Phantom of the Opry

By ESTHER SMITH

News staff writer

April 12

It’s hard to tell who has more fun at a Lion’s Follies show; the performers or the audience. At the 29th annual Mid-Columbia Lions Follies, “Phantom of the Opry” (A Grande Ole Show), there is as much fun being had on stage as in the seats.

The plot — as you might have guessed — is loosely based on the well-known play of (almost) the same name. The concept is credited to the late James Williams, a Follies member for over 20 years, who died last August. This year’s show is dedicated to him.

According to Bev Bridgewater, the show’s executive producer and writer, Williams had had the idea for a few years. She and Andy Streich and Mike Oates took his general thoughts and created this musical comedy, which features current country favorites, remakes of popular country songs, and signature songs of many of the top country music stars of the late 1950s and early 1960s. And lots of laughs.

The show starts with the “Foll’n Flat” band — Andy Streich, Clinton Curtis, Mike Oates and Dave Tallman — who are about to make their Grand Ole Opry debut. But suddenly Tallman finds himself back in time — to the 1950s — where country music as we know it today got its roots. An accident forces him into hiding as the “Phantom of the Opry,” and that story weaves around vignettes of early country singers, with a little romance, a little drama, and a lot of humor.

Also starring in this year’s show are: Sammi Schend as Christine, the Phantom’s young protege; Patty Schend as Dolly Parton; Clinton Curtis and Cara Vance as Johnny and June Cash; Andy Streich as Waylon Jennings; Mike Oates as Willie Nelson; Megan Perkins-Roush as Patsy Cline; Dick Goe as Dudley Do, a talent agent; Mollie Sollman as Kitty Wells; Sarah Oates-Fox as Loretta Lynn; and Lynne Schuepbach as Minnie Pearl. Other main players are Terry Streich, Kathy Oates, Dorris Greenough, Rachel Weatherly, Sandy Belcher, and Caryn Chilton.

On the show’s second night, for the first time in its history, one of the two main characters — Sammi Schend as Christine — was ill and couldn’t perform. But the Follies must go on, so Sarah Oates-Fox, a trouper in every sense of the word, stepped in and played the role convincingly.

The Lions Follies are held as fund-raisers for the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation. In the last 28 years, $194,000 has been raised for the organization and it is hoped that the $200,000 mark will be passed this year. The foundation is also collecting signatures to have itself added to the Oregon tax return; 10,000 signatures are needed for this to be done.

*****

Remaining show dates are April 14, 15 and 16. The three-hour performances are held in the Hood River Middle School auditorium with a brief intermission; concessions are sold in the foyer.

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