Blame our cultural moment, maybe, but the whole obsessive-love thing doesn’t seem quite as romantic now. Certainly it played better in the 1980s, when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” became one of musical theater’s perennial mega-hits.
Many “Phantom” fans will enjoy the sequel, “Love Never Dies,” now on view at the Opera House in a touring production. It’s beautifully sung and inventively staged. But “Love Never Dies” sometimes seems like the tragic story of a talented woman caught between two controlling jerks, one of whom happens to be into masks.
We pick up the “Phantom” story in 1907, said to be 10 years after the events at the Paris opera house (not exactly, but who’s counting). Christine Daaé is now a famous opera singer in Europe, married to Raoul, mother to pre-adolescent Gustave. She comes to New York to perform, hoping to recover from financial problems created by her husband’s gambling. News of her arrival is received like a thunderclap at the Coney Island amusement park called Phantasma, run by a certain reclusive impresario given to late-night organ solos.
Still pining for Christine after a decade apart, the Phantom lures her to Phantasma, and the old magic returns, sort of. But he threatens that she’ll never see her boy again unless she performs just one song at the park, for which she’ll be paid handsomely. What a guy! Will they fall back into each other’s arms? Or will churlish Raoul put down his drink long enough to fight for her? And is there a song here as memorable as “The Music of the Night” from “Phantom”?
Spoiler alert: The answer to the last one is no. There are two or three hopefuls, including the title song, but none comes close to that classic, despite the best efforts of the cast and a crack orchestra led by Dale Rieling. The opera-trained coloratura Meghan Picerno is a wonder as Christine; she received the biggest applause Wednesday night for her soaring vocals. As the Phantom, alternate Bronson Norris Murphy (who played Raoul in “Phantom” on Broadway) sang admirably in place of ailing lead actor Gardar Thor Cortes. And Mary Michael Patterson won over the audience as Phantasma trouper Meg Giry. What doesn’t work here isn’t the cast’s fault. Who knows if even original “Phantom” stars Michael Crawford and Sarah Brightman could have pulled this off?
The relocation to Coney Island feints toward a genuinely lurid tone, with a freaky sideshow cast led by Stephen Petrovich, Richard Koons, and Katrina Kemp as Gangle, Squelch, and Fleck. Their leering glee made me want to see that show. Phantasma also brings out the best from set and costume designer Gabriela Tylesova. The midway can be seen as the darkness inside the Phantom made manifest, but the carny scenes could have gone even further.
What’s really weird is that young Gustave, well-played by the angelic-voiced Casey Lyons, loves the sinister wildness of Phantasma and keeps romping off down the midway with the carneys as if he’s found his people. But when he sees the unmasked Phantom, he freaks out, and not in a good way. You feel for him, even more after a big plot twist that unleashes the final melodrama.
The giant white mask that looms over the stage for about half the show is an effective symbol of the Phantom’s love, I guess, but it just made me wish that someone had told Christine about #MeToo.
LOVE NEVER DIES
Book by Ben Elton, based on “The Phantom of Manhattan” by Frederick Forsyth. Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Additional lyrics by Charles Hart. Orchestration by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber. Directed by Simon Phillips. Presented by Broadway in Boston. At the Opera House, through Feb. 11. Tickets from $44, 880-982-2787, www.broadwayinboston.comJoel Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org