by Beki Pineda

LOVE NEVER DIES – Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber; Lyrics by Glenn Slater; Directed by Simon Phillips. Presented by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway (Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis, Denver) through October 28. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org

For all those who wanted to know where the Phantom of the Opera went after freeing Christine, here is the answer: to Coney Island where he created his own house of music to cater to the tourists who frequent the boardwalk. Instead of opera, his singer/dancers perform to show tunes like “Only For You” and “Bathing Beauty.” But secretly he still writes music for Christine and promises that he will wait “Til I Hear You Sing” again. After ten years of isolation, using the promise of a Broadway concert, he lures the now-married Christine, her husband Raoul and their son Gustave to America – then kidnaps them all to his Coney Island hideaway. The pull of passion and music is still strong between the two but Christine also loves Raoul who has grown surly with jealousy. She is put into a precarious position of either possibly losing her child or her husband and must choose.

The familiar characters of Madame Giry and her daughter Meg – all grown up – continue to work for and support the Phantom in this new setting. Meg is at first delighted to see her old friend Christine, but soon becomes jealous when she loses the attention of the Phantom. They are joined on stage by a menagerie of carnival characters led by three called Gangle, Squelch and Fleck who serve as a Greek chorus and to push the story forward. They lead the company in a Monster’s Ball called “The Coney Island Waltz,” a number reminiscent of “Masquerade” in the first PHANTOM. There are many musical motifs throughout the evening that instantly recall the original production. The “Angel of Music” is used throughout; there was even a little of the “Sunset Boulevard” melodies floating through. But the original music written for this show soars. “Til I Hear You Sing,” “Look With Your Heart,” Under a Moonless Sky,” and the title song delivered by Meghan Picerno as Christine are all beautiful songs that could stand alone.

There are some lovely performances in this production. One of the best was delivered by the  young man playing Christine’s son Gustave on opening night, Jake Heston Miller. His big voice and range coming out of his boy’s body was surprising. Sean Thompson was a brilliantly belligerent Raoul whose vocal and physical fight scene with the Phantom won a round of applause. At last, some real acting! A New York actor, he has nevertheless garnered a Henry award nomination for his work in GUYS AND DOLLS at Creede and performed in THE LAST ROMANCE at the Arvada Center. Mary Michael Patterson, also familiar to local audiences for her work at the Denver Center, displayed both sides of a complicated Meg Giry. She worked so hard to make the Phantom notice her only to see him go blind to her when Christine arrived. Her mother Madame Giry was given a heartfelt performance by Broadway veteran Karen Mason whose Act I closer, “Ten Long Years,” tells the story of what has happened to all of them in the interim.

So why is this new musical sadly unsatisfying? For one thing, it almost seemed too big for the Buell stage (which is enormous). It seemed as if it needed four or five feet more on either side of the stage to contain all of the scenery and things coming in and going out. During the Monster’s Ball scene, there didn’t seem to be enough room for all the actors to make their dramatic entrances through the circus tent. A scene set on the Phantasm stage involving revolving glass cases containing the “freak” show characters seemed precariously tight. So many moments that should have been dramatic – like the Phantom’s first song and his later first entrance into Christine’s room – seemed only big and overplayed. The songs created for the show, while enjoyable being sung on stage, were more enjoyable hearing them repeated quietly in the overtures to both acts. Technically, it seemed that both Christine and the Phantom were over mic’d and loud. In the pursuit of volume, they seemed to lose emotion. I’m getting way too picky now – but all these little things subconsciously impacted the overall impression.

There were, however, beautiful moments in this show that are worth sharing. When Christine stands alone on the stage in a dress made of peacock feathers that continues up into the drop behind her and sings “Love Never Dies,” it’s a seminal moment. The Phantom in the wings on one side willing her to sing and Raoul on the other praying she doesn’t – high drama indeed! The costumes of the carnival characters were nonstop and gorgeous; there was a lot in this show for the eye to enjoy.

If  you are a PHANTOM freak as the people around me on opening night were, you will really enjoy this continuation of the story. There is even the possibility that “it ain’t over yet.”

A WOW factor of 7.5!!