This Poverty Is Condemned

No one would be served by the suggestion that Mesa Little Theatre's The Pinchpenny Phantom of the Opera is a sterling production, or even that there could be a sterling production of this sophomoric spoof by Dave Reiser and Jack Sharkey. That wonderful title suggests that we may get to see a little of the air let out of the inflated, insanely lavish Andrew Lloyd Webber hit, but, alas, wit and invention are as pinched by this show's book and music as pennies are by its staging.

The name of the title character in Gaston Leroux's classic horror tale, and in the many dramatizations of it, is Erik. In Pinchpenny Phantom, his name is lampooned to "Airwick."

That's a pretty good example of the level of satire at work in this show. It's clear that the director, Neil Cohen, and the choreographer, Kirby Holt, approached the project with a nice, healthy sense of silliness, and they manage a few cute gags, like a hilariously small-scale version of the obligatory falling-chandelier effect. But the cast that executes them might be described most mercifully as uneven, and the production values, even allowing for the disclaimer in the title, are impoverished.

The plot unfolds at a low-rent opera house in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1943. The Phantom (Tony Polarr), who has the rather endearing habit of waving to the audience, Red Skelton-style, is bumping off a series of divas (all seven are played by two actresses) to help the rise of the understudy, Pristine (Mary Lynne Elrich), who he of course loves.

This allows for a structure which alternates send-ups of great operas (Salome, Carmen, Die Fledermaus, etc.) with backstage numbers in the style of an old-fashioned show-biz musical. Most of the backstage numbers are truly ghastly doggerel, and, in general, they get the performances they deserve.

The opera spoofs are rather amusing, however, especially those which feature the agreeably goofy actress Jennifer Parker. A Rosie O'Donnell-type with real flair and versatility, Parker brings a wacky intensity to the four divas she plays, ranging from a tempestuous Carmen to a dotty BrYnnhilde. Of the minor rewards which the hardy souls who brave Pinchpenny Phantom will receive, most will come from Parker.

The Pinchpenny Phantom of the Opera continues through Sunday, December 1, at Mesa Little Theatre, 155 North Center.


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