LEARNING THAT ‘LOVE NEVER DIES’ HAD A GOOD ROLE FOR A ‘RIPER,’ NEW YORK STAGE AND CABARET REGULAR KAREN MASON SIGNS ON AS MADAME GIRY.
“Love Never Dies,” a sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera,” runs Nov. 28-Dec. 3 at the Fox Theatre. Details, tickets HERE or at 855.285.8499.
IT’S A WELL-KNOWN FACT that to truly enjoy movies, theater and such, you often need to suspend disbelief. So, welcome to Love Never Dies, a sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, the longest-running musical in Broadway history at 28 years and counting.
Lloyd Webber began working on a sequel a few years after Phantom opened in London in 1986 but didn’t begin writing the score until 2007. There’s even a story about how his initial score was strangely deleted, not by a phantom, but by Lloyd Webber’s kitten, which climbed onto the composer’s digital piano.
Love Never Dies takes place more than a decade after the Phantom ends, on New York’s Coney Island in 1907.
The Phantom is still hiding in the shadows. Wait a sec. Did you think the poor guy with the hideous face died of a broken heart? Think again. We never saw his body at the end of Phantom, only his mask. The ending was ambiguous.
In this sequel, which creators consider a stand-alone show, the tortured man has made his way to New York with the help of Madame Giry, ballet mistress at the Paris Opera House, and her daughter, Meg. Now the masked man owns Phantasma, a Coney Island amusement park with burlesque and freak shows. Madame Giry and Meg work for him.
That’s all you need to know, except that love never dies. Now called Mr. Y, the Phantom still yearns for soprano Christine Daaé. Will Christine show up on Coney Island? What about her Raoul? Has it been happily ever after?
Love Never Dies opened in London in 2010 to less-than-lovely reviews. It was then overhauled by a new director, Simon Phillips (Priscilla Queen of the Desert the Musical). His prime goal: to make the show achieve “a much stronger connection to the original Phantom and those characters,” says associate director Gavin Mitford.
Phillips’ version launched in 2011 in Australia, where it was filmed for a 2012 DVD. It has been staged in Denmark, Germany and Japan but has never gone to Broadway. The Fox Theatre gets the reportedly lavish production on its first North American tour.
Karen Mason, a well-regarded cabaret singer and Broadway performer, is Madame Giry, a more prominent role this time. For starters, she gets to close the first act with the angst-filled number “Ten Long Years.”
With that song, Mason does what she’s known for: Belt it out. At theaters across the country, she’s handled Mama Rose in Gypsy. On Broadway, she originated the role of “man-eating dynamo” Tanya in Mamma Mia! On Broadway and in Los Angeles, she played faded screen star Norma Desmond in the original Sunset Boulevard, going on about 250 times as the standby for Glenn Close, Betty Buckley and Elaine Paige. She’s also been in the Broadway companies of Jerome Robbins’ Broadway and Hairspray.
“One day I’m watching ‘Star Trek’ reruns, and the next day I’m starring in a Broadway show,” she recalls of her long stint as the Norma standby.
Unlike many performers who stick to one domain, Mason has steadily swung from solo cabaret (including a “legendary” Christmas show) to musical theater, from concert performances to recordings. “It’s About Time,” a collection of show tunes and standards, is her latest and seventh CD. (Some might recall that in the early 1990s she headlined at Libby’s A Cabaret in Buckhead).
Mason never played Phantom’s Madame Giry. She heard about Love Never Dies “and that there was a good role for a ‘riper’” (someone mature). At 66, she was glad to learn that in this go-round Madame Giry sings in a lower register than in Phantom. “Vocally, this Madame Giry fits beautifully in my voice,” she says. “Let’s just say that she doesn’t have many quiet moments.”
Mason connects with the role another way. Madame Giry senses “that she’s potentially going to lose what she has built. I understand that in a very personal way — what it’s like when some big thing happens and you can’t be sure how things will go for you.
“It’s that fear of — now what? The fear that it could all be taken away from you. Madame Giry has a lot to lose, and if Christine Daaé becomes a distraction, who knows what’s going to happen?”
The Love Never Dies company is filled with mostly young talents, so Mason helps balance things “as a beacon in the industry,” Mitford says. “She’s extremely generous, talented, wonderfully experienced. From a personality and character perspective, we get the depth of someone who has been a fighter, and the finesse of someone at the top of her game. Her spectrum and range is very hard to find. She really is a gem.”
“I’ve never laughed so hard, I’ve never worked so hard,” Mason says of rehearsing for the tour.
“It’s very exciting when you can create something without thinking about how someone else did it. I get to put my own imprint on Madame Giry. That’s very exciting and freeing. It’s a big responsibility but also a great joy to start at zero and work your way up.”
Mason’s career versatility allows her to explore different sides of her personality. She adores the intimacy of cabaret shows, “sharing stories with people who are right there, so close to me. I can be heartfelt.”
In theater, she says, “I can be big and loud. And in a big musical like this one, you discover other parts of yourself as you dig into your character. You’re telling a much larger story, but you’re just a mere part of that story.”
How lucky she is to get to do it all, she adds. “It keeps me sane in so many ways.”