If Michael Bay were to direct a musical, it would probably look a lot like “Love Never Dies”: muscular (with little inner-core strength), flashy (extravaganza dial set on “crush”), overripe (and yet weirdly flavorless) and leering (though the musical’s lascivious tableaux lean closer to a romance-novel feel).
The touring production, now at Fort Lauderdale’s Broward Center for the Performing Arts for a 12-day run, is a sequel to the Broadway/West End phenomenon “The Phantom of the Opera,” both shows the brainchild of composer and impresario Andrew Lloyd Webber (“Jesus Christ Superstar,” “Evita,” “Cats”). But unlike with “Phantom,” Webber doesn’t seem to be gleefully rubbing his hands together with any devilish fun here. “Love Never Dies” comes off more love of labor than labor of love. It tries very, very hard.
That’s what the show gets right: It fills the stage with garish spectacle. Ah, but then it just doesn’t seem to know what to do after that. Once the frequent production numbers stop spinning around on a rotating platform, things get tedious. The show runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Nothing much happens that you couldn’t catch on the Lifetime cable network. Keep in mind that this is a show that never made it to Broadway.
In this story, set 10 years after the opera-house spree killings of the original work by Webber, the Phantom (Gardar Thor Cortes) is getting his goth on in Coney Island circa 1907. You’d think moving from France to America would make him more violent, but no, the Phantom has mellowed, blending in with the ersatz glamour and freak-show oddities of the amusement park/entertainment zone. Though still pining away for Christine Daaé (Meghan Picerno), he’s stayed in show biz, mounting “Phantasma,” a burlesque show overseen by former ballet mistress Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and starring her daughter, Meg (Mary Michael Patterson). It seems those two helped spirit away the Phantom to the United States after the action in the first story, and now they would like a bit of loyalty in return.
Too bad for them, because the Phantom only has eyes — make that an eye — for Daaé, who is sailing to New York to exploit her soprano fame in the lucrative American market. After marrying Raoul (Sean Thompson), the dashing hero from the preceding musical, Daaé is saddled with his gambling debts. So the love triangle from “The Phantom of the Opera” is back again, only slightly reconfigured with a game of who is the bad guy and who is the good guy. A nice little plot twist comes from Daaé’s son, Gustave (Jake Heston Miller sharing the role with Casey Lyons). No spoilers here.
The music itself is satisfyingly lush, with strands of “The Phantom of the Opera” wafting in and out, catching your ear in a way that the new score just can’t do. As crazy as it seems, there seems to be a sort of variation on a meme from one of Webber’s other musicals, “Sunset Boulevard.” No matter, because the cast have just the right amount of sweep and soar in their vocals, Cortes spitting venom ( quite literally), and Picerno trilling away like a wounded sparrow.
Visually, “Love Never Dies” is a feast. The drop-dead-gorgeous costumes are Belle Epoque on steroids. The impressive sets border on the edge of rococo cacophony, but are stunning and highly kinetic.
And yet the story sputters. Phantom purists will grimace at some plot points that just don’t jive with the source material or defy human nature. Again, no spoilers, but you can’t help but wonder if Michael Bay, with his sense of mischief, would have teased out a solution with more punch and less party.
“Love Never Dies” runs through Nov. 19 at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. matinee Saturdays and Wednesdays; 1 p.m. matinee Sundays; and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 12. Tickets cost $30-$160. To order, call 954-462-0222 or go to BrowardCenter.org.