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Love Never Dies

January 6, 2018

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               “Welcome one and welcome all. Welcome to the monster’s hall,” sings Mr. Y’s troupe of contortionists, aerialists, strong men, and performers. “Mr. Y welcomes you to Phantasma.” And that is exactly what the talented cast of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s  Love Never Dies  is: welcoming. From the first note to the last bow, the whole show casts a spell over the audience that transports them from sitting in their theatre in 2018 to the mysterious world of Coney Island in 1907.

                         Love Never Dies  tells the story of famed French opera singer Christine Daaé who comes to sing for the first time in America. Christine arrives with her young son Gustave and her husband Raoul, the Vicomte de Chagny. They are whisked away in a shadowy wagon owned by Mr. Y who turns out to be Christine’s “angel of music” from her days in Paris, The Phantom of the Opera. The show follows the extension of the relationships from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s  The Phantom of the Opera.

                         For those who have seen the acclaimed  The Phantom of the Opera  they will be immediately reunited with characters that they’ve fallen in love with: Christine, Raoul, Meg, Madame Giry, and, of course, The Phantom himself, who all find themselves together on Coney Island. The audience is able to see what has happened in the ten years between  The Phantom of the Opera  and  Love Never Dies.

                         For those who haven’t seen  Phantom, they are able to jump right into the story through carefully crafted songs such as The Phantom’s opening number “‘Til I Hear You Sing” and the first number between Christine and the Phantom, “Beneath a Moonless Sky.”  Love Never Dies, while a sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, stands alone.

                          Diana DiMarzio, a Pittsburgh native who is a member of the ensemble and is the understudy for Madame Giry, says, “It has been so well received so far.

There are so many die hard  Phantom  fans; I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody who doesn’t love  Phantom. Although this show does absolutely stand on its own, you don’t need to see  The Phantom of the Opera  to appreciate what  Love Never Dies  is. As a  Phantom  fan you will appreciate it more because you’ll have been a part of what had happened in the first one, and get to see what happens ten years later.”

                         Gardar Thor Cortes, who stars as The Phantom himself, says, “You can expect the beautiful music of Andrew Lloyd Webber. He’s a master of what he does, a master of melodies, and the orchestration is so full and rich and beautiful and satisfying. It’s not the same music, but it’s the same composer and you just feel so invigorated listening to it.  Love Never Dies  has all these references from  The Phantom of the Opera  that connect the two pieces so well together because it is a sequel. And you’re just now picking up ten years later. You can’t erase the past so it’s very enjoyable to see these people. You get a couple of phrases here, a bar there, three notes from  Phantom  in  Love Never Dies  so that’s enjoyable. They can expect to have a bit of closure from the question that everyone has had for thirty years: what happens, what’s going to happen? The Phantom disappears; Meg finds the mask; Christine and Raoul have gone off. Now you get some answers.”

                                    Cortes is making his National Tour debut in  Love Never Dies, but he has a long history with the show. In 1999 he played Raoul in the West End’s production of  The Phantom of the Opera. It was during his run as Raoul that he learned he could hit very high notes. Cortes had been having a bad day with things not going the way he had hoped and feeling that he was able to do better. During a scene he walked behind the set as the chorus was singing. They went up to a C sharp, and Cortes decided to try it and sang along off stage and found that he could hit it.

                                    “It sounds very simple, but that’s what happens to singers,” he says. “You’re asked, ‘When did this happen?’ but you just find it. You just realize it; something clicks, and you suddenly understand what your teacher’s been saying or it just suddenly makes sense. And that was one of those moments where something suddenly made sense.”

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                         From 2015-2016 Cortes was chosen by Andrew Lloyd Webber to play the role of  The Phantom in the original Hamburg production of  Love Never Dies, titled  Liebe Stirbt Nie. The show was translated into German, in which Cortes is fluent.

                                    Despite performing The Phantom in different languages, Cortes says his performance stays similar. “It’s always a joy to do it in English obviously because that’s the original language and that’s your native tongue. There’s always a slight edge to be had if you speak the language fluently – I speak German but I don’t speak French so that was difficult – but it’s a singer’s job. I’ve sung operas in Norwegian, Danish, Russian, the list goes on. You learn each word that you are singing to give it its full meaning, to do the job at hand. So when you do speak the language it’s always a slight edge and enjoyable. There’s always the same motivation behind the role no matter what language you do it in.”

                                    Cortes left the German production early to star in the original French production of  The Phantom of the Opera    – Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. Even though The Phantom of the Opera is based on Gaston Leroux’s famous novel  Le Fantôme de l’Opéra, the show had never been staged and shown in Paris. The French production was supposed to be a special event: the first Paris staging in the Morgador Theatre next to the Palais Garnier where the novel was set, and to take place in the 30th anniversary year of  The Phantom of the Opera  show. Cortes was cast opposite Sierra Boggess who played the role of Christine Daaé  in  The Phantom of the Opera’s  25th Anniversary performance at the Royal Albert Theatre in 2013. Cortes played Passarino in the same show. However, a week before the French premier a fire broke out on the stage of the theatre and the production was cancelled.

                         Now Cortes is enjoying touring with  Love Never Dies. “The tour is going very well. It’s busy and lots of fun and lots of singing and new places to see and visit. It’s going well. We’re all enjoying it immensely.”

                                    DiMarzio, Cortes’ cast-mate, is also glad to be a part of the production. DiMarzio says, “I remember seeing Phantom; my friend was doing Carlotta and I was sitting in the 4th row. I think I had an audition for it. And there are people sitting in the second row, who during intermission stood up and they were telling people how they saw it in London, the original in London, this was their 22nd time that they’ve seen it. They were comparing and having a contest who’s seen it the most, and I just thought, Wow, people love this show. And this sequel does not disappoint. The music is gorgeous. The set is beautiful. It’s got this dark mystery about it, and people are loving it. It’s always great to be a part of an original production.”

                   The production is fabulous. It’s clear that everyone involved with the production is dedicated to the show. The actors are incredible; the sets are gorgeous, and the costumes are stunning. The young actor playing Gustave in the Tuesday night opening in Pittsburgh, Casey Lyons, was wonderful. Lyons shares the role with Jake Heston Miller. As Christine, Meghan Picerno was delightful. Her rendition of the titular song “Love Never Dies” was a highlight of the show.

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                                    Cortes, however, is a standout. It is clear through every aspect of his performance that Cortes does not overlook a single detail. Everything from his singing to his posture to the way he walked was perfectly The Phantom. Cortes’ rendition of “‘Til I Hear You Sing” was so heartfelt that both those who did and did not know the Phantom’s background they were instantly endeared to him. His posture and mannerisms captured both the Phantom’s social awkwardness and the power that he commands.

                          About playing The Phantom, Cortes says, “My favorite part of playing Phantom is he’s such a diverse character; he has so many emotions. He loves so deeply and passionately, and he hates so hard. All the emotions are there: love, hate, passion, revenge, pity, sadness, sorrow, euphoria – it’s all there and it’s all there in one evening. My favorite thing about playing The Phantom is all the emotions you get to feel, and, by doing that, you give the music so much. You give the music something extra. If you were to sing it, just sing it, nothing behind it, the music would obviously be beautiful, but if you put these emotions and feelings so deeply behind it, it makes it so much more special. That’s my favorite bit about The Phantom, the diversity of the character and how he complex is. He has so many layers.”

                                    Cortes is an opera singer by training. He studied at the Reykjavík School of Singing that his father founded in Iceland and then went on to study in multiple other cities. Cortes’ father is a singer and his mother a pianist; both his brother and sister sing as well. Cortes says that he was never pressured into going into music, but at eighteen he decided he wanted to pursue a career that let him sing and act. When he was younger he hadn’t been sure if he wanted to be strictly an actor, but he realized that he couldn’t bear the thought of leaving music out of the picture.

                                    By eighteen, however, Cortes had already had been acting professionally. At thirteen he starred in a TV show called Nonni and Manni. The show was filmed for six months in Cortes’ native Iceland as well as England and Norway. It was shown across the world. “It was a great experience. A young boy of thirteen years of age, I learned a lot and that’s where I was bitten by the acting bug, and since then I always knew this was something I really enjoyed. I enjoyed portraying somebody else and showing something we all have. You get to empathize and it’s something that I really adore. The actor who played Manni, we are best friends today, and the boy who played the shepherd he’s also our dear friend. We’re best friends today and keep in constant contact, and we’re all in acting business. It was a good building block to what I do today, so I’ve been doing it for a while now.” Cortes would like to go back to TV sometime in the future just like he’d also like to return to the opera.

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                          Like Cortes, DiMarzio also has an opera background. She got her degree in Vocal Performance from Carnegie Mellon University. She says that her training there was strictly classic opera and while she loved the opera, she wanted to take more musical theatre classes.

                                    “I loved opera but I thought that maybe I would get a little bit of theatre and we didn’t. So I would study dance privately. I realized that we were going to auditions and seeing the same people who were in the drama department at the same auditions which weren’t theatre auditions. My heart really wasn’t in opera. I didn’t know what I was getting into. I just wanted to sing; I just wanted great vocal training. I went to the dean at CMU as a sophomore and said I want acting classes. I’m auditioning with people who are getting that in the theatre major. Can we please get some of that? And he gave us a dance class and an acting class. I was very brave, I guess, when I was a sophomore there at Carnegie Mellon.”

                                    When DiMarzio graduated from CMU she worked on cruise ships and in the theatre world all while continuing to study opera because she felt she had to. She felt like in time she’d get around to singing pure opera but she only auditioned for musical theatre. She eventually played the Beggar Woman with Patti LuPone in Stephen Sondheim’s  Sweeney Todd. Sondheim is her favorite composer so it was a rewarding and fulfilling process for DiMarzio to work with Sondheim on the show. DiMarzio had first seen  Sweeney Todd  at CMU when her friend in a sorority showed her a video. DiMarzio says, “I was just so drawn to that show. Then twenty something years my big debut on Broadway is with that show, and I just love Sondheim. I said I could die and be ok. I would have fulfilled my goal in the musical theater industry.”

                                    Like Cortes, DiMarzio has also performed in Germany. She sang in  Carmen  and did a concert version of Sweeney Todd. “Funny story,” she says. “I did  Sweeney Todd  in Germany. I came home right after Christmas and I got an email from someone with the Bavarian Radio Orchestra jubilee. And they said, ‘Would you be available to come and sing the Beggar Woman with us?’ And I knew this was a famous opera singer, and I thought this is a joke, this is absolutely a joke. They just sent me this random email so I laughed and said, ‘Sure, can you give me more details?’ thinking I’d never hear from them again. And they came back with all the details and I was the only American that was living in America. There were two other Americans who lived in Germany and have an opera career there. It was one of the four best orchestras in all of Europe and hearing that score played by that orchestra on stage – we did it as a concert version – and hearing it, I died and went to heaven that week.”

                                    This is DiMarzio’s seventh tour. She’s toured with The Light in the Piazza, Sweeney Todd, Evita, and  Man of La Mancha  to name a few. The hardest thing about touring, she says, is trying to make it as much of a home life as she can. She’s learned how to create a kitchen in a hotel room. She brings a skillet, hot pot, and French press with her so she can make gourmet meals in her hotel room.

                                    “We have refrigerators and microwaves. You go to a grocery store and stock up for a week. The challenging thing is how much to buy because you don’t want to be wasteful and throw it away because you can’t travel with it really. So you find yourself counting how many meals you’re going to have per week, and you don’t do that in real life,” she says.

                                    And, of course, the tour schedule is also rough. “Another very challenging thing is when you’re in places for just a week. We do a 5 show weekend, and that’s absolutely exhausting. Then Monday morning, our day off, we get up at the crack of dawn to get on a plane. And we shlep and shlep again on the other side until we get to our hotel that evening. It’s hard to have one restful day when you are doing week long stays in places.”

                                    “The good thing about touring is,” DiMarzio says, “you travel all around the country, and you have friends and family all around the country so you get to catch up with all of them. That’s really a special thing, and they get to see you perform, so that’s the upside of touring.”

                                    Love Never Dies  closes in Pittsburgh on Sunday before moving on to Cleveland. It’s a great way to ring in the new year so be sure to go visit Coney Island (at the Benedum Center)!


Get tickets   here

Follow Gardar on   Twitter

Diana's   website

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