Review: "Love Never Dies" at Pantages Theatre

Jill Weinlein

  • Chief Los Angeles Theatre Critic

I wanted to love the continuation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera in the sequel Love Never Dies. I was a huge fan of the musical when it premiered at the Pantages Theatre in the 1990s starring Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman. I went back to see the beloved musical again, when television actor Robert Guillaume replaced Crawford in Los Angeles. He was the first African-American actor to play Phantom, and was a sensation.

With all of the show’s success, a sequel to Phantom was written by Lloyd Webber, Ben Elton, Frederick Forsyth and Glenn Slater, called Love Never Dies. Adapted from the book The Phantom of Manhattan, it’s set in the early 1900s.

The Phantom opens the show sitting center stage while playing a black grand piano. We learn the Phantom produces a circus-style Mister Y’s Phantasma troop of performers in Coney Island. Regretting letting his cherished Christine go ten years ago, he covertly invites her to perform under the guise of Oscar Hammerstein. With her husband, Raoul, and 10 year old son, Gustave, they cross the sea to allow Christine to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House, unaware that it is the Phantom who has arranged the reunion.

This ultimate love triangle story is eye-opening with familiar characters in this sequel brought back from the original Phantom. It’s also more operatic with a charismatic Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes), exquisite Christine (Meghan Picerno) who is as good as Brightman and out-of-sorts Raoul (Sean Thompson). Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her aspiring-singing daughter, Meg (Mary Michael Patterson) are back in a more villainous role.

There are also a cast of new characters who are part of the Phantasma performing family. They come in all shapes and sizes, while dressed in colorful harlequin, fairy and circus costumes by Gabriela Tylesova.

The set (Tylesova) and lighting (Nick Schleiper) are visually beautiful with carnival silhouette lighting in the back of the stage, and an enormous Phantom mask framing the front with one bright blue light as an eye.

Director (Frederick Forsyth) and choreographer (Graema Murphy Ao) creatively have the ensemble and cast use the turntable-revolving stage throughout the show.

 Meghan Picerno portrays Christine and Gardar Thor Cortes is the Phantom in the national tour of "Love Never Dies." (Joan Marcus)

Meghan Picerno portrays Christine and Gardar Thor Cortes is the Phantom in the national tour of "Love Never Dies." (Joan Marcus)

Here’s what I loved about Love Never Dies - I instantly felt goosebumps whenever these talented opera trained singers sang one of the original songs, especially the haunting Angel of Music.

A cleverly fun scene to watch is Bathing Beauty performed by Meg (Patterson) and ensemble.

After intermission, when Christine (Picerno) sings the title song of the show Love Never Dies, it’s pure theatrical perfection with the gorgeous peacock set, stunning peacock dress, and Picerno’s angelic singing voice. It’s just one of those moments, that no matter what happens before this scene, it’s so worth waiting to see this performance.

My only critical notes are the following - I wish the songs were as memorable as the original show. There are no falling chandeliers and no Masquerade numbers. I didn’t walk out of the theatre humming any of the songs.

 Also, the show turns very macabre when the Phantom takes Gustav (depending on the night either Casey Lyons or Jake Heston Miller) down into the ominous underworld with skeleton puppets, glass pyramids with ghoulish characters inside, and zombies-like people crawling along the ground. Children under 12 may be terrified.

The surprising ending leaves one to believe there could be a threequel made to create a Phantom of the Opera trilogy, because the “angel of music” lives on. As the lyrics in the title song are sung “Love won’t let you go once you are possessed,” Phantom of the Opera fans will be surprised by the twists and turns, and in awe of the talent in front and behind the stage. The obsession with the Phantom of the Opera lives on.