I like to consider myself a patron of the arts. I go to classical concerts as frequently as possible. I do what I can to support performers of all stripes at the local Renaissance festival. I purchase music and books as an expense equal to that of food and water. But I’ve not had a great deal of experience when it comes to stage musicals. I’m not exactly rich or even lower middle class, so the money runs dry. But, I’ve now made it two shows, and I want more. The first was a couple of years ago at Dallas’ Fair Park Music Hall, where I finally got to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera. That was a long time coming, being the phan that I am not only of the musical, but of the story and its rich legacy. The Phantom of the Opera is my favorite of the classic horror characters. And that brings us to yesterday: a Sunday matinee performance of ALW’s sequel, Love Never Dies. At some point I’ll review the show itself properly for Project: Monster. This time around, I just want to bask in the fact that I got to see it live. Let me just start by saying how much I love Bass Performance Hall. It’s beautiful, has amazing acoustics, and it’s angel themed. What better venue for a show about the Angel of Music?
It’s rough being a sequel. There’s a lot to live up to, especially when the sequel is to one of the most popular shows of all time. Love Never Dies has been reworked from the ground up. If you listen to the original cast album, you’ll find it’s quite a bit different from the Blu-ray performance that came later. And then, of course, different stage managers tweak things here and there, and lyrics evolve, and so forth. Theater is living art. There’s a visceral nature to it that doesn’t translate to film. When I saw Phantom, I was back in the cheap seats. It’s only because I knew the story so well that I could make out what was happening on stage. It’s all I could afford. I certainly don’t begrudge the experience, but I left feeling displaced somehow. I swore that if Love Never Dies ever came to town, I’d do it right. I don’t think I could have anticipated that it’d only be a couple of years wait, but I kept my promise.
I got tickets for the 3rd row.
It’s a completely different experience to sit that close. When the Phantom opens the show, you can hear his long coat swirl while he’s tormenting himself with the song he struggles in Christine’s memory. The manic intensity is palpable from the onset. When he catches your eye, it’s unsettling. When he and Raoul make their wager in “Devil Take the Hindmost,” you can see the spittle fly between them, and you can feel the rage, the testosterone, and even the fear. The costume and set details are close enough to examine, but not quite close enough to touch. When Meg performs “Mother Did You See?” I found myself entranced as actress Mary Michael Patterson sang half the song directly to me. Or maybe it was at me. The lights were bright enough that she likely couldn’t see the audience, but… that’s what it felt like in the moment. I was captivated. Truly, I was captivated by the entire show and everyone in it. I feared to blink lest I miss something. So many little things just worked masterfully to elevate the whole. I couldn’t have asked for better.
As magnificent as the lead performers were, the supporting cast worked their tails off for this. The choreography was impressive. The sets were unbelievable. The music has a bit of a Vaudeville / Stravinsky sound to it that comes across as unnerving in places. To hear it live… every emotion that gets poured into this story is cranked to maximum. I could see all the tiny cogs in the machine making everything fit together just so, and it was unreal to see how much skill and energy everyone threw into this. It felt like the performance of a lifetime. Maybe this is always how it is. Maybe that’s “normal” and “average” on somebody’s meter. I don’t see how that could be possible, though. What I saw was truly a love for the theater, a love for the story and the characters… a love for art itself for the sake of art.
I want to give credit where it’s due, so here’s the lineup of the principle cast from the program guide:
The Phantom – Bronson Norris Murphy
Fleck – Katrina Kemp
Gangle – Stephen Petrovich
Squelch – Richard Koons
Meg Giry – Mary Michael Patterson
Madame Giry – Karen Mason
Christine Daaé – Meghan Picerno
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny – Sean Thompson
Gustave – Christian Harmston, Jake Heston Miller
It is to my regret that I went into this not knowing any of these names. As I say, I’m not familiar with the stage show circles, and really am only learning about the shows themselves (apart from the two Phantom stories). They were unquestionably the right talent for these roles, embodying the characters in ways that I have yet to see done on screen, save for maybe the great Lon Chaney, Sr. And even then, I think he’d be smiling on what transpired on this stage. I say this having seen Sarah Brightman perform in concert three times. This cast lived up to an impossible expectation. Clearly I’m biased, but whatever. That’s how I feel about it.
My biggest takeaway from this is an even greater appreciation for the theater as a whole. At my tiny little podunk school growing up, we didn’t have a drama department. It’s only at the local Renaissance festival that I began to understand the effort that goes into live performance, not only for a single show, but to repeatedly give over the long haul. The endurance it takes to make every time as special as the first seems superhuman to me. I’ve been reminded that one doesn’t need to afford the expensive venues to experience the theater, however. There are local venues full of those who pour just as much love, sweat, and tears into their art. I would very much like to explore that world more. All the same, I feel privileged to attend this performance. If I had been allowed to go backstage to personally thank everyone involved for this, I would have done so.