Last night was opening night for Love Never Dies: The Phantom Returns, which will run for seven more performances at the Durham Performing Arts Center before closing Sunday evening. There was a full house at DPAC for this sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera; but the inaugural performance of Love Never Dies in the Bull City started late — very late — and was plagued by role substitutions, set issues, and ongoing weird sounds throughout the evening.
Usually, the opening-night performances of shows in DPAC‘s SunTrust Broadway Series start at 7:30 p.m.; but by late afternoon, curtain time had been changed to 8 p.m. The lobby filled up with waiting audience members, and announcements were made every 10 minutes to update the show’s starting time.
The doors finally opened at approximately 8:15 p.m.; and as the seats populated, executive producer Randy Buck, spoke twice, noting that Durham is the second show on the tour, with the first being Detroit the previous night. He also talked about the issues that the production was having backstage, and urged everyone to be patient.
By the time the curtain finally rose, it was almost 9 p.m., and the audience was restless. The show needed to be even better than expected in order to maintain audience attention.
Was it as good as Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, which will play DPAC on Feb. 28-March 4 and March 6-11, 2018? No. Was it a good sequel? Yes. (From what we hear, Lloyd Webber drove the production through a few rewrites, and we think the third time is the charm.)
The first wow of the evening was the opening set (designed by set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova); it is a gorgeous creation that changed from a spooky and stark introduction to The Phantom at his organ, describing his heartbreak over missing his love, the famous opera star Christine Daaé, to the richly surreal version of Phantasma, a Coney Island carney show that The Phantom currently runs.
The weirdly talented members of the circus reach out and engage the audience with the Coney Island waltz, and the freaks (Gangle/Stephen Petrovich, Squelch/Richard Koons, Fleck/Katrina Kemp, and the Ensemble) are oddly endearing as they reach out to the audience as only carney workers can — with a gritty insistence and impeccable timing.
The stage rotates, often placing the actors in the position of negotiating an entrance or exit off the rotating portion of the stage. Timing became an important component of Graeme Murphy’s stellar choreography.
The second wow of the evening is the amazing voices. Throughout the night, the music demands more of the singers than almost any other musical ever written. From the deepest low notes to the soaring high notes, stars in this show are expected to be both operatic and Broadway, and they all deliver.
Though there were several minor sound issues, the cast could have handled delivering the powerful music sans microphones. That’s how strong their voices are. The Phantom, played on opening night by understudy Bronson Norris Murphy, subbing for Garðar Thór Cortes, is as broken and split as in The Phantom of the Opera, and that is not surprising since Murphy comes directly from the Broadway version of that show. He is especially spectacular when performing his duets with Meghan Picerno as Christine Daaé.
And the third wow of the evening is the story itself. Though nightmarish in both sound and set, the story is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. The Phantom has lived alone with his music since fleeing the Paris Opera House 10 years ago, not knowing where Christine, the singer with the silver voice with whom he fell in love so many years ago, has been living or whether she continues to sing. He fits right in as the director of the freak show, creating new music, and finding some people whom he can trust (the young singer Meg Giry, played by the talented Mary Michael Patterson, and her mother and manager, the charmingly irascible Madame Giry, played by Karen Mason). When The Phantom collapses on stage in a fit of sorrow, Murphy makes it believable that he will truly die unless he’s able to hear Christine sing once more.
Ironically, she has not only been singing, but has made a successful operatic career for herself. She’s also married and has a 10-year-old son; and when she arrives in New York to perform at a famous opera house, The Phantom knows that he much reach out to her. He must hear her sing.
Christine’s life seems almost idyllic, yet it becomes clear that her husband Raoul (Sean Thompson), Vicomte de Chagny, has gambled away her money and is not the kind and understanding father that their son, Gustave (Jake Heston Miller), needs. She is singing, basically, for their supper.
In the hotel (another beautiful set with an ornate, Art Nouveau feel), the couple argues; and Christine tries to calm Gustave, whose voice and musical talents echo his mother’s. Saddened by the reality of her life, Christine gazes out the window, and in a moment reminiscent of Dracula, The Phantom comes to her, shocking her to a faint.
In their first duet, “Once Upon Another Time,” a twining and twisting song that forces their voices to stretch and showcases both Murphy’s and Picerno’s incredible range, the two confess that they did love each other; and their love story drives the rest of the scene. Gustave’s arrival changes the tenor of the song; and the reveal that he is not Raoul’s son, but instead is The Phantom’s, provides a twist to the narrative arc that drives the second half of the show. (By the way, like father like son: Gustave is the “Angel of Music” to his mother that The Phantom has been until now.)
But it is the second half of the show that commands the most attention, with a challenging duet between The Phantom and Raoul (“Devil Take the Hindmost”), in which the two men who love Christine face off, and an incredibly strong version of the title song by the stunningly talented Meghan Picerno. Picerno truly shook the (extremely high) rafters of DPAC with her powerful soprano, cementing the theme of the play, and the reason for its continuation from the original Phantom to this story.
There are songs in the show that will become fan favorites (“Til I Hear You Sing,” “Devil Take the Hindmost,” and “Love Never Dies”); and this show does add the levity of the Coney Island folk (who often steal the show), but The Phantom of the Opera will always be the older, more desirable, sister in this Webber original/sequel duo.
For those romantics in the audience, love truly will never die — and The Phantom might not, as well.
SECOND OPINION: Oct. 19th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh BWW TV interview Karen Mason, conducted by Jeffrey Kare: https://www.broadwayworld.com/raleigh/article/BWW-Interview-Karen-Mason-of-LOVE-NEVER-DIES-National-Tour-20171019. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Oct. 31st Triangle Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2017/10/the-phantom-returns-in-love-never-dies-at-dpac-just-in-time-for-halloween/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents LOVE NEVER DIES: THE PHANTOM RETURNS at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 1 and 2, 8 p.m. Nov. 3, 2 and 8 p.m. Nov. 4, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701, in the American Tobacco Historic District.
TICKETS: $35 and up, plus taxes and fees. Click here for DPAC Special Offers.
Ticketmaster: 800-982-2787 or https://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/83053.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events-tickets/group-services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: https://www.loveneverdies.com/sights-sounds/.
DPAC‘S 2017-18 “TEN GREAT YEARS” SUNTRUST BROADWAY SERIES: https://www.dpacnc.com/suntrust-broadway-series-2017-18 and https://www.dpacnc.com/news/detail/announcing-suntrust-broadway-at-dpac-2017-2018-season.
U.S. TOUR: https://www.loveneverdies.com/, https://www.loveneverdies.com/ustour/, https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/love-never-dies–514806, http://www.facebook.com/loveneverdies, https://twitter.com/loveneverdies, and http://www.youtube.com/phantomloveneverdies.
CREATIVE TEAM: https://www.loveneverdies.com/ustour/creative/.
NOTE: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 4th, performance.
The Phantom of Manhattan (1999 novel): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Phantom_of_Manhattan (Wikipedia).
The Novel: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Frederick Forsyth (novelist and book): http://www.frederickforsyth.co.uk/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/frederick-forsyth-514810 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederick_Forsyth (Wikipedia).
Love Never Dies (2010 West End and 2011 Melbourne musical): https://www.loveneverdies.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/tour-production/love-never-dies–514806 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love_Never_Dies_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Andrew Lloyd Webber (music and book): https://www.andrewlloydwebber.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/andrew-lloyd-webber-12073 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0515908/ (Internet Movie Database), https://www.facebook.com/andrewlloydwebber (Facebook page), http://twitter.com/officialalw (Twitter page), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Lloyd_Webber (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/andrewlloydwebbermusicals (YouTube).
Ben Elton (book): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/ben-elton-4462 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_Elton (Wikipedia).
Glenn Slater (book and lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/glenn-slater-80644 (Internet Broadway Database) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glenn_Slater (Wikipedia).
Charles Hart (additional lyrics): https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/charles-hart-12947 (Internet Broadway Database) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Hart_(lyricist) (Wikipedia).
Simon Phillips (director): https://www.hlamgt.com.au/client/simon-phillips/ (HLA Management Australia bio), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/simon-phillips-15877 (Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Phillips_(director) (Wikipedia).
Dawn Reno Langley is the award-winning author of The Mourning Parade, as well as other novels, children’s books, nonfiction books, essays, short stories, poems, and articles. She is the creator of The Writer’s Hand Journals and runs workshops on using journals in every walk of life. A Fulbright Scholar, she holds the MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT, and the PhD in Interdisciplinary Studies from Union Institute and University. She lives in Durham with her dog, Izzy. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/.