Like the Phantom of the Opera — and “The Phantom of the Opera” — “Love Never Dies” isn’t dead yet.
The musical, mega-composer Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to his record-breaking smash “Phantom of the Opera,” is showing signs of life on the road in the U.S., where the title is turning heads at the box office after a dispiritingly brief premiere engagement on the West End eight years ago.
“We’ve got eight shows on the road right now, and ‘Love Never Dies’ is outselling them all,” said Randy Buck, CEO of Troika Entertainment, the touring musical producer with road versions of “An American in Paris” and “On Your Feet!” among its stable. “Love” is doing so well, in fact, that Buck cops to bigger dreams for the show.
“Broadway is certainly a possibility,” he said. “We are looking at that for early next year. I think we would come in, in a limited-engagement scenario, but we’ll see. That’s still up in the air.”
A New York run for “Love Never Dies” would mark a major vindication for the show, originally staged by Broadway regulars Jack O’Brien and Jerry Mitchell (“Hairspray”). When the March 2010 West End premiere got panned by critics — U.K. theater wags memorably dubbed the musical “Paint Never Dries” — producers (including Lloyd Webber) closed the production for a couple days later that year for retooling. Even with revisions, the show didn’t make it past August 2011, the blink of an eye compared with the 32 years “Phantom” has run on the West End (and the 30 it’s played in New York). A planned Broadway incarnation never materialized.
But a further revamped version of “Love Never Dies,” led by Australian director Simon Phillips (“Priscilla Queen of the Desert,” the new musical adaptation of “Muriel’s Wedding”), spurred good buzz out of Melbourne and Sydney, and a filmed version of that staging (released in 2012) helped spread the word. The production has since played Tokyo (in 2014) and Hamburg (starting in 2015), and is now playing a U.S. tour that includes the current three-week stop at L.A.’s Pantages Theatre.
The plot of “Love Never Dies,” based on the characters created by Gaston Leroux in the serialized 1909 novel that inspired “Phantom,” picks up a decade after the events of the first musical. Christine, the central ingenue of “Phantom,” receives a mysterious invitation to Coney Island, where she, her increasingly distant husband, Raoul, and her young son find themselves in the shadow of the Phantom once more.
According to Phillips, the bulk of his work centered on smoothing out a narrative shift that sees the Phantom becoming the story’s romantic hero and the formerly heroic
Raoul becoming more flawed. “It seemed to me that initially the danger that’s inside the Phantom’s character got lost too much,” he said. “We thought, ‘Let’s restore his character back to this more unpredictably violent force, and let’s restore some empathy for Raoul.’ ”
Even with the newfound buzz abroad, “Love Never Dies” still carried the whiff of disappointment — or at least it did to the U.S.’ network of regional tour presenters. “The challenge was never to convince the ticket-buying public,” Buck noted. “The challenge was trying to get the presenters to come around to it.”
Now that presenters have programmed it, they seem to have no regrets.
“There’s no comparison to ‘Phantom,’ which is still the king of the road,” said Gina Vernaci, executive director of Cleveland Playhouse Square, where “Love Never Dies” raked in $3.4 million in a three-week run. “But people vote with their feet, and an awful lot of feet showed up for ‘Love Never Dies.’ ”