By Lynda Lacayo
The American debut of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies” is touring with an all-star cast. The long-running Broadway sensation “Phantom of the Opera” is considered among Lloyd Webber’s finest work, so how does the sequel compete with a masterpiece? Or, in this case, continue the spellbinding love story filled with intrigue, obsession and romance? It does so brilliantly, according to critics.
Let the audiences be the judge of the newest Lloyd Webber work of theatrical magic. “Love Never Dies” is running at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts April 24 to May 4, and is currently playing at The Hollywood Pantages through April 22.
Beloved “Phantom” characters are once again mesmerizing audiences with a brilliant cast, showcasing Gardar Thor Cortes from the German production as the Phantom, Opera soprano Meghan Picerno as Christine and Karen Mason as Madame Giry.
Mason’s career path has taken her from singing hostess to Broadway, cabaret, Carnegie Hall and beyond. She is back on the stage in the American touring company of “Love Never Dies.” “Love” is Lloyd Webber at his operatic best and while Mason is equally comfortable on small stages and large, she is not exactly an opera star. This does not concern her; she says “being in ‘Love Never Dies’ is pretty wonderful. It has one of the most beautiful scores every written. You see the growth of Lloyd Webber’s genius in different areas. He’s gone from rock to pop and now is more operatic. He’s a very gifted and multifaceted composer.”
The musical is loaded with stars from the opera world, so when asked if she had been classically coached, Mason replied, “That’s a ringing no! Actually, I trained in New York with Bill Schuman, a big opera and voice teacher, but hey, I’m a Broadway, cabaret type. The good thing about ‘Love’ is that as Madame Giry, I can do what I do and show off my skills in that area. It’s interesting playing Madame G. because I’m using different parts of my voice then I have in the past. Some of the songs are in a little higher place than I’m used to. No one would call my voice operatic but I’m singing more in a soprano range. And then I get to do what I’ve been doing my whole life, belt it out. There are lots of beautiful voices in the show and I’m lucky to be part of this company.”
“Love Never Dies” may be a sequel to “Phantom of the Opera,” but Mason considers it more of a “beautiful extension of ‘Phantom’” and says, “it’s not necessary to compare the two shows. ‘Phantom’ has a gorgeous score and all these years later, is still as lovely as can be and ‘Love’ is just the next installment in the story. It certainly has all the Lloyd Webber touches, glorious musical arrangements, breathtaking melodies and spectacular production numbers, but its look is different. After all, it takes place ten years later and in New York City but it’s still as big as can be. The man, Lloyd Webber, likes magnitude and this show certainly has that.”
In this continuation of the story, the Phantom, aided by Madame Giry, has done quite well for himself. As the mysterious impresario behind Mr. Y’s Phantasma, a popular circus and vaudeville theatre in Coney Island, the Phantom has amassed fame, fortune and mobility. He has all he could ever have desired, except the love of his muse, Christine Daaé. In this retelling of murderous madness, bitter rivalries and possessive love, the role of Madame Giry has grown in importance. Of her role, Mason explains, “Madame G. is a greater part of the plot because she is now running the big circus in Coney Island on a day to day basis. She has a more prominent presence because the stakes are much higher. She’s made more of a commitment and this deeper connection impacts the story. She’s different in this reincarnation because she’s lived a lot more, it’s ten years later and she’s had an incredible journey. She has been forced to start over in a new world, even as she is protecting the Phantom, her own life has deepened and darkened. She’s a very different character than she was in the original ‘Phantom.’”
Mason is captivated by her character’s strength and tenacity. She says, “I was fascinated by her ability to take care of the Phantom and stay connected to him while protecting his gift and his music. He’s obviously very dark, yet she’s still weirdly steadfast to that person that she saved so long ago. He’s a very threatening presence and she remains loyal.”
On playing Madame Giry, Mason says, “She’s complicated and I adore her. My favorite thing about the role is one moment at the end of Act One. Short of telling you what it is, I’ll just say I love being able to have that moment at every show. It’s kind of a surprise to see the musical. And here’s a hint: keep your eye on the mirrored center obelisk.”
She continues, “Every actor thinks their special moment is the showstopper number and mine kind of does stop the show because it’s at the end of Act One. But the real showstopper in this musical are the sets and costumes. They are truly magnificent.”
As for songs and scenes, the song that speaks to Mason starts with the line, “Look with your heart. It’s called ‘Love is Beautiful’ and Christine sings it to her son, Gustave, to explain the relationship she has with his father, the Phantom. It’s complicated but then love is complicated as she tries to explain in this exquisite song.”
Her favorite scene also harkens back to the end of Act One. Mason describes it as “beautiful, dark, mysterious and wonderful. ‘The Beauty Underneath’ is sung as the Phantom takes Gustave into his lair to show him the darkness in his private place. It really is a magnificently-designed and executed scene. Between the choreography, the movement on stage, the song itself and the performances, it is one of the most gorgeous and complicated moments on stage.”
“Love Never Dies” may be the first touring show that audience reactions have propelled to the Great White Way. Mason says that “in all the towns the show has toured, we have received consistent standing ovations. People love it so I think it would play well on Broadway.”
Judge for yourselves, Orange County. “Love Never Dies” is at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts April 24-May 5. For tickets and information: The Box Office, 600 Town Center Dr., Costa Mesa or SCFTA.org.