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Ryan Landry Unmasks 'Phantom of the Oprah'

By: Feb. 28, 2010
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Phantom of the Oprah

Book & Lyrics by Ryan Landry

Directed by Larry Coen, Choreography by Samantha Brior-Jones, Costumes by Scott Martino, Lights & Sound by Captain & Dr. Bird-America, Set Design by Mike Brisbois, Stage Management by Roger "007" Moore, Credits by Tom Yaz, Everything Else by Mama Rose

Featuring: Varla Jean Merman as Christine Daaé, Andre "Afrodite" Shoals as The Phantom

The Cast (in order of appearance): William York, The Auctioneer; Larry Coen, The Inspector Jambon; Mark Meehan, Teddy Cruise; Robyn Banks, The Stage Manager; Robin JaVonne Smith, The Mystery Lady; Michael Wood, Pickles; Fruit Cocktail & Liza Lott, The Twins; Ryan Landry, Madame Cunté; Penny Champayne, Doris Rosenblatt; Olive Another, Faye Rosenblatt; John Pirroni, Nancy Grace; Liza Lott, Liza Minnelli; Naked Ned and Gary Croteau, Ensemble; Rhoda the Dog, Cameo Appearance

Performances weekends only through March 28 at Machine, 1254 Boylston Street, Boston    Box Office 617-265-6222 or

Bravo, Ryan Landry! You and the Gold Dust Orphans have done it again. Phantom of the Oprah combines an eclectic blend of musical styles from Broadway to Burlesque and Rock Opera to silent film, with outrageous performances, jaw-dropping costumes, and spot on scenic and prop design to create the mashed up world where Andrew Lloyd Webber meets the Queen of daytime television. Although Landry takes significant license and engages in some serious, yet comic, gender bending, you'll recognize many of the characters and the skeleton of the story from The Phantom of the Opera, as well as be among the first to know what the future holds for Winfrey when she retires her talk show at the end of this year.  

The Gold Dust Orphans are a wild and crazy group of talented actors, singers, and dancers who seem always on the verge of running amok. However, their brand of theatre is precisely-timed chaos, here under the direction of local favorite Larry Coen (also playing the role of the Clouseau-like Inspector Jambon), and everything happens according to plan. Slap sounds coincide with the faux action, microphones appear out of nowhere and everywhere at song cues, costumes come on and off without a hitch, and even Rhoda the Dog hits her mark. The design team of Scott Martino, Mike Brisbois, and Captain & Dr. Bird-America bring Landry's vision to life colorfully and creatively, while paying homage to iconic images of the show's namesake Broadway behemoth. Choreographer Samantha Brior-Jones employs ballet, disco, and kick lines, to mention but a few of the dance genres necessary to keep the cast appropriately hopping to the beat.

The Orphans scored a coup in casting the internationally known singing sensation, Miss Varla Jean Merman as Christine. A commanding presence on stage, her comic style is very physical, using facial expressions and female mannerisms to great effect. Andre "Afrodite" Shoals as The Phantom (Oprah) matches Merman note for note with powerful histrionics and shows a real flair for working with a mask and a cape. Landry's character Madame Cunté (who mimics TPOTO's Madame Giry) is the rather dark and severe Headmistress of the Harpo School, an art school for underprivileged inner city youth in what was formerly Oprah's Harpo Studios.

As usual, the headliners have strong support from the rest of the cast. Gold Dust regulars Penny Champayne and Olive Another appear as the clueless Rosenblatt sisters who take over management of the school despite their lack of acumen. Their duet "We've Got Each Other" (borrowed from Damn Yankees) is a clever send-up, but they were a beat off the music on opening night. Mark Meehan as Teddy Cruise, son of Tom, has a fantastic set of pipes which sounded all the more remarkable in contrast to Teddy's high-pitched, Mickey Mouse speaking voice. John Pirroni makes the CNN Legal Analyst Nancy Grace diva character (think Carlotta) exceptionally hateful and laughable with big moves and a big voice. Christine's friend and protector (the Meg Giry counterpart) is tutu-clad Pickles, the ever graceful Michael Wood. Liza Lott is brassy as Liza Minnelli, and Robin JaVonne Smith adds an air of mystery from behind her black veil.

The one-liners and laughs come fast and furious in Phantom of the Oprah and you have to pay close attention to all sides of the room so as not to miss any of the countless sight gags. In the finale of the production, so much happens so fast that it feels like the climax of a grand fireworks display. Be advised that the humor is rarely subtle, but it feels good to be hit over the head repeatedly in this context. Landry was recently selected as one of three members of the 2010 class of Huntington Playwriting Fellows. After more than thirty years writing, directing, and performing, it is a well-deserved and singular honor which should result in greater notice for him and the Gold Dust Orphans in the theatrical mainstream, but I hope he keeps marching to the sound of his own drumbeat, enlarging the parade of devoted followers.  









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