Gabriella/ Musical numbers:”La Forza del vino et morte,””Someone Is Calling Me Home, “”Did You Want to Hear a Country Tune?,””Hog Butcher’s Daughter,””For Better, for Worse,””Antonio’s Telegram,””Country Music Is My Home,””Two Roads Meet,””For Better, for Worse” (reprise), “Antonio’s Telegram II,””Country Music Is My Home” (reprise), “Missin’ Men,””Does Your Daddy Know You Like to Kiss the Cowboys?, “”Train of Adolescence,””If I Could Hold You,””Country Music Is My Home” (reprise), “Night of Terror,””An Open Door,””God Save Our Glorious Queen,””Ghost Town,””Mort’s Telegram,””Spaghetti Western,””Hog Butcher’s Daughter” (reprise), “Calling Me Home,””Maybe When You’re Older,””If I Could Hold You” (reprise).
Perhaps it was inevitable. The phantomania that has gripped the nation for years finally has yielded a musical that is part spoof and part homage to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s monster moneymaker. Though it surely has its funny moments and modest crowd-pleasing potential, the new “Phantom of the Country Palace” is not likely to rival Lloyd Webber’s opus in popularity.
The creators of this new “Phantom” musical, mostly set in a Nashville country music performance hall not unlike the Grand Ole Opry, seem to want their audience to laugh and cry. But the laughs come much easier than the tears in this show, which suggests the authors should have stuck with the humor and not attempted to sneak in a half-baked ending that is meant to be emotionally moving but isn’t.
The story begins at La Scala Opera House in Milan where a young American expatriate named Christine (Jamie Dawn Gangi) is in the throes of making a name for herself as an opera singer. But despite the pleas from her operatic managers , she insists she is not comfortable with the music and decides to return to her hometown, the country music capital, Nashville.
Back in Nashville and now known as Chrissy, she arrives at the Country Palace and soon meets Skipper (Evans Colton), the sweet and tal-ented son of the Country Palace’s big star, Miss Sally (Carlton Miller).
With Skipper’s help, Chrissy lands a job as one of Miss Sally’s backup singers after an incompetent is dismissed and sent packing back to Six Flags. Struggling to undo her operatic training and learn to sing country from the heart, Chrissy also is befriended by the Country Palace’s rather strange janitor , Aaron (Gene Weygandt).
She mistakenly winds up in a room below the Country Palace where Aaron has set up a recording studio. In a poorly written scene, Chrissy and Aaron appear to strike some sort of spiritual bond as her operatic voice slowly but surely gives way to one with only a slightly more country twang.
From that point, it’s only a matter of time and a few twists and turns in the story before Chrissy deposes the reigning queen of country music, Miss Sally. But in so doing, Chrissy learns more about her mysterious country music coach. Aaron is revealed to be the father who left Chrissy and her mother at a early age, for reasons that aren’t clearly laid out in the book by Sean Grennan and Kathy Santen. A first-act number or scene in which Chrissy talks of her lost father and her feelings for him would make the final scenes more affecting.
Along the way, though, Grennan and Santen do have a lot of fun lampooning the crazy, larger-than-life figures that inhabit the country music world. And they also get in a few good jabs at Lloyd Webber’s world-famous chandelier, which keeps appearing unexpectedly in the show, only to be shooed away by Miss Sally’s husband, Major Billy, played with great gusto by Don Forston.
Michael Duff’s music, unfortunately, is mostly a disappointment. Save for a couple of pleasant tunes, “An Open Door” and “If I Could Hold You” in particular , the music is mostly ho-hum country. Cheri Coons’ lyrics are no better than serviceable.
“Country Palace” isn’t a big dance show, but Mark Hoebee’s energetic choreography always looks good. Joe Leonardo’s brisk, efficient direction helps mask the material’s flaws, but his casting in one crucial role leaves much to be desired. With lackluster vocal and acting skills, Gangi simply isn’t up to the key role of Chrissy.
The show’s real find, however, is the young Colton, who not only does a credible acting job but is a fine singer and fiddler. Miller is fun to watch as Miss Sally, but Weygandt never brings the role of Aaron into focus, no doubt because it is so weakly written.
Thomas Ryan’s minimalist set provides just enough of a country flavor. Nancy Missimi’s colorful costumes are an appropriate blaze of spangles and beads, while Diane Ferry Williams’ lighting does an OK job of adding atmosphere. Despite its shortcomings, “Phantom of the Country Palace” could prove a real crowd pleaser wherever country music is a big draw or where audiences are hungry for a different take on the phantom story.