The Alliance Theatre’s world premiere musical “Troubadour” features a happy collaboration between Atlanta playwright Janece Shaffer (“The Geller Girls”) and composer and lyricist Kristian Bush, who partners with Jennifer Nettles as the country music duo Sugarland. Directed by Alliance artistic director Susan V. Booth, the show runs through Feb. 12.
We’re in Nashville, 1951, and a giant of country music, Billy Mason (Radney Foster), in poor health, is preparing for his farewell concert at the Grand Ole Opry. He will be assisted and accompanied by his son Joe (Zach Seabaugh), who has the looks of a matinee idol and plenty of untapped talent himself (Mr. Seabaugh was a finalist on TV’s “The Voice” and has started his own recording/performing career).
However, in “Troubadour,” old man Mason is distinctly unpleasant. He is bitter that disease (he has seizures) should be ending his long career, and is resentful that his own son, whom he’s always put down and who has always been loyal to his father, has success written all over him. Billy’s charm is reserved for performing and convincing his fans what a righteous man he is.
But youth must be served, as they say, and the fates conspire to start young Joe on his own path to stardom. However, it doesn’t happen overnight.
An aside: as a child, I lived near Nashville and spent some time there. I always found it a singularly depressing place. To me the perfect country music song is Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down,” which captures the desolation and desperation beneath the country glamour and rhinestones. The people who make it, like Billy Mason, must be tough as nails. Of course Nashville’s glammed up since then (I think).
Speaking of rhinestones—I wrote in my review of “The Geller Girls” that Ms. Shaffer has a remarkable gift of weaving seemingly disparate elements into a seamless whole. She still does. We meet Izzy (Andrew Benator), an immigrant Russian Jewish tailor who somehow knows how to use rhinestones and other jazzy accoutrement to make young Joe look like a dashing country-western star.
Then Inez, (Sylvie Davidson), a broke Alabama girl with a real gift for writing songs comes into Joe’s life, personally and professionally. And the flashy Savannah Dushee (Bethany Anne Lind) pops into the scene, with much comic and theatrical effect. Rob Lawhon is a perfect, over-enthusiastic radio deejay; he also plays a decidedly low-key one from Charlotte.
The character of Izzy, incidentally, is based on real people who dressed early western stars like Roy Rogers and Hank Williams Sr. Mr. Bush’s songs are excellent and serve the characters very well.
One song, “Ice Cream and Lollipops,” a comic suggestive duet between Inez and Joe, had the audience in stitches. It is a high point in the show for sheer entertainment.
Every actor I’ve mentioned turns in a polished, professional performance; and Davidson, Foster, and Seabaugh excel as singers. The handsome Mr. Seabaugh may have quite a future in show business.
“Troubadour” is a fun show; the audience had a great time. I found the pace a bit slow at times; “Phantom of the Opera” runs exactly two and a half hours, including intermission, on Broadway. There is no need for “Troubadour” to be several minutes longer than that. A little play doctoring will be needed if this show has Broadway aspirations. The Alliance sends shows to New York occasionally, as you know.
For tickets and information, visit alliancetheatre.org.