Local production of 'Phantom' bats well on British tour

November 12, 1990|By Winifred Walsh | Winifred Walsh,Evening Sun Staff

ON THE LAST DAY of Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the final performance of the "American Phantom of the Opera" performed by the Baltimore Actors Theatre received a 25-minute standing ovation.

"It was the most exciting experience of my professional life," Eugene Anderson, musical director for the troupe and composer of the "Phantom" score, said. "The audience stood up and screamed and stomped their feet hurling 'Bravos!' until the cast came back again and again for encores."

Booked by the British Apollo Leisure Group, the 34-member BAT company entertained at the Apollo Theatre in Oxford, England, the first week of August and then played the Apollo Hippodrome in Bristol the next week. The last two weeks in August were spent at the annual International Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

The festival, with 900 international acts, is the largest venue for the performing arts in the world.

"The difference between an American and English audience," Anderson observed, "is that the English are so engrossed in the show you could feel the concentration come up on stage. They stay glued to their seats."

BAT's area production of "The Phantom of the Opera" (with a local cast) is now in its fourth year at the Oregon Ridge Dinner Theatre. A separate, professional ensemble was chosen for the British tour.

Baritone James Horan, of the ABC soap "Loving," portrayed the disfigured, masked genius who haunts the Paris Opera House. Soprano Karri Nussle, Miss Iowa of 1984, sang the Christine role. Soap star James Hammer, of CBS' "Guiding Light," was the narrator. Mary Gould, a Metropolitan Opera finalist, sang the role of diva, La Carlotta.

The book and lyrics based on the Gaston Leroux classic were written by BAT founder and artistic director Helen Grigal, who directed and choreographed the professional company's Great Britain tour.

"She kept the cast and crew on their toes throughout the whole four weeks," Anderson said. "We had a wonderful space in St. Bernard's Church in Stockbridge which gave the 'Phantom' a nice tone."

With a million people visiting the festival and 900 things to see, the average audience leveled out to about six persons a show.

"We averaged 160 to 170 people at every performance," said a pleased Anderson. "Michael J. H. Wescott, vice chairman of the Fringe Festival, said our production was one of the finest and most elegant shows in his 18-year association with the theatrical event."

Reviews of the "American Phantom" in the Edinburgh News, The Scotsman, the Oxford Journal and other British newspapers were very favorable.

"The amazing thing," said Anderson, "is that England is where the Andrew Lloyd Webber 'Phantom' was created, but no one, including the critics, ever mentioned this or compared our show to his."

The cost of the tour, which included lavish new sets and costumes, amounted to $130,000, a sum the company hoped to recoup during the four-week stay. But an unexpected heat wave sharply cut audience attendance to the Oxford Apollo and the Hippodrome in Bristol the first two weeks.

"England is not prepared for hot weather," Anderson said. "The theaters are not air conditioned. We lost a lot of money," he admitted, "but the tour was an artistic success."

Some other bad luck plagued the troupe. Because of a mix-up in accommodations the company had to commute from Glasgow to the church every day, a 55-minute jaunt by bus.

"We also had trouble with the keyboards. The marvelous computerized lighting systems, the food, the money . . . all took getting used to. Right away the costume lady fell down the steps and broke her ankle, but she stuck it out," Anderson said.

"Although we were considered 'a jewel in the crown of the festival,' the show being a musical was not eligible for any awards," he said. "But hopefully festival officials will change that status next year.

"We have been invited back for the 1991 season and we plan to return with a brand new musical adaptation of another classic. Miss Helen and I are already in the early stages of this new work but we don't want to say what the show will be until it is ready."

"Phantom of the Opera" is playing at the Oregon Ridge Dinner Theatre through Nov. 25. BAT'S Christmas special, "Holiday Fantasy," plays Dec. 14 through Dec. 30. "Phantom" will pick up again in January for an open-end engagement. For reservations and more information, call 252-3999.

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