'Phantom of Country Opera' tries too hard Production needs to decide between spoof and serious

October 22, 1997|By Dawn Fallik | Dawn Fallik,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

There is such a thing as trying too hard to please, and such is the case with the "Phantom of the Country Opera," a spoof that unsuccessfully tries to impart a serious message.

Although graced with some genuinely funny lyrics and a few lilting voices, "Phantom's" unsteady plot is hard to follow and full of holes.

The story focuses on Chrissy (Tracey Stephens), who leaves her love, Antonio, and her opera career in Italy to come to Nashville after her mother's death. Although an innocent newcomer, Chrissy's talents compete with the "Country Opera's" big star, Sally Barker. The reigning queen tries to oust the competition but is thwarted by a mysterious phantom who appears at critical moments as Chrissy mourns for the mother she has lost and the father she never knew.

Chrissy's self-doubt and cloying innocence jar with the play's attempts at silliness. Her operatic trills would be beautiful in a song written for that purpose, but slide awkwardly around country-type lyrics, making them hard to understand. The six-piece orchestra really got into the music, sometimes playing too loudly for the song to be heard, not an unusual problem with theater in the round.

It's when the "Phantom" mantle slips and the cast gets silly that the best parts shine through. Lynn Sharp Spears is wonderful as the reigning song queen, with a clear, strong voice that easily carries love-song lyrics like "I am the headlights, you are the deer." Her partner in clumsy crime is her husband, Major Billy, played by Robert Biederman.

Garbed in garish costumes and blessed with songs such as "I Was A Hog Butcher's Daughter," the duo have the most fun in the playas they capture the audience's attention with every appearance.

Chrissy's love interest, Antonio, also added a terrific touch of brevity, with a delightfully over-the-top Italian accent and the best voice of the cast. Played by Dan Felton, Antonio managed to successfully bring off the wacky number "Western Spaghetti," as well as a well-matched ballad, "Open Door," with Chrissy.

It's too bad the plot didn't focus more on them, rather than the relationship between Chrissy and her long-lost father. Both the songs and dialogue around this issue seemed awkward.

Gary Best, who plays the Country Opera's janitor and Chrissy's mentor, seemed to be closed in a shell. While his voice helped support otherwise flabby songs, the character was too serious for a spoof, and dragged down both scene and song.

Although Toby's should be commended for trying new plays, "The Phantom of the Country Opera" offers a little too much sincerity, not enough spoof for the silly palate.

"Phantom" runs through Nov. 23. Information: 410-730-8311.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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