Yankees might find the idea crazy to turn a classic Irish play into a bluegrass musical set in the Virginia Mountains, but Southerners know that the Blue Ridge Mountains were settled by Scots-Irish folks-and that a fiddle is a fiddle all over the globe.
So it should come as no surprise that John Fionte, Cumberland County Playhouse's New Works Director-who describes himself as a Boston Yankee in the Cumberlands-was a bit skeptical when he first heard the premise of Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge, the new musical that opens in Crossville on Thursday, August 23.
But now Fionte, who first saw the new musical during a festival for new works in New York City last year, swears that Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge is "a dandy new bluegrass musical that's right at home on The Playhouse's Adventure Theater stage" and a show that fans of Smoke on the Mountain, which will soon end its 19th annual run at The Playhouse, might just feel right at home with!
"I couldn't imagine transplanting John Millington Synge's The Playboy of the Western World to rural Appalachia," says Fionte, now in his 11th season at CCP. "The idea just sounded silly to my Yankee ears. But once I saw-and heard-Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge, I became an instant fan of the show. It turns out that adding bluegrass and moonshine and moving it to the mountains of the American South was a perfectly brilliant idea."
This musical revolves around fiery, headstrong Maggie McFarland (played by Anna Baker), who works in her father J.M.'s (Daniel Black) general store/tavern and is about to marry the timid Luther Coffey (Austin Price). One autumn night, Maggie, Luther, and J.M. and his cronies are surprised by the appearance of Clayton Monroe (Greg Pendzick) who's on the lam from the law.
Intrigued, they try to guess what he's done-and when he admits to killing his father in self-defense, J.M. decides he's the perfect choice to replace their recently departed hired man and protect his daughter. News spreads like wildfire and Clay becomes a local celebrity, turning the heads of all the womenfolk, especially young widow Hazel (Golden Boy's music director Lauren Marshall) and Maggie. But a lawman (portrayed by Playhouse favorite Jason Ross) that's hot on Clay's trail shows up, and throws everyone's lives into disarray. The outrageous humor, romance, and mayhem are all set to an irresistible, infectious contemporary bluegrass score.
Golden Boy's award-winning composer/lyricist Peter Mills says the context of bluegrass is crucial to the show's success: "[The play] requires an unusual setting to be at all plausible. There's a guy who comes along and says he's killed his father, and the reaction is, 'Wow, you're the coolest guy ever.' It seemed to me that Appalachia, with the tough, individualistic mountain men, and the type of outlaw society they had with their moonshine, would be a place that would respect a guy like that."
Accoridng to Cara Reichel, who co-wrote the book with Mills, the show carries more meaning, thanks to its new setting in the United States.
"There's an interesting spin-when it's seen from an American perspective," she says. "It addresses our ideas about self-identity and the ability to tell a story about you and then become that person."
Also starring in this regional premiere production are Colin Cahill, John Dobbratz and Douglas Waterbury-Tieman, who join CCP musicians Tony Greco and Drew Robbins in the onstage band, and play a host of unforgettable locals. Choreographer Donald Frison brings a bold new style of dance to the production, which is the first since its limited New York run.
Golden Boy of the Blue Ridge runs August 23 – October 26 in the Adventure Theater at Cumberland County Playhouse
Tickets and information are also available for selected concerts at Crossville's Palace Theater, Southern Symphonic Brass, and other events at www.ccplayhouse.com or by calling (931) 484-5000.