christine even more susceptible to the Phantom’s tricks.
Despite Raoul’s character flaws, Thompson gives him more of a presence than in Phantom of the Opera, his strong tenor revealing self-awareness of his weaknesses as a husband in one poignant saloon song.
Other scenes, especially between the Phantom and Christine, positively drip with emotional torment. Their initial meeting in Christine’s suite (while Raoul is down at the hotel bar) is not only musically rich but passionate in suggesting that their previous meeting ten years earlier may have involved more than just a kiss.
The story that follows (extensively reworked a year after the show first opened in 2010) takes as many twists and turns as its rollercoaster backdrop, culminating in a suspenseful and shocking conclusion. Reflecting that intricacy, the stage is sometimes literally a hall of mirrors.
But it’s the music that soars above all the spectacle. Both Cortes and Picerno are opera singers, lending the Phantom an exquisite baritone and Christine an angelic soprano. The boy Gustave, played by two actors, Lions and Miller, adds his own pristine notes to the mix.
Lloyd Webber’s score, conducted by Dale Rieling, is layered and evocative, with strains from Phantom of the Opera occasionally interspersed, though lyrics by Glenn Slater are sometimes simple and repetitive, especially in the title song. More nuance in those words might have made that song as memorable as those from the original Phantom.
Still, Love Never Dies does not disappoint, especially if you’re a Phantom fan, often transcending expectations, both visually (including choreography) and musically. Despite its shortcomings, the production succeeds in pulling our hearts and minds to the heights of the Phantom’s genius and plummeting us to the depths of his devastation. And isn’t that what love is all about?
Love Never Dies continues at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., L.A., through April 22, with performances Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm. Tickets start at $49. For tickets and information, call the theatre at (323) 468-1770 or visit hollywoodpantages.com.