The dark allure of "The Phantom of the Opera" transcends into its more eccentric sequel, "Love Never Dies," a musical set ten years after the Phantom escapes a Parisian mob.
Starring tenor Gardar Thor Cortes as the Phantom and soprano Meghan Picerno, the music was written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who also worked with Ben Elton, Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth to produce a plot for the sequel. Slater also wrote the lyrics, alongside Charles Hart.
Cortes relays a remarkable performance as the slightly unhinged Phantom, who remains as obsessed as ever with Christine, while Picerno's piercing but angelic voice more than qualifies her to play the subject of a musical genius's infatuation.
Set in Coney Island, the Phantom has situated himself in New York and has become a wealthy mogul running The Phantasma, a circus show of sorts that also puts on musicals starring Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson), Christine's best friend who is used to living in her shadow, yet sweetly but desperately seeks the Phantom's approval with every show.
With his history of self-loathing, it is only fitting that the only place where the Phantom has allowed himself to thrive is among a group of odd outcasts who don't fit in with the rest of society, and thus find sanctuary in a circus. Validating his own perception of himself as perhaps nothing more than "a circus freak," the Phantom presents shows that "bring glamour from afar, plus a touch of the bizarre," as Meg sings in "Only For You."
Indeed, "Love Never Dies" feels like watching an eerie, sinister circus that is equal parts weird and endearing. With glittering lights, well-timed bursts of fog, and a peculiar number that had some of the actors in rotating prisms, the stage design and choreography are aesthetically bewitching and just creepy enough that you can't look away.
Yet nothing about the musical is creepier than The Phantom himself. While some may find his infatuation with Christine romantic, it is obsessive and manipulative. The Phantom is so far down the rabbit hole with his fixation on Christine that he cares about nothing else but satisfying his own compulsive need to see her and hear her sing. When Christine is invited to sing in New York by impresario Oscar Hammerstein, she arrives with her husband, Raoul (Sean Thompson), and their young son, The Phantom uses his circus henchmen to derail her and force her hand in performing for The Phantasma.
While the musical has a menacing charm, it wasn't without its clichés, specifically in relation to Gustave. The moment the child asks Raoul to play with him and he refuses, prompting the character to proclaim his father doesn't love him, one can already assume that Raoul is likely not the father. This becomes clear when The Phantom first hears the boy sing, his voice as seraphic and unreal as both his mother's and his real father's.
"Love Never Dies" has received mixed reviews since its debut, but it has all the ingredients to a thrilling sequel that is sure to keep fans of "The Phantom of the Opera" on their toes, particularly with its fantastical music ensembles, equally brilliant talent across the cast and bold ending; however, while the finale garnered a collective gasp in the audience, it felt more like a cheap extreme to somehow top the original musical with shock value.
As far as sequels go, "Love Never Dies" didn't entirely match up to its predecessor; however, it could hold its own as a stand-alone musical, as Webber himself had intended, and enchant audiences with its delightful twists and magical turns.
"Love Never Dies" played at the Pantages Theatre April 3rd-22nd.