Broadway’s longest running musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera, has enthralled audiences for 30 years, but Houston will soon discover that the Phantom story didn’t end with the crashing of the giant chandler. In the new musical Love Never Dies, that ultimate bizarre love triangle between the Phantom, the angelic-voiced, Christine Daaé, and her protector, Raoul, lives on as they all meet again — this time in the new, strange world of early 20th-century New York.
As the Love Never Dies tour heads to Texas, CultureMap caught up with Meghan Picerno, who stars as Christine, to find out what it takes to bring new life to this iconic role. In this Phantom sequel, 10 years have past. While Christine married Raoul, had a child, and has sung her way into international diva acclaim, the Phantom has found refuge and a new freedom living among the performers, freaks, and geeks of Coney Island.
A voice for two worlds
While Picerno hasn’t experienced any theater-haunting, masked maestros in real life, she is a classically trained opera performer in her own right, who finds it easy to move back and forth between opera and musical productions.
“I am one of those artists who lives in both worlds,” she says of her opera and musical theater experiences. “Both of the worlds really help each other. The colors and tools that I’m using and learning in one, I bring over to the other. They enrich each other.”
Picerno believes that with her opera training, she brings “a flavor that perhaps wasn’t always there” when tackling a Broadway show, yet when she crosses back to opera, she believes her experience with musical theater helps her bring urgency, and sense of being in the moment in her characters’ development. For Picerno, Love Never Dies, in some ways, merges those two worlds together.
“Andrew Lloyd Webber is an absolute musical genius of our day, and his music is not too far from the opera world. This score of Love Never Dies is extremely classical. It’s a difficult score to sing and beautiful one.”
A 20th-century woman with 21st-century problems
From the first notes to the last, the story in Phantom was always one of heightened emotions and drama, perhaps very like some classic opera, and Picerno finds Love Never Dies offers that same volume of intensity.
“Particularly in this story and where we find them, to me it is very operatic in the most glorious way. Everything is heightened. Where the story finds them all is in the most insane, extraordinary circumstance, she describes, adding “I do find from my opera training, when you do have larger than life situations and emotions, in order for that to work the foundation has to be completely genuine.”
At first glance Christine’s story set at the turn of the 20th century might seem very removed from our 21st-century relationship concerns but Picerno says some of her character’s dilemmas feel somewhat familiar, comparing the situation a bit like being ghosted by a guy or that unsettled situation when an old boyfriend pops back into your life. Above all, she sees aspects of the story having contemporary relevance.
“Christine is not the 18 years old that we see in Phantom, a little naive and just starting out to discover what life is. This woman has lived, traveled and seen things, and she’s in a marriage that’s not so great,” Picerno describes of Christine’s growth and struggles. “She is the one making the money in her family. Even today, what is it like in our society when a woman is working and has a child. This is still in 2018, in some areas, an issue. For a woman of that strength in 1907, I find her pretty incredible.”
The new adventures of Christine
When I asked if she tries to find connection with all the previous Christines who have gone before her, including Sarah Brightman who originated the role, while making this older, hopefully wiser woman her own, Picerno says it was conversations with Webber that helped her find her own way.
“Within the context and constraints of the directing and the flavor of the show, he basically gave permission to make it my own. And that’s really exciting. It’s an honor to portray an iconic role, but again, it’s 10 years later. I want to be true to the role and stay true to her roots but find where she can grow and mature.”
Whether opera or musical theater, early 20th or 21st-century set situations, Picerno believes there are some aspects of love stories we can all understand.
“I cry every day onstage. Maybe there’s something wrong with me,” she says with a laugh. “It’s because I’m using my own pain, experiences and joy and then I use the music that Andrew Lloyd Webber writes to communicate that to the audience. Especially in this day and age with everything that’s going on in the world, people need art. They need theater, the human connection and to feel the things on stage.”
Love Never Dies run July 17 through July 22 at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St. For tickets, showtimes, and information, visit the official site.