After nearly every song in a musical there’s a bit of an applause, normally a few seconds at most. At last night’s performance of Love Never Dies, its title song earned far more than just a few seconds, and rightfully so.
From the moment the last note rang across the theater, the crowd erupted for Rachel Anne Moore. Yes, her bowing and playing it up is part of the show, which did naturally cause more applause, but even without that, even if she had just sung the song and been done, that applause would’ve been just as loud. Moore hits notes that don’t seem in the natural register and sings to every corner of that theater.
If the orchestra — lead by Music Director/Conductor Dale Rieling — hadn’t been there to start up the next song that applause could’ve gone on the rest of the show.
While Moore — who is actually the alternate for the female lead, Christine Daaé — singing the title song makes you stop in your tracks, the show’s book by Ben Elton is so melodramatic it’s hard to root for just about any of the characters you grew to love in Phantom of the Opera. To put it simply, the book is eye-rolling inducing and oftentimes groan worthy.
Taking place 10 years after the events that occurred in Phantom, the show opens on The Phantom (Bronson Norris Murphy), who is distraught and longs to hear the voice of his former love and musical protégé, Christine. While Christine is still in Paris he’s in New York — thanks to the help of Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her daughter/Christine’s old friend Meg (Mary Michael Patterson, a University of Michigan graduate) — and the mastermind behind the Coney Island amusement park, Phantasma, full of rides and freak shows.
Shortly into the show, however, we find out Christine is about to make her way to New York with her husband, Raoul (Sean Thompson) and 10-year-old son, Gustave (played in last night’s performance by Jake Heston Miller) to perform at Oscar Hammerstein’s new Manhattan Opera House. Once they’ve arrived in the U.S., the trio end up at Phantasma after being basically kidnapped before Phantom ends up in their room. He wants Christine to sing just one song that he’s written. Just one — it’s all he asks.
From there the rest of the show becomes a tale of obsession for fame, obsession for love, and someone gets shot. See, melodramatic at an 11, and that’s just a short summary.
But what the show lacks in an oftentimes too over-the-top book, it does slightly make up for in its cast’s vocal talent — thanks in part to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music and Glenn Slater’s lyrics, with additional lyrics by Charles Hart — and the show’s production value.
As mentioned, Moore’s performance is a knockout. Her vocal talent is incredible and that’s a bar set high the minute the show starts with Murphy’s “’Til I Hear You Sing.”
And when Moore and Murphy sing together, like they do during a trio of duets in Act I, it’s easy to see why they were both cast. Not only are they both fantastic vocalists but they have a lot of chemistry. During those three songs, “Beneath a Moonless Sky,” “Once Upon Another Time,” and “Mother Please, I’m Scared,” they make audiences feel every ounce of their characters’ pain, their frustration, and ultimately, their love for one another.
Moore and Murphy are the show’s leads, but there isn’t a single person in that cast that can’t hold their own vocally, from young Miller, who has a voice with a tone and quality that sounds as clear as a piece of glass looks, to Patterson, who gets most of the show’s more “showy” numbers and looks like she’s having a blast singing them.
She also gets some really wonderful dramatic moments as we watch her turn into a shell of the woman we met at the beginning. Thompson and Mason aren’t slouches either, both bringing a lot of hurt to most of the songs they sing. That’s a compliment, their characters go through a lot.
Then there’s Gabriela Tylesova’s set and costume design, both filled with stunning detail. A central turntable keeps everything in motion on stage, making it easy to go from inside a room to its balcony just by a slight turn. Add Nick Schlieper’s lighting design and you truly feel like you’re at Coney Island, searching for the next ride to enjoy, and which dark corners to avoid. The duo’s work in numbers like “The Coney Island Waltz” will leave you staring in awe at the world they created.
Considering Phantom is the longest running show on Broadway by a wide margin — coming in at almost 13,000 performances since it began in 1988 — it’s understandable that Webber would want to keep the story going. But sometimes, as proved in Love Never Dies, even amazing vocals and production can’t save a sequel that feels slightly unnecessary.
Love Never Dies