Love Never Dies is a dream come true for hardcore fans of Phantom of the Opera. Some say it’s a dream for anyone who loves the magic of the theater—and the circus.
The Phantom sequel, which comes to the Hobby Center this month, is set in 1907, ten years after the phantom disappeared from the Paris Opera House. He lives in New York now, where Coney Island’s amusement-park rides and freak shows fill his days and nights. Here, his music can soar—and his love for Christine Daaé has not died.
Daaé has become one of the most celebrated sopranos in the world. She travels from Paris to New York to perform, and the phantom sees this as his final chance to win back her love. So he lures her and her family to the bright and gleaming Coney Island to make his move.
The music is by Andrew Lloyd Webber, of course, and the show is based partly on Frederick Forsyth’s book, The Phantom of Manhattan. Gardar Thor Cortes plays the phantom, Meghan Picerno portrays Christine Daaé, and Katrina Kemp, an intriguing young bisexual actress, takes on the equally intriguing role of Fleck, one of the phantom’s henchmen.
Kemp, 28, is also a little person and a self-proclaimed San Fernando Valley girl who is making her professional singing debut in Love Never Dies. She says she’s always loved to perform because it feels incredibly natural. Her parents met via a theater group in California, and she has “always wanted to join in and entertain since birth.”
At 19, Kemp landed a gig playing Chucky at Universal Studios in Hollywood. Her mom wouldn’t let her work Universal’s “Halloween Horror Nights” with her friends in high school, but after she graduated she stepped into that major horror role right out of the gate.
“It was a real challenge, creatively and stunt-wise,” she says. “I was so afraid of anything horror my whole life. Working that job blasted all my fears.”
Kemp says when she realized she could make a grown man cry, she knew she could do anything. “My best friend kept telling me, ‘You can work there. I know you can.’ He tricked me into seeing my first horror movie, The Hills Have Eyes. I peed my pants and vomited.”
From there, Kemp spent time touring with Miley Cyrus, and appeared on RuPaul’s Drag Race, Faking It, and Man Seeking Woman. “Friends and family who have seen [Love Never Dies] would now say [this is my big] break,” Kemp says. And it’s a surprising one, given that she had never previously sung for an audition, let alone for a paid performance.
She recorded her Love Never Dies audition at the home studio of a friend’s boyfriend. Then she “dressed as a Parisian clown whore and danced around the living room and lip-synced to my own song with all of these mini-candelabras and pianos my roommates had around.” That was on April 11.
She didn’t hear anything until June, when the show’s producer’s flew her to New York for a meeting. Naturally, she was working on other things by that time, and also considering being featured on Little Women: LA. Then everything changed. “I was doing transcriptions for reality TV and everyone was laid off. That same day, I got offered ➝ Love Never Dies. I went from being the squirrel who sat in the basement until 4 a.m. to the puppet wrapped in bubble for a four-million-dollar show.”
Working in live theater has been great for Kemp, who says she prefers it to television. “Everyone is just themselves. TV is not as personal—it’s in and out so fast. [In theater], you have to find new things every day to make it magical. This job has made me work the hardest I ever have in my whole life. The production team was pumping me up like I was Kobe Bryant.”
Asked about the audience experience at Love Never Dies, Kemp says, “This show is for the mega, mega Phantom fans. It’s like a love letter from Andrew Lloyd Webber. You are going on a ride. You are not in control. We are in control. People have not had this experience with a little person in a show. I don’t think there’s been another character like this in the world.”
During the tour, Kemp says audience members have waited outside the stage door after the show just for the chance to meet her. “The fans are so overwhelmingly supportive and gentle and self-deprecating in their love for [the show]. For me, it’s like a reminder to keep doing it even on a hard day when it’s your eighth show of the week. Slap on some Icy Hot and let’s do this.” Kemp says she wants to give people the best possible experience, since it might be their first encounter with a little person.
As for her personal life, Kemp considers herself a late bloomer. She came out as bisexual when she was in her early 20s. “That basically explains to people that I can’t explain what it is about a person that makes me want to be with them. I always have a stronger emotional connection to women.” She says she hasn’t really come out publicly, per se. “It’s never been a thing. If anyone asked, I would tell the truth.”
Kemp is relishing every minute of her time in Love Never Dies. She is also anxiously awaiting the release of The Filth, a new series she stars in about “two delusional, queer creatives in L.A. who navigate their complicated love lives while attempting to maintain the only stable relationship they have: their friendship.”
As for the future, well, Kemp says that’s an easy one. “My dream is to star in Kill Bill Vol. 3.”
What: Love Never Dies
When: July 17–22
Where: The Hobby Center, 800 Bagby St.
This article appears in the July 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.