Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham

Love Never Dies
National Tour
Review by Garrett Southerland

Mary Michael Patterson, Meghan Picerno,
Karen Mason, and Sean Thompson

Photo by Joan Marcus
"Love never dies," and apparently neither does the popularity of the Broadway mega hit The Phantom of the Opera which, after nearly thirty years, is the longest running show on Broadway. If you've wondered what became of those classic characters, composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has created a musical sequel. Love Never Dies, making its North American tour debut and currently playing at the Durham Performing Arts Center through November 5, attempts to recapture the magic of the original love story, taking it out of the Paris Opera House and into the carnival atmosphere of Coney Island, New York.

Unfortunately, the performance I attended was hampered by sets that arrived late from the production's first domestic engagement, in Detroit, resulting in the curtain going up nearly an hour and a half past schedule. Considering the number of logistical concerns in a touring production, some sympathy is merited. But a portion of the audience left before the show even started, and more did not return after intermission. When it did start, there were still some set malfunctions, and at one point the actors were forced to pantomime riding a horseless carriage that did not materialize. A falling chandelier was a visual metaphor in Phantom; hopefully this is not an omen for this production.

Love Never Dies begins ten years after the original, with the Phantom (marvelously sung by Bronson Norris Murphy, on for Garðar Thór Cortes) pining for another opportunity to hear his love and muse, Christine (an equally marvelous Meghan Picerno), sing once more. He has been lured to America by Madame Giry (talented Broadway veteran Karen Mason), who hopes her daughter Meg (a delightful Mary Michael Patterson) will capture his affection. But the Phantom, who oversees a circus-like entertainment called Phantasma, has invited Christine to make her American debut at his establishment. Christine arrives in America with her husband Raoul (a dashing Sean Thompson) and son Gustave (an amazingly talented Jake Heston Miller), and we quickly learn that all is not well with her family. Christine's love, for her husband and for the Phantom, will soon be put to the test, with a rather unexpected outcome.

Comparisons to the original story are inevitable. I question whether a sequel to such a classic musical was necessary, but the book by Webber, Ben Elton, Glenn Slater, and Frederick Forsyth has some new ideas for these characters, some of which may not sit well with fans of the original. Andrew Lloyd Webber has written some lovely new melodies, but they do not live up to the majesty of the original. This score has one or two memorable songs hidden among numerous lesser achievements. He delivers a Coney Island pastiche in two songs featuring Meg Giry and, though they are entertaining, they do not match the humor of Phantom's opera scenes. The most effective humor in the production comes in the song "Dear Old Friend," a welcome tonic in a show steeped in dark, foreboding love. Ironically, Meghan Picerno as Christine does not receive many chances to show off that glorious singing voice. Meanwhile, the Phantom steals applause throughout, though he does little more than repeat his signature theme.

Bronson Norris Murphy's Phantom is immediately welcomed by the audience on the strength of his opening number, "'Til I Hear You Sing," a highlight of the score. Meghan Picerno does not get to really show off her amazing soprano until late in the second act, which seems a waste of amazing talent. Karen Mason, who may be best remembered for her portrayal of Tanya in the original Broadway production of Mamma Mia!, continues to amaze with her voice and presence. She is truly an underrated actress, who can never be given too much time on the stage. Though she gets to close out act one with the song "Ten Long Years," this isn't sufficient to establish Madame Giry's position in the Phantom's life or to fully showcase the powerhouse voice Ms. Mason has.

The real delight of the production is Jake Heston Miller as Gustave, Christine's young son. A true talent through and through, with an amazing voice equal to that of the main protagonists, Mr. Miller also does not receive enough time on stage to showcase his talent. Gustave shares several songs with other characters but does not have one of his own, which is unfortunate. The characters of Fleck, Gangle, and Squelch (portrayed respectively by Katrina Kemp, Stephen Petrovich, and Richard Koons) seem to be merely an attempt to add some humor to the production and to provide something for the audience to look at during set changes. These characters easily could have been combined into one, though it's unclear whether they are the Phantom's henchmen, if they are good or bad, and ultimately why they are a part of the story in the first place.

Director Simon Phillips has assembled a top-notch creative team for this show, and above all, designer Gabriela Tylesova. Her costumes are stunningly beautiful and are by far the best part of the production. Her set design is gorgeous, too, especially the set for Coney Island. Lighting design by Nick Schlieper and sound design by Mick Potter enhance the ambiance of the production.

But Love Never Dies seems to be lost in what has become a common dead-end in entertainment today: an ill-advised attempt to capitalize further on a lucrative franchise. This production has spent time in London and Australia but hasn't yet made it to Broadway, and it remains to be seen whether fans will bear out the idea that love for the Phantom truly will never die.

Love Never Dies is presented by SunTrust Broadway, Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham, NC 27701 through November 5th, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at,, or the Ticket Center at DPAC in person or by phone at 919-680-2787. For more information on the tour, visit

Composer: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Glenn Slater and Charles Hart
Book: Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton with Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth
Orchestration: David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Director: Simon Phillips
Scenic and Costume Design: Gabriela Tylesova
Lighting Design: Nick Schlieper
Sound Design: Mick Potter
Choreography: Graeme Murphy AO

(In Order of Appearance)
The Phantom: Bronson Norris Murphy
Fleck: Katrina Kemp
Gangle: Stephen Petrovich
Squelch: Richard Koons
Meg Giry: Mary Michael Patterson
Madame Giry: Karen Mason
Christine Daae: Meghan Picerno
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny: Sean Thompson
Gustave: Jake Heston Miller
Ensemble: Chelsey Arce, Diana DiMarzio, Tyler Donahue, Yesy Garcia, Tamar Greene, Natalia Lepore Hagan, Lauren Lukacek, Alyssa McAnany, Rachel Anne Moore, Bronson Norris Murphy, Dave Schoonover, John Swapshire IV, Kelly Swint, Lucas Thompson, Arthur Wise

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