The Phantom Returns — This Time on Coney Island

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Gardar Thor Cortes stars as the Phantom in the touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Die.” Credit: Joan Marcus

Just ask Hollywood, sequels are big business. There have been seven “Fast and Furious” and “Star Wars” films, five “Transformers” and “Alien” movies, countless “Spiderman,” “Iron Man” and “Avengers” sequels, just to name a few.

While these franchises are box office gold for the studios, rarely do the sequels live up to their originals. (Anybody remember “Grease 2?”)

Many hit movies have been adapted for the stage, but theater producers have fortunately (and wisely) been slow to embrace such a model. One exception was “Love Never Dies,” Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 2010 sequel to perhaps one of the biggest hits of all time, “The Phantom of the Opera.” Talk about a tough act to follow.

“Love Never Dies” takes place 10 years after the angry mobs stormed the Paris Opera and drove the Phantom out. He was smuggled to New York City aboard a freighter where he takes residence in a Coney Island side show, dubbed “Phantasma.” There, he oversees a different kind of theatrical spectacle populated by all sorts of freaks.

The Phantom devises a plot to lure his muse, now world famous opera singer Christine Daaé, to join him with a ruse, an invitation to perform in impresario Oscar Hammerstein’s new theater. She is joined by her husband, Raoul, now a penniless drunk, and Gustave, her 10-year-old son. In a bait-and-switch, the Phantom will wipe away the family’s debt if Christine will perform just one concert.

Without completely revealing a spoiler, as the family becomes entangled in the phantom’s machinations, the audience learns that much more happened that one passionate night years ago in the dark sewers below the Paris Opera House. This development will have profound implications for all.

If the plot—a sort of groupthink exercise—seems contrived, well, it was and London critics and audiences responded predictably. The ultimate goal seemed to be to cash in further on the success of “Phantom.” Nobody was happy with the production, especially the composer. Like so many melodramatic operas, “Love Never Dies” appeared to have died a melodramatic death.

Fast forward a few years and the famous flop was resuscitated by Australian director Simon Phillips and sent on tour: Signature musical motifs from “Phantom” are now laced throughout Webber’s lush, if lackluster, score, accompanied by the rare full pit orchestra boasting reeds, brass, strings and orchestral percussion. Grandiose, dazzling sets and vibrant costumes by Gabriela Tylesova, all worthy of a Broadway or West End production, suggest the regality of the original.

Most importantly, the cast—Gardar Thor Cortes (Phantom), Meghan Picerno (Christine), Sean Thompson (Raoul) and Casey Lyons (Gustave)—approach the task with gusto, singing their hearts out as melodies soar and digging deep into the most dramatic moments of the story.

“Love Never Dies” is now a theatrical spectacle and, despite a few weaknesses, has found a new life in this production and will continue to thrill audiences across the country.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies” can be seen at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale through Sunday, Nov. 19. Tickets start at $35.25 at BrowardCenter.org.


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