As a rule, Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t one for sequels. There was no Evita Redux, for example, no Cats 2: Revenge of the Jellicle.
Not many people know that Lord Lloyd Webber (as his Queen calls him) did return to his most successful show, the 1980s juggernaut The Phantom of the Opera. With lyrics by Glen Slater, Love Never Dies opened in London’s West End in 2010 … and was a resounding flop. One reviewer re-titled the musical Paint Never Dries. A planned Broadway opening was scrapped.
After substantial firings, re-hirings and beheadings, the show was overhauled and enjoyed a reasonably successful run way, way out of town in Melbourne, Australia. It played in Tokyo, Hamburg and Copenhagen, too.
Yet Love Never Dies — the continuing adventures of the Phantom, his beloved Christine Daae, the Geary gals, Raoul the Vicomte de Chagny and the rest of the gang from Paris’ Opéra Populaire — has never been seen onstage in the United States.
Lloyd Webber’s company, Really Useful Group Ltd., has sent Love Never Dies on a waters-testing cross-country tour. It sets up shop at the Straz Center Dec. 12-17.
For coloratura soprano Meghan Picerno, who has the all-important role of Christine, “it’s completely re-worked, so it truly is a new piece of work — not just for America, but for the world. So far, it’s been incredibly exciting and amazing. The audiences, they love it. So many people come up to me afterwards and say ‘I’ve waited so long to see this.’”
The new show is set in 1907, 10 years after the lovesick Phantom disappeared from Paris. Our masked non-hero has resurfaced in Coney Island, N.Y., where he composes tragic tunes amidst the cacophony of speeding thrill rides and freak show barkers.
Christine, her husband and young son are lured across the pond … and soon she finds herself under the obsessed, romantic spell of the Phantom.
“For the first time, here is a show that’s set in America, and we get to do it in America,” Picerno gushes.
As with Phantom, the show features towering, movable sets, state-of-the-art special effects and intricately detailed costumes.
“Let’s face it, this is truly a Broadway show that is touring first,” says Picerno. “It’s not a tour show, it is a Broadway show — scale size — that just happens to be on the road first.”
Picerno, an international opera star on her first sung-through musical theater tour, says the complicated stage pieces took some getting used to.
“I’ll never forget the first time I was like ‘OK, so I have a 25-pound dress, with platform heels, and I’m going to jump on the rotating turntable, run up the bridge and down and pinball myself back.’ Got it!”
After a few bumps in rehearsal, she admits, “I would say I wasn’t perhaps as graceful as I can do it now.”
Her favorite perk thus far has been a lengthy conversation with the composer himself. Most opera composers, she points out, are long dead.
“After I was cast, I had a lunch meeting with Andrew,” Picerno says. “I had so many questions. I was so excited to meet him because I could finally talk to the person who wrote this beautiful book of music. And it was so incredible to find out, from the person’s mouth, why.
“All my coaches are from the Metropolitan Opera. And because I’ve been trained so well on how to approach music, I look at it from so many different viewpoints — not only from an actor’s viewpoint, but from a musician’s. Or the composer’s: ‘Why are the chords lined up that way?’ ‘Why did you line that up with an eighth note pickup, instead of a quarter note pickup?’ ‘Why did you choose to quote your own music when you did?’
“It’s very well done, and it’s purposely done – there’s never a mistake on why it’s being used. I got to ask these questions. And I would totally do the same to Verdi, who is my favorite opera composer.”
As for those snobby Brits who turned up their noses at Love Never Dies, back in the beginning?
“The most important thing for us,” says Picerno, “is that the audiences absolutely love it.”