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“Love Never Dies” tour is glorious (Review) October 19, 2017

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Broadway Tour, musical theater, Musicals.
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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, Love Never Dies, is currently making its official US Tour debut in Detroit (it has already played upstate New York and Baltimore in previews, London, Australia, and other world cities) and it is a glorious affair, though your personal like will depend on your love for the characters from the original. While the musical stands alone, you need to have seen the original to understand why these characters capture you from the start to finish in this gorgeous musical.

Yes, that is Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber himself on stage at the Fisher Theatre last night, and yes I did take that photo with my iPhone.

Taking place ten years after the original, the Phantom, having fled Paris, has now set up shop at Coney Island where he is free to present his macabre Phantasma show and he has lured Christine to America under the guise of performing at Hammerstein’s new theatre. But a surprise lies in store. Also in Coney Island are ever-faithful Madame Giri and her daughter Meg, now a rising star at Phantasma. Along for the ride are down-on-his-luck Raoul and their 9 year old son (get it?). What plays out is high drama in opera buffa style, incorporating various musical styles of the era, a few rousing pop ballads, and at least two massively glorious numbers, the opening “Til I Hear You Sing” (which I suspect every musical fan knows by heart by now), and Christine’s title song “Love Never Dies”. There is also a spell-binding duet for the Phantom and Christine when first reunited – first in their hotel room, and then revolving to the hotel balcony – “Beneath a Moonless Sky/Once Upon Another Time” and later another for Raoul and the Phantom — “Why Does She Love Me/Devil Take the Hindmost.”  I give that example because this score is perfectly written – with its ever-building tension, building in classical musical motifs, and slight elements from the original Phantom of the Opera (to remind you this is a continuation of the story) and its very effective.

Its also a musical with a tremendous heart. If you don’t care about these characters, you won’t care about the tragic ending. I won’t tell you more except to say that not all of the main characters make it to the final moments of the story, and those that do will share emotional scars.

None of this would work were it not for the brilliant stagecraft and performances. The Australian production of the show has been basically imported here, including an almost identical design (scaled down a bit, but surely restored to its full glory when the show reaches NYC, the ultimate goal of this tour) from Australian designer Gabriela Tylesova whose sets and costumes are gorgeous, as is Nick Schlieper’s lighting design. Simon Phillips recreates his staging as director, as does choreographer Graeme Murphy AO, both from the Australian production.

But the night belongs to the singers — Meghan Picerno is a fantastic Christine, and she brings down the house several times with her singing here. She’s also a strong performer and you feel a connection to her early on, which is as it should be for dramatic effect later in the proceedings. Normally Gardar Thor Cortes plays the Phantom and I am returning next week to see him. Last night we had a spectacular performance from understudy Bronson Norris Murphy whose voice is fantastic and whom I understand performs this part quite regularly. A performance schedule has not been announced.  Also very strong are Karen Mason as Madame Giri (Love. Her.), Mary Michael Patterson as Meg, Sean Thompson as Raoul, and the rotating Gustave’s (last night Jake Heston Miller). Katrina Kemp, Richard Koons, and Stephen Petrovich round out the featured cast with their emcee-duties – and they are funny, athletic, and always watchable. There is also a 20 member ensemble and they are strong throughout.

There is no falling chandelier here, but there is a magical horseless carriage. There is no fiery scene in a cemetery, but there are plenty of surprises including a macabre and brilliant look at the darker side of Coney Island (“The Beauty Underneath”). And then there is a beautifully realized final scene on an oceanside pier that had gasps from the audience last night. And its a doozy.

Very Highest Recommendation.

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Lyrics by Glenn Slater. Book by Andrew Lloyd Webber & Ben Elton, with Glenn Slater and Frederick Forsyth. Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber. Musical Director Dale Rieling.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies continues at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit through October 29th. Ticketmaster, 800-982-2787, and Box Office. 





West Side Story (Tour) Review, Detroit, MI — Bland but Pretty October 3, 2010

Posted by ronannarbor in Broadway Musicals, Detroit, musical theater, Theatre.
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For the uninitiated (and there seemed to be a lot of them in the sold out Fisher Theater last night) West Side Story seemed to surprise and cause audible gasps in the young ones as the story played out in its final minutes. For those who know the show (most of the audience) this current Broadway Tour of West Side Story was a pleasant (if bland) evening of musical theater.

The cast is pretty. Very pretty. You can see them here: http://www.broadwaywestsidestory.com/tour-cast.html

And that is part of the problem here — none of the kids in the show look like they are in any imminent danger, nor do they represent the cross-section of real-looking people found in the movie and previous Broadway incarnations. As a result, you mostly want to reach out and pat their handsome heads and give them a soda and tell them to go home. There is little grit in this production, no matter how much finger snapping and grimacing you get from the boys.

The girls fare better, but only come to life in “America” and the “Dance at the Gym” sequences of the show. I won’t mention any of the actors by name, because none of them stand out. They are all good, yet they are all interchangeable. Not one of them had that “spark” that one expects at this musical. Tony and Maria are pleasant and bland. Bernardo is likeable and bland. Anita brings some life to the stage in “America” but otherwise is pretty and bland.

The sets and lighting are sparse and colorful (!)  This isn’t the menacing and “horrific” musical first seen in 1957 with Oliver Smith’s Tony-winning sets. This isn’t the real New York Upper West Side used for the film. This is colorful, sparse, set design splashed with oranges and reds and deep blues that make you think, hmm, what a pretty color, not “hmm, this is dark, what’s going to happen next?”

Arthur Laurents directs (at age 91) in a production that only partially succeeds in mixing Spanish with English. I understand the Spanish has been toned down from the Broadway production, but not having seen it in New York last year, I can not tell you how much. There still seemed to be too much of it, particularly in Act Two. Lin-Manuel Miranda (In the Heights) did the translations, with help from his father for idioms and color.

Jerome Robbins choreography is lovingly recreated here by Joey McKneely (who has directed multiple productions of the show himself), but it never catches fire. Except for the aforementioned girls-driven “America”, there really isn’t a moment that you stop and realize what ground-breaking choreography this was in 1957. Instead, you nod your head pleasantly in the remembered steps that you’ve learned to copy in community or college productions of West Side Story that you yourself have been a cast member of. And more shockingly, for those of us who had the chance to see Jerome Robbins’ Broadway in New York, the superior dancers in that production.

There is nothing wrong with this production of West Side Story. There is also nothing to differentiate it from any of the other productions of it that you might have seen. The emotion is intrinsic to the piece, and the performers in this particular production do little to stamp any personality on their interpretations. Perhaps that is a function of the direction. Perhaps it’s the function of being too pretty for the parts. And perhaps, it’s because shows like “Rent”, “Spring Awakening” and “American Idiot” have forever changed how we look at youth on stage in a more realistic manner.

The show received a standing ovation, so perhaps I am in the minority on this one — but I heard many comments on the way out of the theater along the lines of “I liked the original better”. I wasn’t around to see that one live on stage, but I have a feeling they were right.