THE BASICS: LOVE NEVER DIES, the 2017-2018 touring production of the U.S. version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical presented by Shea’s and Albert Nocciolino opened Tuesday night, June 5 and runs through Sunday evening, June 10, Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8, Saturday at 2 & 8, Sunday at 2 & 7 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street (1-800-745-3000). www.sheas.org Full service bar, refreshment stands with coffee, cookies, champagne, and souvenirs. Runtime: 2-1/2 hours with one intermission.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: LOVE NEVER DIES is not one of Webber’s great musicals, and as with CATS or EVITA there is only one big song, but the design is very clever, all the voices are first rate, the leads make you care about their characters–it’s a complete theatrical experience. As the musical opens, we see the Phantom of the Opera at an organ console, disconsolate over the loss of his beloved musical protégée, Christine Daaé. Suddenly, we realize it’s 1907, ten years after the Phantom has left the Paris Opera House, and he has found a new lair in Coney Island, where reality is distorted and he can fit in amongst the costumed acrobats, thrill rides, and fun houses.
Meanwhile, Christine, now a major European opera star, and married to Raoul, with her ten-year-old son, Gustave, has accepted an invitation to travel from Paris to open a new opera house built by Oscar Hammerstein to rival the Metropolitan Opera. Christine’s marriage to Raoul is suffering from his drinking and gambling and they desperately need the money. But, they never make it to Manhattan, once they’ve been tricked into entering the Phantom’s world, a freak show he calls “Phantasm.”
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Having read her bio and then interviewing her on the phone, I was very eager to hear a bona fide opera singer, Meghan Picerno, portray Christine, the character who is a European opera diva. We’ve recently seen a Broadway star, Kelly O’Hara, cross over onto the stage of the Metropolitan Opera in Mozart’s COSI FAN TUTTE (coincidentally reset in Coney Island) and now we find that the reverse works, too. In real life, Picerno has sung the lead soprano roles of Cunegonde in Bernstein’s CANDIDE, Marie in Donizetti’s DAUGHTER OF THE REGIMENT, and Lucia, in Donizetti’s LUCIA DI LAMMERMOOR. “Something they have in common is that they’re all acting roles, they’re all full-on performance roles” she said, and that’s the new way in opera, better acting, picking up a trick or two from Broadway. And, in turn, the ending of Broadway’s LOVE NEVER DIES is truly operatic in the grand tradition.
When the moment in Act II comes for the big aria…. I mean song, “Love Never Dies” with the staging (Raoul on the right, the Phantom on the left), the retro set, the peacock feathered gown, and the voice… wow. It’s a moment. My prediction is that over the next ten years brides will start to choose “Love Never Dies” for their first dance. “Who knows when love begins? / Who knows what makes it start? / One day it’s simply there, / Alive inside in your heart. / It slips into your thoughts, / It infiltrates your soul, / It takes you by surprise, / Then seizes full control. / Try to deny it, / And try to protest, / But love won’t let you go, / Once you’ve been possessed.”
Now, is LOVE NEVER DIES a sequel to PHANTOM OF THE OPERA? Meghan Picerno says “Yes and No.” Indeed, Andrew Lloyd Webber himself has equivocated on this topic. But of course, it’s a sequel. True, you don’t have to have seen PHANTOM, but given that it’s the longest running show in Broadway history and, according to Shea’s, has “now been seen by more than 130 million people worldwide” that’s probably a moot point. And, let’s get real. Webber quotes the music from Phantom on several occasions. And why not? It’s great music and it works to build continuity.
If there were no love triangles, there would be no operas, period. And, like a grand opera, it’s not plot points that make the story in LOVE NEVER DIES, but rather characters developed through song. What an impossible situation each of them is in. Do we really want Andrew Lloyd Webber to wrap this triangle up with a bow? That would be impossible as well. So, as you exit Shea’s you’ll have plenty to talk about on the way home.
- The sets are spectacular, and expressionistic, and wonderfully weird with a partly rotating stage, mirrors, odd angles, and costumed characters that are from another time and place. One of the joys of seeing traveling shows at Shea’s is the big budget sets.
- There is another soprano on stage, the character Meg Giry, beautifully sung by Mary Michael Patterson (cute as a button and who has in the past sung the role of Christine), and the two sopranos have a duet, which is a delight, but a major highlight of the evening is the stand-alone / set piece “Bathing Beauty” with Meg and all the young men and women frolicking in old fashioned bathing suits. A pure delight.
- This tour started last September, and might hit the 250th performance while in Buffalo, so everyone is confident and flawless in their roles.
- I appreciated the pit orchestra playing “real” instruments, and while, yes, there are three programmed keyboards, there are four strings, three reeds, and three brass players, plus percussion, for a full sound.
UP NEXT: Disney’s ALADDIN, August 8 to 19. Note: When purchasing tickets, now and especially once tickets go on sale for HAMILTON, be aware of scammers who will use fraudulent websites. Perhaps the safest way is to start with www.sheas.org which will redirect you to the authentic TicketMaster site.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!