‘Phantom’ gets sequel with ‘Love Never Dies’

Just about every movie that earns more than initially expected gets a sequel, so it only makes sense that the longest-running musical in Broadway history would get one too.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Love Never Dies,” which opens Tuesday at Cleveland’s State Theatre, takes place a decade after the chandelier falls in “Phantom of the Opera.” Christine Daae, now a world-renowned soprano, accepts an invitation to perform in New York, which is where the Phantom escaped to years ago. Still pining for Christine, the Phantom lures her, her husband Raoul and their young son Gustave to Coney Island, where he has found refuge.

Broadway veteran Karen Mason, who plays Madame Giry on the tour, said during a telephone interview from Tampa, “I love the largeness of the passion in the show. It really is almost like an old-fashioned, passionate, dime-store-novel type of story. It’s basically filled with these huge emotions and great passion. There’s no simple gesture in this show, which is very appealing in this time of craziness in our world. It’s very nice to get involved in a simple passionate love story.”

She also said it isn’t necessary to have seen “Phantom” to appreciate “Love Never Dies,” which begs the question, Who hasn’t seen “Phantom” that would consider going to “Love Never Dies”? The musical has played for more than 12,400 performances on Broadway and counting. According to the show’s website, it has been seen by more than 140 million people in 35 countries and grossed $6 billion. Past national tours have made several stops on the same stage where “Love” will be for the next three weeks.

Madame Giry, Mason’s character, plays a more prominent role in the sequel. She helped the Phantom escape the mob at the end of the original musical and has accompanied him to New York.

“She’s very integral to the show,” Mason said. “She found and took care of the Phantom … She’s really saved him twice in his life and here, 10 years later, she’s really a partner with him in business. It’s a much larger part in ‘Love Never Dies’ and certainly her relationship with her daughter Meg and the Phantom is explored more, which I really like. Every actor wants more stage time.”

Mason is no stranger to big roles and Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals. She was part of the original Broadway cast of “Mamma Mia!” and did a stint as Velma Von Tussle in “Hairspray.” She also appeared on Broadway as Norma Desmond in Webber’s musical “Sunset Boulevard.” Mason was supposed to play the role in between Glenn Close and Faye Dunaway in the pre-Broadway Los Angeles production, but they decided to close instead. The one perk of that “combustible” time is that Mason got to meet Webber.

“He did invite me to meet with him and talk to him about the whole thing,” she said. “I don’t remember much of the meeting. I was overwhelmed sitting there with Andrew Lloyd Webber, but he was very understanding. It was a gracious and compassionate thing to do.”

Mason’s theatrical experiences have run the gamut. She made her Broadway debut in 1982 in “Play Me a County Song,” which closed after opening night.

“‘County Song’ was my first Broadway show and I still had stars in my eyes,” Mason said. “I was so happy to be in a Broadway show that I don’t think I really paid attention to the signs. It was really a mess.”

The opening night party was held on a boat, “And by the time we got off the ship we were handed our pink slips.”

“Mamma Mia!,” for which Mason received a Drama Desk nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, was a completely different experience.

“‘Mamma Mia!’ was the type of show that came in with great advance press,” she said. “It was already a huge hit in London. It ran in Toronto and did a North American tour before it came to Broadway. Every place it played, people went hysterical about it.”

Then the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists attacks happened in New York less than a month before its first Broadway preview.

“For our first show of ‘Mamma Mia!’ after 9/11, the energy in that house is something I will never forget,” Mason said. “You’ve seen those pictures when an explosion happens and the air just pushes away everything in its wake? That’s what we felt on stage, this push of energy towards us. It was good for the audience and good for us to share that after what we’d experienced with 9/11. There was something very spiritual about it, being within those four walls with New Yorkers and just for two-and-a-half hours not thinking about what was going on outside was really important.”

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