Ivoryton's Stand By Your Man Is a Country Music Lover's Delight
By Karen Isaacs
Jukebox musicals are popular because they give audiences a wide range of songs associated with a particular composer or performer. They are divided into three categories: those that use the songs to advance a story (All Shook Up uses music associated with Elvis Presley), those that are a straight revue with no real story (Ain't Misbehavin' is a stellar example of this), and those that attempt to give biography of the composer or performer using the music.
Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story that opens Ivoryton Playhouse's 2015 season is the latter type of show. The title tells you all you need to know; it is the life story of Tammy Wynette.
What a story it is, from cotton-picking child to the Queen of country music. And there the numerous soap-opera elements: A father who died when she was 9 months old, five marriages plus a romance with Burt Reynolds, four children, addiction to prescription drugs and numerous surgeries and illnesses.
But even the talented playwright Mark St. Germain has difficulty bringing any depth to the story.
The premise is that Tammy is dead and meets her mother in heaven. When her mother says that while most people have their lives flash before their eyes as they die, for Tammy it would take more than a few seconds, we are off to the races.
The story is told chronologically -- we see the young Tammy picking cotton, listening to George Jones on the radio and as a teenager escaping into an early marriage with Euple Byrd. After several children, she leaves him to go to Nashville to pursue her dream. While there she meets Don Chapel, an aspiring singer-songwriter whom she marries and soon they are touring with George Jones. Before you can blink an eye, Chapel has departed and Jones has declared his love. They are soon the King and Queen of Country but all is not ideal in paradise. George drinks and often misses shows and Tammy takes to medication.
Husband number four (Michael Tomlin) lasts less than two months before the romance with Reynolds and then husband number five (George Richey).
Over 25 songs help propel the story along from Wynette's classic "Stand by Your Man" to "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," "We're Gonna Hold On," "I Still Believe in Fairy Tales," "Apartment #9," and "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" among others.
Ivoryton has assembled a talented cast of actors and musicians. All of Wynette's husbands are members of a great honky tonk band. Wynette is played by Kate Barton who recreates both the sound and the look of the legendary star. Parenthetically, many thought that the constantly hospitalized country star in the Robert Altman movie Nashville was modeled on Wynette. Barton also captures Wynette's more "catatonic" performances later in her career.
Ben Hope (who incidentally is married to Barton) plays George Jones and performs a number of songs associated with Jones including "Why Baby Why," "The Race Is On," "Love Bug," and "If Drinking Don't Kill Me."
Marcy McGuigan is a standout as "MeeMaw" -- Wynette's mother. She bring a tartness to the role as well as concern and caring. She also gets a terrific number in the second act, "God's Gonna Get Me for That," which includes a drum solo.
Lily Tobin plays a variety of roles including the young Tammy, Tammy's daughter, a back-up singer and hairdresser named Dolly Pardon.
The other members of the band: Sam Sherwood, Eric Scott Anthony, Jonathan Brown, Morgan Morse, Louis Tucci and Guy "Fooch" Fischetti all play up a storm and are authentic as the various men in Tammy's life.
Director Sherry Lutken has been ably assisted by musical director David M. Lutken (yes, they are married) in keeping the show moving and making effective use of the somewhat oddly configured Ivoryton stage.
All elements of the production -- scenic design (by Daniel Nischan), costume design (by Anya Sokolovskya), lighting (by Marcus Abbott), sound (by Tate R. Burmeister) and wig design (by Elizabeth Cipollina) contribute to an authentic feel for the show.
If there is a problem with the show, it is that no one seems to display any insight into the motivations for Tammy's actions. It is more of "and then I did/married/went..." than a true examination of the life of an important artist.
For anyone with a love of country music, this is a show that is a "must see." Many in the audience were mouthing lyrics to multiple songs during the show and the applause at the end was enthusiastic.
So Stand By Your Man - The Tammy Wynette Story is a litmus test of sorts: if you love country music you will enjoy it immensely; if that genre is not a favorite you may still enjoy the production but you will wish for more depth.
Stand By Your Man - The Tammy Wynette Story is at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton through April 5. For tickets call 860-767-7318 or visit www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.
This review appeared in Shore Publications, www.zip06.com and 2ontheaisle.wordpress.com