Thursday, May 31, 2018

CT Theater Review: Love Never Dies -- The Bushnell

Meghan Picerno and Gardar Thor Cortes, Photo: Joan Marcus

Love Never Dies
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Additional Lyrics by Charles Hart
Choreography by Graeme Murphy AO
Directed by Simon Phillips

By Lauren Yarger
What's It All About?
The sequel to Andrew Lloyd-Webber's long running, multi-award winning Phantom of the Opera (still playing in New York after more than 30 years). It's 1907, 10 years after the tragic events in the labyrinth beneath the Paris Opera House when the Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes) vanished. The young soprano, Chritine Daae (Meghan Picerno) was finally free of the mentor who tormented her soul with operatic compositions and she married her childhood sweetheart, Raoul, vicomte de Chagny (Christian Harmston). But all is not as it seems. The phantom escaped, thanks to his ally, Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her daughter, Meg (Mary Michael Batterson), and has relocated to New York's Coney Island, where he blends in with a bunch of circus freaks as part of a vaudevillian circus show. 

In need of money, because an unhappy Raoul has hit hard times (after hitting the bottle pretty hard), Christine accepts an invitation from Oscar Hammerstein to sing in New York. When the couple and their young son, Gustave (Jake Heston Miller) arrive in the USA, however, they discover that the phantom has re-entered their lives. He uses threats against her son to get Christine to agree to sing his music and his attention for his old flame sets off thoughts of jealousy and revenge for Madame Giry and Meg.

What Are the Highlights?
Very strong vocals and a pleasing score from Sir Webber, even if it doesn't come close to matching the original. Still, some songs contain exquisite melodies and odd and haunting notes (the title song will create an ear worm). The stand-out performance comes from young Miller, who is about as perfect a child actor as I ever have seen. He has an angelic voice and an easy, natural way on stage. I kind of wish this story could have been all about him.

The sound (Mick Potter, design), notoriously a problem at the Bushnell, this time is perfection.

What Are the Lowlights?
The book. What a poor sequel. What a poor form of storytelling. If the first act has you feeling dissatisfied (and weak, predictable lyrics by Glenn Slater contribute to this state), the second act is min=blowingly bad. I felt like my brain exploded from all of the re-write possibilities that filled it. Any one of them would have created a more satisfying story and given characters more development. As it is, we have no idea why anyone does anything. Some action is so ridiculous (and looks so with Simon Phillip's direction) that it is laughable, including what is supposed to be a very dramatic ending. Gaston Leroux (who wrote the novel on which the original was based), we're wishing you were somehow here again.

To avoid spoilers, I don't feel I can fill in details, but if you are a fan of Phantom, which I definitely am, having seen it numerous times since it took Broadway by storm in 1988, I can't help but warn you that you probably will be disappointed. One mystery can be revealed, however: why this show has toured nationally and internationally, but never come to Broadway. The answer: because in its present state it would be massacred by the critics. Instead, the show can benefit from fans (there are more than 40 million who have seen Phantom) who will venture out to see a sequel to a favorite. Just remember. You have been warmed.

More Information:
Love Never Dies (but maybe it should. . . ) at the Bushnell, 166 Capitol Ave., Hartford. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 1 and 6:30 pm. Tickets; bushnell.org.

Additional casting:
Katarina Kemp (Fleck), Steven Petrovich (Gangle), Richard Koons (Squelch)
Ensemble: Chelsey Arce, Erin Chupinsky, Diana DiMarzio, Tyler Donahue, Yesy Garcia, Alyssa Giannetti, Michael Gillis, Tamar Greene, Natalia Lepore Hagan, Lauren Lukacek, Alyssa McAnany, Rachel Anne Moore, Bronson Norris Murphy, Dave Schoonover, Adam Soniak, John Swapshire IV, Kelly Swint, Lucas John Thompson, Correy West and Arthur Wise. 

The new touring production reflects an extensive re-working of the material by an Australian creative team for the original Australian premiere in 2011. New set and costume designs by Gabriela Tylesova, choreography by Graeme Murphy, lighting design by Nick Schlieper.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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