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Center Stage

The power of musical theater

10/3/2018

Two musicals open in Greater Des Moines with much fanfare.

Gardar Thor Cortes (The Phantom) and Meghan Picerno (Christine Daaé) star in “Love Never Dies.”
Photo by Joan Marcus.

From an English mining town to 1907 Coney Island, two musicals open in Greater Des Moines with much fanfare. The Des Moines Community Playhouse christens its new performing hall with an ambitious show, “Billy Elliott The Musical.” Des Moines Performing Arts welcomes the national tour of “Love Never Dies,” the eagerly-anticipated sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s record-breaking Broadway sensation, “Phantom of the Opera.”

The Playhouse

“Billy Elliot The Musical” launches the Centennial Season for the Playhouse, packed with dynamic musicals and plays sure to entice a surge of season subscribers. Based on the 2000 film “Billy Elliott,” this story is set against the backdrop of the 1984 miners’ strike in a northern English town. While his widower father and older brother strike, Billy secretly finds a passion for dance with the brassy local dance teacher and ballerinas. Tensions from the ongoing strike and a disapproving father produce suffocating pressures on Billy’s dream.

With book and lyrics by Lee Hall, “Billy Elliot” features the music of iconic star Elton John. According to an interview for the UK Independent, Sir Elton John was so moved when he first saw the film “Billy Elliot” at the Cannes festival that he agreed immediately to write the songs for the stage musical version. Sir Elton shared that the theme of a father failing to understand the artistic aspirations of his son resonated with his own youth.

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This touching story and dynamic musical score will be a powerful beginning to a memorable season at the Playhouse.

Des Moines Performing Arts

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, “Love Never Dies,” opens the 2018-19 Willis Broadway Series, running Oct. 16-21 at the Des Moines Civic Center. This sequel to “The Phantom of the Opera” brings a new energy and new setting for one of the most successful musicals of all time.

Sharing insights from within the touring company, Sean Thompson, who performs the role of Christine’s love interest, Raoul, exclaimed, “Even if you don’t know anything about ‘Phantom of the Opera,’ it’s an amazing visual show. Our director, Simon Phillips, is from Australia — he’s a brilliant visionary. It looks like nothing else you’ll see on Broadway or on tour.”

Thompson started his Broadway career performing opposite Glenn Close in another stellar Sir Lloyd Webber show, “Sunset Boulevard.” He is savoring every moment of this current tour, stating that he “fell in love with ‘Phantom’ when I was in sixth grade.”

When asked about the look and feel of “Love Never Dies,” he says, “…there’s a brilliant designer named Gabriela Tylesova who works with Simon and designed the set and costumes in tandem. They’re amazing and beautiful and kind of freaky to look at, which is just perfect for the setting, which is a circus sideshow in Coney Island in 1907.
“Aside from what it looks like, you’ve got a brand new score from Andrew Lloyd Webber,” Thompson continues. “I play Raoul, the love interest, the hero of the story. In ‘Love Never Dies,’ the audiences get to know Raoul better, including the psychology of why he’s become who he is. Raoul also sings a duet with the Phantom, a battle head-on-head, for Christine.”

Whether a forever “phan” of “The Phantom” or a newcomer to this musical story, “Love Never Dies” promises to be an unforgettable evening presented by a stellar cast.

Overheard in the Lobby

“Frankenstein” (Ankeny Community Theatre) runs Oct. 5-14; “Legally Blonde Jr.” (Des Moines Young Artists’ Theatre) runs Oct. 26 – Nov. 4; “The Foreigner” (Tallgrass Theatre Company) runs Oct. 26 – Nov. 11. ♦

John Busbee is a creative project developer, critic, playwright, author, producer and media professional. He has produced his weekly show, The Culture Buzz, on KFMG since 2007.

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