Some things are just made for each other. Peanut butter and jelly, macaroni and cheese, classic musicals and country twang. Yes, you read right. If you’ve always had a thing for musical theatre but never let it show ‘cause maybe you thought it was too high falutin’, The Phantom of the Opry might be just what you’re after. As you may have surmised, the production mashes up the dark, romantic tale of the Phantom of the Opera with country music comedic hijinks.
Phantom is the brainchild of local cult filmmaker Brett Kelly, who brought My Fair Zombie to the Gladstone theatre last spring. With its ridiculous funny humour and B-movie irreverence, the show was a hit. So he quickly turned around and started on his next comedy-horror remix. Less than a year later, The Phantom of the Opry is set to premiere at The Gladstone Theatre on February 22 with an all-local cast of seven singing actors plus a live band.
The production’s ten original songs come from the pen of Joel Elliott, who has played around town in various bands and now performs as Jumpin’ Joel Flash. He got involved after playing the love interest in My Fair Zombie. As he explains it, “Brett asked me to write the score and I had no experience doing that… so I said yes immediately.”
It was an entirely different approach to songwriting. Rather than starting from a theme or a feeling, Joel wrote from the blueprint in the script. “It would say insert song here and so and so has to sing it and it has to be about this and it has to take the story in x direction. Once I was able to lay down scratch tracks and get seven chorus voices all around them, the songs evolved into pieces I was happily surprised with. I’d never written songs so complicated, I’d never written songs for so many people to perform all at once. The process has been wonderful.”
There was also the consideration of balancing the musical theatre element with a country sound. “I write everything on an acoustic and it’s set in a country opry house… but it can’t be too country because it has to have that musical theatre flair – so while there’s a country twang to everything and country fans I’m certain will love it, there will also not be so much country that people will be turned off.”
Asked for a sample of what to expect Joel, mentions his favourite moment at the end of the first act where the Phantom sings, “I’m not as bad as I seem,” when he tries in vain to win over the audience. “I’m pretty pleased with it. It’s catchy and it will catch people off guard,” he says. Sounds like a good description of the production as a whole.
“There’s no reason we can’t all be collaborators.”
Though he jokes that musical theatre has taken over his life for the last while, Joel sounds happy to have fallen in with the musical theatre crowd. “Even having been in the band scene for so long I had no idea that so much musical theatre was happening. I’m trying to make as many connections between the two scenes as I can. Since Ottawa is smaller than Toronto or Vancouver or Montreal, we have a small enough of a music scene that we can all group hug rather than have these separate musical theatre and genre holes where the hip hop scene doesn’t talk to the metal scene doesn’t talk to the country scene. There’s no reason we can’t all be collaborators.”
The Phantom of the Opry is on at The Gladstone Theatre (910 Gladstone Ave) from February 22–25 at 7:30pm plus a February 25 matinee performance at 2:30pm. Tickets cost $22–38 and are available online at www.thegladstone.ca. If you like what you hear, Jumpin’ Joel Flash and Phantom bandmate Jasen Colson have another show coming up on March 1 at Live! on Elgin (220 Elgin St).