By Marie Warner
LOVE NEVER DIES is a lavish attempt to capitalize on a previous success. Unfortunately, it can’t measure up to its predecessor.
10 years after the events of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA, the Phantom is running a sideshow in Coney Island with the stalwart Madam Giry and her daughter Meg at his side. However, as we see in the opening song “‘Til I Hear You Sing,” the Phantom has not forgotten his beloved Christine. When a lucrative concert offer brings Christine, husband Raoul, and son Gustave to New York, upheaval ensues.
The score is beautiful, and while it never achieves the heights of PHANTOM, there are several memorable songs. Musical callbacks to PHANTOM are present but feel appropriate as themes that tie the two works together, rather than just rehashing old songs.
The vocal work of the actors is fantastic. Bronson Norris Murphy and Meghan Picerno both have the chops to sing these roles, and Jake Heston Miller is incredible for one so young. I very much enjoyed Mary Michael Patterson as Meg. While I wished she had a little more to work with, her comedic “Bathing Beauty” number was one of the highlights for me.
Gabriela Tylesova’s designs are incredible. Starlight C.E.O. Rich Baker made a point of mentioning that LOVE NEVER DIES travels with approximately double the number of trucks that other productions bring to Starlight. After seeing the show, I believe it. Almost every scene utilizes a different, lavish set. The Coney Island lair used for “The Beauty Underneath” number is breathtaking. The stage is full of glimmering, starry lights and rotating mirrored pillars with performers inside. It perfectly captures the dark beauty of the Phantom.
I think every theatre kid has a PHANTOM phase, and I was no different. I still enjoy that show, but recognize the very creepy, problematic elements. However, rather than learning and growing, LOVE NEVER DIES doubles down on all the abuse of PHANTOM. Both Raoul and the Phantom are overtly physically, verbally, and psychologically abusive to Christine. Yet we are still somehow expected to be into the idea of Christine and the Phantom together and believe that this is what love looks like. If you thought that the Phantom leading young Christine through his foggy lair was creepy, just wait until you see him do that with a child! Unfortunately, LOVE NEVER DIES chooses to rob its heroine of any kind of agency and elevate the abusive men who ultimately destroy her. I’ll leave you with these lines from the title song sung by Christine, which perfectly encapsulate the twisted view of love this show espouses:
[Love] 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…
And soon as you submit,
Surrender flesh and bone,
That love takes on a life much bigger than your own.
It uses you at whim and drives you to despair.
And forces you to feel more joy than you can bear.