The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running show in Broadway history. For this reason alone, I suppose it makes sense that composer Andrew Lloyd Webber decided to write a sequel, Love Never Dies, the national tour of which is currently playing at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre. But this misguided, messy, melodramatic musical fails to live up to the legacy of its predecessor at every turn, and the many questions raised by the largely inscrutable plot can be boiled down to one: why?
Loosely adapted from the novel The Phantom of Manhattan by Frederick Forsyth, who co-wrote the musical’s book alongside Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, and lyricist Glenn Slater, the story picks up roughly 10 years after the events of Phantom of the Opera. But this is perhaps where the confusion begins—the year is stated as 1907, and the events of the first musical actually took place in 1881. The creative team has been unable to explain this discrepancy, but the only math you really need to do is the basic deduction that Christine Daaé has a son, Gustave (Casey Lyons), who looks just about 10 years old. See where this is going?
While Christine has been raising Gustave in Europe with her husband, Raoul (Sean Thompson), the Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes) has been living on Coney Island, where he has an amusement park, Phantasma. Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson) were instrumental in helping the Phantom relocate to New York to build his business years ago, and they have been working hard to establish Meg as the Phantom’s new ingenue, despite the looming shadow of his continued obsession with Christine. When Christine and her family arrive in New York, she receives an anonymous invitation to perform at Phantasma and is shocked to learn the Phantom is still alive. At first, he threatens to harm her son should she not agree to do this one last performance for him, but when secrets are revealed about Gustave’s true parentage the tables turn.
The story is flimsy, and each twist will be familiar to anyone who has ever seen a soap opera. There are maybe 15 minutes of solid plot, and an additional cumbersome two hours and 25 minutes of the characters singing repetitive, unmemorable songs at each other. While I will admit the story of the original Phantom has never been my favorite, I have always truly appreciated the beautiful score. Sadly, not a single song here comes close to the level of any of the music from the original.
In terms of the production, many choices are simply nonsensical. For example, when Christine sings the 11 o’clock number entitled, of course, “Love Never Dies,” she is inexplicably wearing a peacock dress against a peacock backdrop. Considering peacocks are not mentioned in the show, nor are they symbolic of anything relevant as far as I am aware, this exemplified the thrown-together nature of the entire piece. It exercises every melodramatic cliché in the book. The plot becomes more and more convoluted as the show goes on, despite the primary conflict being extraordinarily simple. Don’t even get me started on the moment where Meg, performing in the Phantom’s vaudeville-style show, does a striptease behind an umbrella while singing a song called “Bathing Beauty.”
Directed by Simon Phillips, there is some unrealized potential in the staging and production design. Although a planned Broadway run years ago was scrapped and seems to be permanently off the table, money was clearly spent on this tour. The stage’s turntable is barely used effectively with the exception of one number towards the end, and the choice to portray Coney Island using all gold lights rather than doing something more dynamic is a visually boring missed opportunity.
None of these shortcomings, however, are the fault of the cast, who perform the challenging operatic score with ease and try valiantly to sell even the most cringeworthy dramatic moments. Lyons in particular had a lot of vocal and emotional heavy-lifting as Gustave, and handled the role with an ease and professionalism beyond his years. While much of the audience at the Pantages seemed to appreciate the show, and diehard Phantom fans may enjoy simply spending more time with these characters, others will see a wreck that unnecessarily taints the legacy of the original.
Love Never Dies runs at the Pantages Theatre through April 22nd. The running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes, including one intermission. Tickets start at $49 and can be purchased here. For information about future tour stops, click here.