WEDNESDAY, Oct. 10 — Ah, Christine Daaé. If only she were warier of full-length mirrors, lest the Phantom be lurking on the other side. But she’s just as naïve in “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Weber’s sequel to his blockbuster Broadway hit “The Phantom of the Opera.”
While the sets, costumes, performances and nostalgia of “Love Never Dies,” currently running at the Wharton Center, rise to the level of a memorable Lloyd Weber spectacle, the songs do not. What the show lacks in catchy power ballads, it makes up for with melodrama. Like its predecessor, “Love Never Dies” knows how to add the opera in “soap opera.”
Set 10 years after the events of the original “Phantom,” “Love Never Dies” once again sets up a sexually charged meeting between the Phantom (Bronson Norris Murphy) and his muse Christine Daaé (Rachel Anne Moore on Tuesday).
Under the guise of his supposed death, the Phantom found a new home in the carnival atmosphere of New York’s Coney Island. After deciding he can’t compose without her, he lures Christine to his labyrinthine funhouse lair with the promise of a concert and cash, along with her husband Raoul (Sean Thompson) and child Gustave (Jake Heston Miller on Tuesday).
While the songs of “Love Never Dies” often feel flat and forgettable, compared to earwig hits like “Angel of Music” or “Music of the Night,” it’s not for lack of trying on the part of the orchestra or the cast.
Murphy emotes passion and heartbreak in every breath as the Phantom. He demonstrates his multi-octave range in the opening song “’Til I Hear You Sing.” But he also gives tragic humanity to a character who often threatens and intimidates to get whatever he wants.
As fellow competing alpha male, Thompson finds the heart in the now drunk, broke and self-loathing Raoul. Raoul literally sings at one point that he is also a monster with his own mask — this is not a show for subtlety — but Thompson always plays the human underneath.
As the target of the Phantom and Raoul’s desire, Moore deftly navigates her paper-thin character to be more than a mother or an object of lust. Moore effortlessly plays off the passion of two needy, broken men and she finally gets to show off her range on “Love Never Dies” in Act II. But her real effort goes into physicalizing the frustration of Christine’s terrible options and lack of choice.
The superb supporting cast includes the Phantom’s carnival minions, circus performers Fleck (Katrina Kemp), Gangle (Stephen Petrovich) and Squelch (Richard Koons), along with songs and ever-twisting subplots from fellow performers Meg Giry (Mary Michael Patterson) and Madame Giry (Karen Mason).
But the show’s breakout role really is Gustave, a 10-year-old of questionable parentage who coincidentally also “hears the music.” For as bleak as this show often is, Miller is like a bright beam of youthful optimism.
Gustave is not street smart per say, allowing complete strangers to guide him through the twisted underworld of Coney Island attractions. But Miller can sing like an angel … an angel of music perhaps?
Gabriela Tylesova’s set and costume designs are worth the price of admission alone. Aided by Nick Schlieper’s lighting design, Tylesova’s constantly moving set pieces create a turn-of-the-century carnival look, as if the stage is infected by the gothic mind of the Phantom.
Conductor Dale Rieling completes the theatrical world with a lush orchestra that sonically transports the audience, occasionally teasing them with music cues from “Phantom’s” more familiar songbook.
“Love Never Dies” does not live up to its predecessor, but it seems unlikely that any show could. But for fans of gothic melodrama, “Love Never Dies” will likely be a welcome addition to the “Phantom” zone.
“Love Never Dies” Tickets start at $43 Oct. 9-11, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 12, 8 p.m. Oct. 13, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Oct. 14, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Wharton Center for Performing Arts 750 E. Shaw Lane, East Lansing (517) 432-2000 www.whartoncenter.com