Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

Things To Do

September 6, 2012

Review: Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge a unique musical experience

CROSSVILLE — Energy streamed from the stage of the Adventure Theater on the opening night of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge. As an audience, we found ourselves “Way Out Back and Beyond,” with the sight and sound of bluegrass music pulsating through us. The year is 1930. We are in a tiny isolated cabin that doubles as a general store and, at times, a speakeasy.

Onstage musicians Douglas Waterbury-Tieman on fiddle, Colin Cahill on banjo, John Dobbratz on mandolin, ukulele, and “spamjo,” Drew Robbins on guitar and Tony Greco on bass, keep the action moving through 15 engaging songs. Occasionally they jump in to become part of that action.

Lauren Marshall, music director, plays Hazel Grubbs, a youngish widow with an eye out for a golden boy of her own. Marshall has played a wide variety of roles in her few years here. The role of Hazel is a contrast to those she has played in the past.      

Newcomer Anna Baker brings both acting talent and vocal skill to her role as Maggie McFarland. She has performed both opera and musical theater in her native New England. The voices of Baker and Marshall complement one another as they sing of “The Little Log Cabin” they would each like to be sharing with a golden boy. Hopes are that audiences will be seeing and hearing more of Baker in the coming months.  

The ever versatile Daniel Black plays Maggie’s father, J.M. McFarland, who runs the store with the speakeasy on the side and a moonshine producing still out behind.

Greg Pendzick skillfully transforms his usual gentle, winsome personality into outlaw Clayton Monroe. Wielding a shovel, Clay has attacked his father rather than marry the wealthy widow his father selected to be his wife. The inhabitants of the cabin are eager to protect him from the law. As you would expect, a love triangle develops. Baker sings hauntingly of this “Golden Boy.”

Austin Price struggles to define the character of Luther Coffey, the man scheduled to wed Maggie in two days. Coffey’s bravery is tested when he hears groaning in the nearby ditches. Is he supposed to protect his betrothed? He leaves such concern to the outlaw until he realizes Maggie (Baker) has turned her eye toward another man. Outlaw Clay (Pendzick) might be more exciting to a young girl than the ever-available Luther (Price). As always, Price brings unique skill and agility to remarkable dances. His Luther displays unexpected brilliance in offering his competitor a “First-Class Ticket” and a suit of clothes to get away from the cabin and from Maggie.         

The audience exploded with laughter at the entrance of the incomparable Jason Ross, sporting the emblem of the law and seeking to find the outlaw. Ross plays Leroy as dark and dangerous. At the end of the first act, he forcefully sings that he is “Nowhere Near Done.” Ross and Marshall vocally duel as they sing, “That Ain’t Him.”

Opening night was approached with some trepidation. Can the classic Irish play, John Millington Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, be translated into a bluegrass musical set in Appalachia? The answer now is a resounding “yes.”

John Fionte designed a rustic set of sharp angles and unexpected side rooms. By slightly elevating the musicians, he has enabled them to be either part of the action or in the background.

Costume designer Renee Luttrell had a good time transforming the musicians into neighbor ladies. Pendzick is wonderfully filthy in his appearance. The rest of the cast is not quite seedy, but heading in that direction.

Choreographer Donald Frison has introduced remarkable dance sequences demanding unique skills that are executed flawlessly.   

Thanks to Director John Fionte, who was introduced to this show as part of National Alliance for Musical Theatre’s Festival of New Works, audiences are witnessing its first production outside New York. Jim Crabtree, producing director, wrote: “The outrageous humor, romance and mayhem are all set to an irresistible, infectious, contemporary bluegrass score.”

I hope you will join in celebrating this addition to the Playhouse season. The house was packed on opening night. Arrive early enough to read the synopsis of this unique new musical by Peter Mills and Cara Reichel. John Fionte says in his note from the director: “I promise, it’s not like anything you’ve experienced – or anything you’re expecting. I hope it’s even better.”

As a member of the opening night audience, it is much better than could have been imagined. Do order your tickets.  

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