LIGHTNING REVIEW: Put on your boots and go for “Autumn at the Opry”
Mid-October at the Flat Rock Playhouse is usually different from what it feels like on Friday night.
Back then – before Covid – a fall show at the Playhouse could be a murder mystery or a light comedy with a small cast. The curtain fell on the great summer musicals where the corps of apprentices completed the cast of the ensemble. The sun sets before the show opens. It’s time to relax.
In the fall pandemic version on Friday night, parking guides greeted customers with a question before leading them around Tree Island: Do you have your proof of vaccination? It was the new way to stage live theater.
Inside, Lisa K. Bryant, director of the Playhouse, greeted the crowd.
“These people have also seen their lives uprooted in the past 572 days,” she said. “Bringing all of this amazing talent and all these amazing friends back on stage to wow and entertain you is just a win-win.”
Here’s Reason # 981 to get vaccinated: We can go back to the theater.
“Laugh, sing, clap, boogie,” Bryant told us. “Honestly, you are going to have a wonderful time. “
And with that, eight talented artists launched “Autumn at the Opry” and let us know with maddened glee that they were “Back in the Saddle Again” and “On the road once more.”
Directed by Bryant and starring Eric Anthony, Paul Babelay, Katie Barton, Ben Hope, Jeremy Sevelovitz, Lauren Wright, Russ Wever and Nat Zegree, the show walks, waltzes and sprints alternately through the history of country music – from gospel roots from the earliest days of Grand Ole Opry to “countrypolitan” to mega-artists of the “Urban Cowboy” era.
“Love Bug,” the air by George Jones who opened the show, “is appropriate because it’s an infectious disease,” Hope cracked.
It was also evident that Bryant and the performers had thought about solving the puzzle of making an intimate and warm show six feet apart – all but Hope and Barton, who are husband and wife. Fun bonus: the couple met on this stage as apprentices in 2005, got married in 2014, and are expecting their first child.
The show is divided into five segments – celebrating the bliss, the country’s “blue jean” blues DNA, a rhythmic mix including “Can’t You See” by Marshall Tucker, “Amie” by Pure Prairie League, “Fishin ‘ in “by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band the Dark”, and “Boot Scootin ‘Boogie” by Brooks & Dunn and a mashup movie with “Lookin’ for Love”, “Coat Miner’s Daughter”, Eastbound and Down “and” 9 to 5 ” .
Everyone except Babelay, fabulous on drums as always, and pedal steel master Russ Wever turn to the lead vocals. And that’s no small feat, considering they channel Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, George Jones, Marty Robbins, Loretta Lynn, Vince Gill, Garth Brooks, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton and more.
A pyrotechnic highlight is the electrifying work on the violin by the diminutive Lauren Wright in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band. As Playhouse patrons expect, Nat Zegree mixes a wacky comedic twist with his unparalleled piano work and additionally contributes lead vocals and harmony. Eric Anthony and Jeremy Sevelovitz are worthy rivals in hot guitar duels as all musicians show their versatility by switching between string instruments – acoustic and electric guitar, mandolin, banjo, double bass, electric bass.
Although they only took up about half of the seats on Friday night, members of the public also did their part, leaping to their feet for multiple spontaneous standing ovations, including a big and grateful at the end which earned a catchy reminder of Garth Brooks’ “Ain’t Goin” Down (until the sun comes up).
Introducing the show, Bryant said, “These people taking the stage right now are the best of the best and I promise you’ll agree with me in about 93 minutes and 42 seconds.”
Get your shot. Put on your boots. Go see this show. It will make you believe that there is life after Covid.