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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LOVE NEVER DIES

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LOVE NEVER DIES

ANDREW LLOYD WEBBER-Producer, Composer, Book and Orchestrations
GLENN SLATER-Lyrics and Book

Dallas Summer Musicals

GRAEME MURPHY-Choreography
DALE RIELING- Musical Direction
GABRIELA TYLESOVA-Set and Costume Design
NICK SCHLIEPER-Lighting Design
MICK POTTER-Sound Design
DAVID CULLER-Music orchestrations
J.J. JANAS and DAVE BOVA: Hair, Wigs & Make-up Design
RANDY MORELAND: Technical Director
ANNA BATE: Production Manager
LAURA DIELI: Senior Production Manager
DANIEL S. ROSOKOFF: Production Stage Manager
ERIC H. MAYER: Stage Manager

RACHEL ANNE MOORE-Christine Alternate, Ensemble
ERIN CHUPINSKY-Dance Captain/Swing
DIANA DIMARZIO-Ensemble, u/s Giry
TYLER DONAHUE-Ensemble, u/s Gangle
ALYSSA GIANNETTI-Swing, u/s Christine-Ensemble, u/s Fleck
MICHAEL GILLIS-u/s Phantom, Raoul
LAUREN LUKACEK-Ensemble, u/s Madame Giry
ALYSSA MCANANY-Ensemble, u/s Meg
RACHEL ANNE MOORE- Ensemble, u/s Christine
DAVE SCHOONOVER-Ensemble, u/s The Phantom, u/s Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny, u/s Gangle
LUCAS JOHN THOMPSON-Ensemble, u/s Squelch
ARTHUR WISE-Ensemble, u/s Squelch

Reviewed Performance: 7/25/2018

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

Sequels in musicals is as rare as finding Tom Brady attending a performance of La Cage Aux Follies and knowing all the lyrics. But sequels in films and Television, will now those multiply on an hourly basis. When Andrew Lloyd Webber first utter back in 1986 he had ideas of creating a sequel to his mega hit Phantom of the Opera, Phantom fans shrieked with excitement through their half face masks. No one knew just how long it was going to take for his vision to become a reality.

Webber’s last two original musicals for Broadway were Woman in White in 2006 (Which this critic saw) and School of Rock, which recently announced its closing date, set for January 2019.

In those early years when that kernel of idea on continuing the journey of the tragic triangle love story between the Phantom, Christine, and Raoul started, he went through a revolving door of book writers, lyricists, and directors. It was during these years that his precious pet cat pounced on his digital piano and walked all over the keys, thus the feline’s paws deleted the entire score he had been composing! Ironic that a cat would kill the phantom. In 2009 Lloyd Webber (after composing his score from scratch-no pun intended), he held a press conference stating that Love Never Dies will open productions concurrently in London, New York, and Shanghai. He then had grander plans to later open in London, Toronto, and of course Broadway. None of these original plans would happen due to a variety of issues.

London’s West End officially opened Love Never Dies in March 2010, however in December 2010, Lord Webber shut down the production to rework the show due to the lackluster reviews. It was reopened, and he invited back the critics to review the musical again. It faired only slightly better. The musical would close after running a year or so. There is still talk of a Broadway mounting, but for now in a rare gift for musical theater lovers, a national tour has been created, and that is where we are.

In Love Never Dies it takes place ten years later since we left the Paris Opera house. Remember? Meg holding the Phantom’s mask? But today we find opera star Christine Daaé is married to Raoul and they have a son, Gustave. She has been invited by Oscar Hammerstein I to come across the ocean waters to make her American debut. That is until an anonymous impresario contracts her to perform at Phantasma, a dazzling new attraction on Coney Island. Of course, we all know it’s really the Phantom behind this invitation. And as this musical opens its score it reveals just how much the lives of these characters (and others) have change behind their masquerade masks ten later.

Lord Webber, Glenn Slater, Ben Elton and Frederick Forsyth all wrote the book, and unfortunately that is the central element in the piece that has the most problematic issues. The concept of completely changing three characters was a stroke of great originality (Raoul, Meg, Madame Giry). But they were not given more stage time to develop in both music and book. They are so strong and memorable you can feel the audience wanting more of these three characters to be on stage. The score needs more music composed for their characters to bring out their characterizations, subtext and their story, plus to greatly aide in the pot holes of weakness that is within the book. The book must elevate and bring these three characters much more to the forefront because of how much they ARE a factor to the subplot of Act II.

The new Webber score is operatic, soaring, and grandiose- but that is what you would expect and want from a Webber score, especially if its Phantom. There were a couple of songs in Act I that could have used some shaving due to their sluggish pace and they really didn’t push the story nor neither the characterization. One of the musical elements I found extremely thrilling was that Webber had composed into his new score little pieces of is his Phantom score sprinkled here and there, but always just at the right moment. For true Phantom fans it’s like finding Easter eggs all evening long within the score! From the almost thirty songs in the score, my personal favorite new compositions include “Till I Hear You Sing” (The Phantom), “The Coney Island Waltz” (The company), “Dear Old Friend” (Meg, Christine, Madame Giry, Raoul), “Beautiful /The Beauty Beneath” (The company), “Why Does She Love Me?” (Raoul, Meg), “Devil Take The Hindmost” (The Phantom, Raoul) and “Love Never Dies” (Christine).

Bravos to the lush and elegant orchestra conducted by Dale Rieling. He is conducting a magnificent fourteen-piece orchestra that sounds like a hundred in the pit. The strings engulf the elephantine size music hall with gorgeous music. Lord Webber would most approve!

It takes eleven massive trucks to haul all the sets, lighting, costumes, and props to create this world of Love Never Dies. Once you see it, you will be shocked, and your jaw will hit the floor with a loud thud. I cannot remember the last time I’ve seen a national tour this opulent and extravagant on the music hall stage. Gabriela Tylesova’s sets are a masterpiece of art and fantasy. A concoction of swirling Coney Island, merry go round insanity, old fashioned vaudeville, metal units going all the way up to skies, and an ivory half grotesque mask and eye metal conception that frames the proscenium. It’s almost as though Tylesova pulled the skin off the Phantom’s skull and showed us what is in his insane brain! The sets move, swirl, and change in complete silence but in such dramatic ways that just left the audience numb. It was bone chilling exciting!

Ms. Tylesova also designed the costumes which were so phenomenally beautiful that if this was on Broadway right now, the Tony Award would be hers. The detail to these costumes is simply gorgeous. Christine’s white chiffon dressing gown has hundreds of tiny lace flowers individually sewn in. The Phantom’s black coat has black elaborate embroidery. The costumes that the Coney Island company wear are a dizzy array of colors, fabrics, shapes, and sparkles. Oh, then there is Christine’s Act II gown. It was constructed and designed for a showstopping moment, and they got it. It is a must see! I’m leaving so many more examples out, but these costumes are masterpieces of costume design that are so expensive that you just don’t see in a national tour anymore.

Nick Schlieper’s lighting design adds the perfect ambiance to the cold, strange world of the Phantom. Even when we are in the sumptuous rooms where Christine and Raoul are staying in, Schlieper bathes them in greens and blues, giving them a cool, crisp color palette. When we enter the number “Beauty/The Beauty Underneath” Schlieper’s lighting here is surreal, magical and dazzling.

The ensemble of Coney Island oddities deliver remarkable performances within the company. They each create their own unique character so that not one bleeds into the other. Their body movements and facial expressions are exaggerated to give the audience that right amount of creepy insane asylum escapee vibe to their performance. There is a trio of oddities that serve as the Phantom’s army who do his bidding- Katrina Kemp (Fleck), Stephen Petrovich (Gangle) and Richard Koons (Squelch). These three are deliciously evil and sinister as they slither all evening around the stage assisting the Phantom to achieve his plans of hellish doom. There is within the ensemble a hometown native as well! Arlington Texas native Tyler Donahue portrays several roles within the company. He is the tall magician with the billowing purple cape at the top of the show, and then throughout the production he portrays an array of characters that show off his talents.

Another Dallas-Fort Worth native is Mary Michael Patterson as Meg Giry. Meg is now all grown up and is now the star of the Phantom’s new show the Bathing Beauties, only to be pushed aside once Christine returns into the picture. Patterson delivers a smashing performance as a friend who is so happy to see her best friend come back into her life, or is she? Patterson has a touching duet with her mother (Karen Mason) “Mother Did You See?” That has a double meaning of a dream crashing down on her. Patterson has a festive company number as well with “Bathing Beauty” in Act II as well. But Patterson’s second Act is where she delivers her finest work. Ms. Patterson delivered a remarkable performance.

I had the esteemed luck to catch Karen Mason’s performance as Norma Desmond in Sunset Blvd in the original Broadway production at the Minkoff. She had the talent and stage presence to not let that mammoth set swallow her up, that’s how powerful she is. In Love Never Dies, she portrays Madame Giry, and again I am reminded how much of a chameleon she is on the stage. She commands the stage as the proud mother who will do anything for her daughter to succeed. Giry has patiently waited ten long years, Mason’s facial expressions clearly shows the dark, painful subtext buried deep within her soul. Mason is fascinating and gives the role great growth since the original. The creative team will be wise to give this character a solo song in Act II, because Ms. Mason’s performance commands it.

Out of the three principals it is the character Raoul that has taken the most dramatic transformation from the original, which Sean Thompson gives a superlative performance. Without not giving it away, Raoul is the one who takes the path no one really expected would take. Thompson has wisely chipped away the pretty boy, white knight façade that made Raoul in Phantom of the Opera a tad, well bland, to become a much more multi-layered character with a darker subtext. Thompson’s dynamic stage presence radiates blindly. He has a gorgeous, haunting ballad titled “Why Does She Love Me?” that opens Act Two (which Meg later joins in for luxurious harmonies). It is one of the best composed ballads of the evening with honest lyrics that vividly shows Raoul’s torture within himself and Christine, which Thompson does a splendid job within the ballad. He possesses an unparalleled tenor voice with impeccable diction. The best duet of the evening is actually between Thompson and Bronson Norris Murphy (The Phantom), “Devil Take The Hindpost”. For you Phantom fans, you will notice the beginning chords, it is those same chords that are used when the Phantom makes his entrance into the Masquerade. Both men belt vocally like lions trapped in a cage, circling around each other, matching each other note for note, it’s a riveting musical number. Thompson’s acting craft overcomes the shortcomings of the threadbare book. For example, watch him during the title song “Love Never Dies” number, his facial expressions and body language are devastating to observe because you realize and know what he has discovered. Mr. Thompson’s work in Love Never Dies is resplendent.

Creating new versions of the Phantom and Christine are Bronson Norris Murphy and Meghan Picerno. Mr. Murphy has only been under the mask since June transferring from the Broadway company where he was portraying Raoul. The book for these two, as with the others, gets clunky and at times schmaltzy. This is especially true in scene five in the hotel room. The book screeches to a stop within the pace, and the two ballads back to back sound slightly alike in composition. Visually the sets are sumptuous as is the costumes, and the singing from the both is exquisite. But unfortunately, the book and score go nowhere emotionally, nor does it move the plot. But things get much better for both as the evening moves along.

Ms. Picerno has a splendid quartet number with Meg (Mary Michael Patterson), Madame Giry (Karen Mason), and Raoul (Scott Thompson) titled “Dear Old Friend”. This is a terrific up-tempo piece for all four to shine.

Mr. Murphy has the best company number of the evening with “Beautiful/The Beauty Underneath” that has sets and costumes that will astound you. Along with the young Gustave (the extremely talented Jake Heston Miller) Murphy’s powerful vocals, the music is a mixture of synthesized pop and full orchestra pageantry created with a cornucopia of music, vocals, sets, costumes, and lights that is surreal and mind-blowing!

Suffice to say Mr. Murphy and Ms. Picerno have humongous powerhouse voices. He a baritone/tenor, she a lyric soprano. Their range is sublime, they can glide without a crack whatsoever from their lowest note in their register all the way to their highest note. As for their belt, all I can say is that no body mic is needed. Their chemistry is very moving to watch unfold as the evening progresses. It should be noted that Ms. Picerno also has a beautiful, yet complicated chemistry with Scott Thompson (Raoul) that you see the moment they land on American soil.

Bronson Norris Murphy delivers an unsurpassed performance as the Phantom. Because of my seats I was able to see up close his face. The unmasked portion of his face is painted pale, his eye is shaded with the right tones. His very handsome features exposed. But this allows us to see his face, to see his facial expressions more. Murphy’s subtext was clear and concise, his stage presence is electrifying and almost hypnotic while his vocals were phenominal. Right out the gate his first solo “Till I Hear You Sing” at the top of the evening was spectacular. I have already mentioned several of his numbers that were major highlights of the evening earlier. Finally, I must commend his Act II work was his best, both vocally and his acting craft. Riveting and raw. Without giving it away it was not at all what I expected, but Mr. Murphy’s emotions and talent carried it with organic truth and honesty. A tour-de-force performance all around by Bronson Norris Murphy.

Meghan Picerno is a stunning, beautiful Italian young woman, but then she sings! That combination would cause King Kong to fling Fay Wray out of the way and hunt for Ms. Picerno. The Beast tamed by the beauty. Ms. Picerno’s lyric soprano voice is pure, clean, devoid of that quivering vibrato many sopranos have, and can this girl belt. The best solo of the entire evening happens to be the best composed song of the score, “Love Never Dies”. For this aura Ms. Picerno goes all over the scales and then jumps to this impossibly high note, sustains it, then comes down for a soft crescendo. And what Ms. Picerno is costumed in, well you must see it. When she finished, she was met with thunderous applause and bravos from the audience. Ms. Picerno deserved it! Her stage presence is magnetic and sparkling. The chemistry with her two leading men never seems false or misplaced. Her facial expressions are natural, honest, and warm. Ms. Picerno acting craft was organic and always in the moment. Meghan Picerno gave an out of this world, stellar performance.

Before you ask, no, you really did not have to see Phantom of the Opera to see Love Never Dies. This sequel to the herculean monster hit that Lord Webber created years ago does have its problems with its book and score. But what new musical on Broadway hasn’t in the last fifteen years? You would be crazy-and I mean CRAZY not to see this. What is on this stage NEVER tours like this anymore. Nowadays it’s all friggin projections and backdrops. And those costumes! But the talent on this stage- THE TALENT! All the bells and whistles in the world cannot cover up weak, mediocre talent. Thankfully this is a glittering megawatt, high caliber, sensational company that is creating a new musical that NO one has seen. Not even Broadway. But we are! And it’s an Andrew Lloyd Webber original musical at that! Not many can say they saw Love Never Dies, so get your tickets NOW. Or else if you see a very tall onyx carriage pull up where you live with no horses pulling it at your doorstep……well…um…..nice knowing you!

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s LOVE NEVER DIES
Dallas Summer Musicals, Music Hall at Fair Park
Plays Through August 5, 2018

August 7-12, 2018