Country Royalty at Flat Rock Playhouse
Yes, you will get to see Patsy Cline duet with Hank Williams in the course of the Country Royalty revue at Flat Rock Playhouse, but you’ll have to stick around for the finale. As the full title suggests — Country Royalty: Hank Williams and Patsy Cline — this show actually two shows in one. For the first act, Jason Petty takes audiences through the life and music of Williams. After the intermission (and a costume change for the onstage band), Katie Deal presents a roughly chronological tour of Cline’s catalog.
It makes sense for Petty to go first, for many reasons: Williams (1923-1953) came first, and Petty has seniority, having performed as Hank for 23 years around the world, including previous visits to Flat Rock. He’s also a consummate storyteller, immediately warming up the audience with fun, funny and informative anecdotes.
Petty’s singing is spot-on, not so much an imitation as a channeling of Williams, complete with smile-inducing yodels, so it’s easy to sit back and enjoy the music as if in the presence of Hank himself. Petty is so comfortable in his role, so authoritative in his delivery that he makes the audience equally as ease, quickly dispelling curiosity over vocal accuracy in favor of the simple pleasures of Williams’ music.
Deal’s presentation of Cline (1932-1963) is slightly different, more of a deeply felt tribute than a pure evocation. She’s got a fine voice, but it’s not Cline’s voice and she doesn’t pretend that it is, even as she captures the particulars of Patsy’s inflections. Like Petty, she also provides welcome and engaging biographical narrative between the songs, although she’s a less polished, occasionally repetitive storyteller.
Not that that matters much, since the focus here is the music, which is delightful throughout. The skilled band — Eric Lewis on slide guitar, Mark Baczynski on fiddle, Alec Newman on bass, Rory Hoffman on keys and guitar, and, for the second act, Nate Felty on drums — are all stellar performers. Maczynski, Lewis, and Hoffman rise to their brief solos with enthusiasm and brio, and all five are in perfect sync with the vocalists.
As I did with Nat Zegree’s show last month, I’d recommend enjoying this one without advance reference to the song list in the program, and I’ll spoil no titles in this review. Rest assured, both hard-core fans and dabblers will be pleased with the selections. As you would at a real Williams-Cline concert — had such an event ever taken place — just let the tunes come as they may and wash over you. You’ll be glad you did.
As with Zegree’s show, the welcome talents of scenic designer Dennis C. Maulden, lighting designer CJ Barnwell, and sound designer David Gerena wrap Country Royalty’s performers in a pleasing professional package. Flat Rock’s Producing Artistic Director Lisa Bryant is not here listed as the director, as she was with Zegree, but she certainly deserves credit for this happy pairing of performers who usually do solos. Kudos also to production manager Adam Goodrum, who made sure all the pieces fit together seamlessly.
This is the second music tribute show at Flat Rock since the closure of the Playhouse Downtown in Hendersonville, which for seven years hosted similar shows as part of the popular “Music on the Rock” series. The Music of the Beatles and the Eagles played the Mainstage over Valentine’s Day weekend, while Country Royalty is booked for an almost two-week run, through May 12. The difference in theatrical configuration — the Playhouse Downtown had the audience on three sides of its thrust stage — so far seems no hindrance to the impact of these theater concerts.
Two stage comedies (Neil Simon’s Proposals and MJ Cruise’s Separate Beds) and two full musicals (South Pacific and All Shook Up) will occupy the Mainstage for the next three months or so, but a Bee Gees tribute concert will play for two nights in August.
Country Royalty runs through May 12. For details and tickets, visit flatrockplayhouse.org.
(Photo: Jason Petty as Hank Williams during a previous Flat Rock Playhouse appearance; photo by Scott Treadway/Treadshots, courtesy of Flat Rock Playhouse)