The songs and per­form­ers that made coun­try mu­sic leg­endary

Kings & Queens of Coun­try, now play­ing at the St. Ja­cobs School­house The­atre, weaves a story of the genre’s icons

The Woolwich Observer - - THE ARTS - STEVE KANNON

A LATECOMER TO COUN­TRY mu­sic, Dray­ton En­ter­tain­ment’s Alex Mus­takas learned to love the genre, em­brac­ing its leg­endary songs and per­form­ers.

His fa­ther-in-law lis­tened to noth­ing but tra­di­tional coun­try mu­sic, so spend­ing time with him out in the garage, for in­stance, meant be­ing ex­posed to all that his­tory.

“This is some of the great­est mu­sic ever writ­ten. It’s great sto­ry­telling,” said Mus­takas, who was moved to cre­ate Kings & Queens of Coun­try, a the­atri­cal salute to the artists who put Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry on the map.

The show opened this week at the St. Ja­cobs School­house The­atre, run­ning through to Christ­mas.

In putting to­gether the pro­duc­tion, the first big chal­lenge was choos­ing the mu­sic, par­ing down the list so it wasn’t a 10-hour show – “There’s so much great mu­sic.” In the end, more than 100 songs are used, many in medley form to avoid mak­ing it an all-day af­fair at the the­atre.

With an em­cee that of­fers up con­ti­nu­ity in the sto­ry­line and some laughs, the show runs chrono­log­i­cally through some of the ear­li­est coun­try stars – Ernest Tubb, Dot­tie West, Faron Young – through to the 1980s’ sounds of Dolly Par­ton and Kenny Rogers, just be­fore the emer­gence of New Coun­try.

A wide-rang­ing blend, notes Mus­takas. There’s the likes of Merle Hag­gard’s “Okie from Musko­gee,” Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” Hank Wil­liams’ “Hey, Good Lookin’,” John Den­ver’s “Coun­try Roads,” Glen Camp­bell’s “Like a Rhine­stone Cow­boy” and many more. Add to the list Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daugh­ter,” Dot­tie West’s “Coun­try Sun­shine,” Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” Dolly Par­ton’s “Jo­lene,” and Patsy Cline’s “Crazy.”

Oh, and there’s some Johnny Cash to get things rolling, a medley of five or six songs in about three min­utes sets the tone.

A cast of young per­form­ers have em­braced the mu­sic, much of which was en­tirely new to some of them, Mus­takas ex­plained, laugh­ing that it was prob­a­bly their grand­par­ents who lis­tened to the mu­sic.

Al­though Kings & Queens of Coun­try presents iconic mu­sic and per­form­ers, it’s not a trib­ute show in the tra­di­tional sense – “We’re try­ing not to do the looka­likes” – but rather a trib­ute to the mu­sic.

“We’re not try­ing to mimic the per­form­ers.”

J. Sean El­liott de­liv­ers the laughs through­out the show as the goofy nar­ra­tor, Wil­bur, weav­ing songs to­gether with hu­mour and singing a few tunes of his own. El­liott has ap­peared in many mu­si­cals and come­dies across the coun­try in­clud­ing nu­mer­ous pro­duc­tions for Dray­ton En­ter­tain­ment, most re­cently in Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet. Al Braatz made his Dray­ton En­ter­tain­ment de­but ear­lier this sea­son as Asher in Joseph and the Amaz­ing Tech­ni­color Dream­coat. Tyler Check was Carl Perkins in Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet, and Michael Cox has ap­peared in nu­mer­ous mu­si­cals across the coun­try in­clud­ing Les Misérables for Dray­ton En­ter­tain­ment. Kevin Dempsey is a sta­ple in the Toronto mu­sic scene and has played drums in var­i­ous Dray­ton En­ter­tain­ment pro­duc­tions, in­clud­ing Red Rock Diner, Any­thing Goes, A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline, Big Band Leg­ends, and Swing!, among oth­ers.

Earl Filsinger has toured Canada and the U.S. as a lead gui­tar player in nu­mer­ous bands; he has also played for var­i­ous mu­si­cals in­clud­ing Man of La Man­cha, Evita, and Big River. Kelly Ho­liff, mak­ing her Dray­ton En­ter­tain­ment de­but, has pre­vi­ously ap­peared as Miss Stacey in the Charlottetown pro­duc­tion of Anne of Green Gables, as well as in a va­ri­ety of pro­duc­tions across On­tario. Ju­lia McLel­lan pre­vi­ously ap­peared as Val in A Chorus Line at the Strat­ford Fes­ti­val, in the Toronto and U.S. Na­tional Tour pro­duc­tions of Kinky Boots and re­cently as Annabel Glick in Dray­ton’s Lucky Stiff. Steve Thomas is a well-known com­poser, pi­anist and mu­sic di­rec­tor who has worked on a va­ri­ety of pro­duc­tions across North Amer­ica for The­atre Aquarius, The El­gin The­atre, Light­house Fes­ti­val The­atre, Van­cou­ver Play­house and Charlottetown Fes­ti­val, among oth­ers. Most re­cently, he was the mu­sic di­rec­tor for Thor­oughly Mod­ern Mil­lie in St. Ja­cobs.

The eight per­form­ers on stage jump through songs and eras, mean­ing they’re lit­er­ally wear­ing a lot of hats through­out the show. To­gether, they bring an en­ergy to the mu­sic that au­di­ences will en­joy, says Mus­takas.

“It’s cer­tainly res­onat­ing,” he said of the early buzz to the show. “There’s an ap­petite for this kind of mu­sic.”

The in­ti­mate con­fines of the St. Ja­cobs School­house The­atre means au­di­ences will get an up-close ex­pe­ri­ence with the mu­sic.

“It’ll feel like it’s right in your liv­ing room, like a kitchen party,” he said.

Kings & Queens of Coun­try runs at St. Ja­cobs School­house The­atre un­til De­cem­ber 24. Tick­ets are $46 for adults and $27 for youth un­der 20 years of age, avail­able on­line at www.dray­to­nen­ter­tain­ment.com or by call­ing the box of­fice at 1-855-dray­ton (372-9866).

[SUB­MIT­TED]

The cast of Kings & Queens of Coun­try wear many hats in pre­sent­ing the songs that de­fined the genre. The play opened this week, run­ning through to Christ­mas.

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