Monday, March 23, 2015

Theater Review: Stand By Your Man -- Ivoryton

Ben Hope and Katie Barton. Photo by Jacqui Hubbard

Marriage is the Tune of the Hour at Ivoryton's Production of Stand By Your Man
By Lauren Yarger
Marriages – lots of them – are in the air as Ivoryton Playhouse opens its 2015 season with Stand By Your Man, the Tammy Wynette story.

The show explores the tragic story of  “The First Lady of Country Music,” who was married five times (Mark St. Germain’s book might more accurately be titled Stand By Your Men.) The singer is portrayed by Katie Barton (Million Dollar Quartet tour), whose real-life husband, Ben Hope (Broadway’s Once), stars as Wynette’s husband and song-partner George Jones. And if that’s not enough marriage for you, the show is directed and musical directed by another married couple, Sherry and David Lutken, who were at Ivoryton in 2012 with Ring of Fire.

Some 26 tunes Wynette made famous, like “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “Golden Ring,” “Apartment # 9,” We’re Gonna Hold On,” My Elusive Dreams” as well as the title song are included. Barton does a nice imitation of Wynette and duets with Hope bring back memories of Wynette/Jones hits. Sherry Lutken skillfully utilizes the talented on-stage musicians (who play a wide variety of instruments) to fill out scenes.

The story starts with Wynette’s humble Mississippi cotton-picking roots where she marries beau Euple Byrd (nicely played for some depth by Morgan Morse) pretty much because her overbearing mother, MeeMaw (a scene-stealing Marcy McGuigan), doesn’t want her to. Children follow and Tammy pursues a career as a beautician with the help of Dolly Parton (Lily Tobin).

Singing in church and to her babies leads to a career in country music, thanks to producer Billy Sherrill (Louis Tucci), who recognizes her talent, gives her a new name (she was born Virginia Wynette Pugh) and signs her to a recording contract with Epic Records. Success on the charts doesn’t mean happiness for the singer, however, as she endures a string of failed marriages to Byrd, Jones, Don Chapel (Jonathan Brown) and Michael Tomlin (Guy “Fooch” Fischetti). The woman, who seems to have issues with being alone, also marries singer/songwriter George Richey (Eric Scott Anthony), who becomes her manager. There’s a romance with actor Burt Reynolds (Sam Sherwood, sporting a signature moustache) thrown in for good measure as well.

Wynette also has a daughter requiring medical treatments as well as numerous health issues of her own that leave her addicted to pain killers before her death at age 55. While the performances are good and McGuigan adds much needed humor, the story – and the songs – are just kind of depressing.

St. Germain’s script follows the tendency of many of these biographical shows to try to put on stage every single thing that the subject ever said or did. There’s a whole scene, for instance, for two lines of dialogue. It makes the two-and-a-half hour production (with intermission) feel congested with so many facts and songs. He also adds a hokey “retrospective from heaven” perspective that’s unnecessary to tell her story.

But if you are a fan of the tangy songs Wynette made famous, head on over to Ivoryton where they are being lovingly performed.

Stand By Your Man runs through April 5 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30, Friday and Saturday at 8. Tickets are $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children . (860) 767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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