For the opening weekend of Love Never Dies, in Dallas through Aug. 5 for its first North American tour, the Music Hall at Fair Park was packed. Of course it was. While the musical is presented as a standalone, with no prior knowledge needed, Lover Never Dies follows one of the most popular shows of all time, featuring the same characters that so many audiences fell in love with in The Phantom of the Opera after its 1986 debut.
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Glenn Slater’s sequel to Phantom continues the saga of musical virtuoso Christine Daae and the Phantom in a way that should enchant fans of one of Broadway’s most iconic love stories, even if Love Never Dies never hits the inspired heights of the original show.
It’s 1907, 10 years since Christine and the Phantom last saw each other at the Paris Opera House. The Phantom, that rich and troubled soul played here by Bronson Norris Murphy, torridly points this out in the opening number. He misses his version of Daisy Buchanan so much, in fact, that he has hung a giant portrait of Christine above his piano. The Phantom has taken his brooding across the Atlantic to Coney Island, where he operates an amusement park attraction narcissistically named the Phantasma, featuring circus acts, dancers, and musical numbers. His main act is Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson), a former second fiddle to Christine who has dedicated herself to the Phantom in her friend’s absence.
Christine and the Phantom don’t stay separated for long. The star soprano, played by Meghan Picerno, travels to New York with her now-husband Raoul (Sean Thompson) and son, Gustave (Christian Harmston), on an invitation to sing. It’s an opportunity the Phantom can’t let pass, and he resolves to have Christine come to Coney Island, perhaps permanently. Soon we return to the old love triangle that had ensnared Raoul, Christine, and the Phantom in the past. There are battles that ensue, real and imagined, profound and petty, and it probably isn’t a spoiler to say that no one truly wins in the end.
It’s disappointing that, even in 2018, much of the musical’s action is driven by macho posturing from the two male leads. The hyper-controlling Phantom and Raoul, the sad-sack, hanging-on, insecure, dream-killing husband, suffer from crippling machismo. Raoul bemoans that his attempts to clip Christine’s wings fell flat. The future of Christine and Gustave, her child, is treated like a prize to be won in a bet between the two men. Having said that, the major roles were played convincingly and sung beautifully. (I would have liked more character development for Gustave, considering he is lynchpin for many of the events of Love Never Dies, but the child was overshadowed by the other actors and more often used as prop.)
The musical’s secret weapon is the character of Meg, positioned here as a villain despite her justified anger. (Raoul, the ownership-obsessed husband, would make for a much more fitting antagonist.) Given the shaft and forced to play along with the Phantom and Christine’s selfish plans, Mary Michael Patterson’s Meg may be the most tragic and relatable figure in the show. She’s certainly the one with the most fun songs.
Some of the bigger musical numbers sounded a bit garbled, and there were a handful of stunts that could have felt smoother. The set was absolutely stunning, as were the costumes, especially the peacock-inspired dress worn by Christine during the finale. The period-appropriate music was very well done.
If you’re looking for more Phantom, Love Never Dies manages to capture the spirit of that beloved musical. However, it doesn’t quite meet the classic on its own terms.