Review: Love Never Dies

“The Coney Island Waltz” featuring Richard Koons (“Squelch”), Katrina Kemp (“Fleck”),
Stephen Petrovich (“Gangle”), and the ensemble of Love Never Dies Photo by Joan Marcus

By Larry Laneer
November 14, 2018

The musical Love Never Dies benefits from lowered expectations. Billed as a sequel to that mint (that is, a place where they print money) known as The Phantom of the Opera, the show surely couldn’t equal its predecessor in fan fanaticism, longevity, and falling chandeliers. Colorful, if not particularly compelling, Love Never Dies requires the audience to accept a shaky storyline.

With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Glenn Slater (additional lyrics by Charles Hart), and book by Ben Elton, the show plays this week at the Thelma Gaylord in the OKC Broadway series. The reviewed performance was more interesting than usual but not for the right reasons.

At first, Lord Lloyd Webber said Love Never Dies is not a sequel to Phantom. He later changed his mind and said it is a sequel. It doesn’t make much difference. For theatergoers who haven’t seen Phantom, an adequate amount of backstory comes early in the sequel (or not the sequel).

The Phantom mysteriously vanishes at the end of Phantom. He turns up in this show as the proprietor of Mister Y’s Phantasma, a freak and burlesque show in Coney Island, New York. Meg Giry and her mother, Madame Giry, from Phantom are with him. How this happens is explained on stage. Soon, none other than Oscar Hammerstein (who is never seen, but is the real-life grandfather of the Oklahoma! lyricist) brings vocalist Christine Daaé, also from Phantom, to New York to perform at the opening of a new opera house. Thus, The Phantom and Christine are reunited 10 years after the end of Phantom.

Then, the stage teems with overwrought and oscillating passion, betrayals, revenge, romantic rivalry, and dramatic acting. Some might say melodramatic acting. To be fair, the overacting fits the style and setting of the show.

The production went a tad wobbly on opening night. The curtain was 15 minutes late with no explanation. About half-way through the first act the show stopped for 27-minute “pause” attributed to “technical difficulties.” After the restart, the show continued with no noticeable gremlins.

Directed by Simon Phillips, the production features some impressive singing. Lloyd Webber can write songs that soar, sometimes into the wild blue yonder, so it would be hard to overdo the score’s music. (The title song may stick in your head for a while.) Bronson Norris Murphy as The Phantom and Meghan Picerno as Christine have powerful singing voices. Picerno’s Christine milks applause (completely in character) from every corner of the house. The show could be subtitled “Christine’s Impossible Choice.” Murphy’s Phantom mesmerizes women with song.

As Christine’s son, Gustave, young Jake Heston Miller gives a strong singing and equally fine acting performance (another actor doubles this role at some performances). As Christine’s dissolute husband, Sean Thompson equals and rivals The Phantom. Although their stage time seems limited, Mary Michael Patterson as Meg Giry and Karen Mason as Madame Giry give strong performances. The supporting cast and ensemble are fine.

Gabriela Tylesova designed the set and costumes and both play important roles in the production. The costumes add a dash of color to an essentially dark show. The detailed, intentionally askew set, which includes a frequently used revolve, flows through several varied locations, including Mister Y’s bizarre sideshow at the end of the first act.

A 14-piece pit band with small string, reed, and brass sections accompanies the show. Three keyboard players support the orchestra without electronically overpowering it, and they give a fairly credible imitation of The Phantom’s organ playing. David Cullen and Lloyd Webber did the orchestrations.

Love may never die, but it can have a few regrets. All this show’s bombast, melodrama, and waltzing score don’t make up for its unsteady plot. It’s not giving away too much to note that Lloyd Webber reserves the right and characters for a Phantom III. Take your time, Sir Andrew.

Love Never Dies by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), Glenn Slater (lyrics, additional lyrics by Charles Hart), and Ben Elton (book)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, November 14-15
8:00 p.m. Friday, November 16
2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Saturday, November 17
2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Sunday, November 18
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.