Musicals galore, including a Phantom sequel
Meghan Picerno (“Christine Daaé”) and Sean Thompson (“Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny”) in LOVE NEVER DIES
Photos by Joan Marcus
Love Never Dies
by Andrew Lloyd Webber
with lyrics by Glenn Slater and book by Lloyd Webber, Slater, Ben Elton, and Frederick Forsyth,
Phantom of the Opera fans will see the futures of Christine and the Phantom when Shea’s brings the Andrew Lloyd Webber sequel, Love Never Dies, to town this month. Meghan Picerno takes on the iconic role of Christine in her first national tour, a surprising turn of events for the opera singer.
“I did Candide at the New York City Opera, and Hal Prince was the director, and he asked me what my interest in musical theater was. I said, ‘Of course, I would love to do Broadway.’ He asked if I’d ever seen Phantom of the Opera, and, embarrassingly, I said no,” says Picerno, who, courtesy of Prince, found herself at a Phantom performance soon after. “It was an incredible experience. A week after that, I was called to audition for Love Never Dies. I sang for Andrew and that was that. It was a whirlwind, a beautiful a meant-to-be situation.”
The tour represents a lot of firsts for Picerno: she’s the first Christine to play in North America, it’s her first tour, it’s her first musical role on a professional stage after a career primarily in opera. “In the opera world, we don’t really tour, so this has been such a growing time for me,” she says. “I’ve done over 190 shows; in opera, that could be someone’s whole career! So, it’s how to keep the material fresh; listening to people onstage. So, it’s a new show every day, it really is. I had a profound moment about a month ago around show 120 or 130, where I had an epiphany about my character that I had never thought of before!”
Picerno is aware of how well other people may already know Christine, and what it means to step into the shoes of this much-loved character. “Even though I may not have grown up with Phantom every day of my life, everybody in the world knows who Christine Daae is,” she says. “The beautiful thing is that Christine is older and more experienced, and Andrew said, ‘You can make this your own.’ I find her to be a very strong woman. This is 1907, so she can’t be the full on strong woman I believe myself to be in 2018, but the majority of my fans are young women, so it’s my responsibility to show that women are strong, regardless of the terrible or wonderful things that happen to them.”
Richard Koons (“Squelch”), Katrina Kemp (“Fleck”), and Stephen Petrovich (“Gangle”) star in Love Never Dies.
For any who have not seen Phantom of the Opera (even after Shea’s conveniently scheduled it this season), both Webber and Picerno promise that this is a standalone story, albeit one that will reward Phantom fans with callbacks and a deeper dive into the characters. “Phantom just introduces the characters,” Picerno contends. “It doesn’t dive into the psyche of who they are. Where the pin has been dropped in Love Never Dies is an incredible situation for all of them and we see how they deal with that. Andrew also purposely will quote bits of music throughout Love Never Dies, and there’s never a mistake as to why it’s being used; Phantom fans, watch out for it. It’s brilliant.”
Also watch for Picerno singing the title song in “thirty-five pounds of gorgeous fabric and sparkle. That is definitely my favorite part.”
Love Never Dies runs June 5–10 at Shea’s (sheas.org, 847-0850)
Annie, music by Charles Strouse, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and book by Thomas Meehan, at Lancaster Opera House
Just in case there’s anybody who doesn’t know it, the story is about Annie, who is rescued from her orphanage and the evil clutches of the “caretaker,” Miss Hannigan, to stay with billionaire Oliver Warbucks for the holidays. When Warbucks vows to find Annie’s parents, Miss Hannigan and her brother, Rooster, plot to profit from the situation. Can Annie’s Depression-era optimism triumph over greed and circumstance? (It’s a musical, so take your best guess.)
You’d be hard-pressed to find somebody who hasn’t heard of Annie, or its signature song, “Tomorrow,” but fewer might know that the musical was inspired by Harold Gray’s popular comic strip, Little Orphan Annie, which was inspired by the 1885 James Whitcomb Riley poem. The comic made its debut in the New York Daily News in 1924, and ran until 2010. Today, the characters occasionally appear in the Dick Tracy strip.
When he was approached for collaboration by lyricist Martin Charnin, book writer Thomas Meehan was unable to find anything in thirty-five years of Little Orphan Annie strips that spoke to him as a play—so he wrote his own story. Retaining the characters of Oliver Warbucks, Sandy, and Annie (in her trademark red dress and hair, at least in the final scene), he reimagined Annie as a Depression-era Dickensian orphan heroine.
In Mike Nichols’ producing debut, Annie hit Broadway at the Alvin (now Neil Simon) Theatre in April 1977 and was an instant hit. It was nominated for eleven Tonys and won seven, including the biggies: Best Musical, Best Score, Best Book. Andrea McArdle became the youngest to be nominated for a Best Actress Tony. When the show closed in 1983, it had set the record for longest-running show at the Alvin, a title it held until Hairspray—also written by Thomas Meehan—beat it in 2009.
The show spawned national and international tours, movies, and revivals, and is estimated by the New York Times to be produced 700-900 times a year to great success. What has not been successful are any attempts at sequels. Annie 2: Miss Hannigan’s Revenge, bombed in DC in 1989, and the project never made it to Broadway. In 1993, Annie Warbucks had a brief off-Broadway run. Whatever magic the original possessed is unable to be replicated, but book writer Meehan was able to replicate his success. He went on to write the books for musicals The Producers, Hairspray, and Rocky, among many others—and won three Tonys along the way.
What they said: “To dislike the new musical Annie would be tantamount to disliking motherhood, peanut butter, friendly mongrel dogs and nostalgia.”—Clive Barnes, the New York Times, 1977
Annie runs from June 8-24 at the Lancaster Opera House (lancopera.org, 852-2600).
Opening this month:
Irish Classical Theatre Company presents Lady Windemere’s Fan June 1–24 (irishclassicaltheatre.com, 853-4282).
Love Never Dies runs June 5–10 at Shea’s (sheas.org, 847-0850).
Slut opens at Subversive Theatre Collective June 21 (subversivetheatre.org, 408-0499).
Shakespeare in Delaware Park opens King Lear on June 21 (shakespeareindelawarepark.org, 856-4533).
Also playing (in order of closing):
Stellaluna closes at Theatre of Youth on June 3 (theatreofyouth.org, 884-4400).