Corrections or additions?
This review by Joan Crespi was published
in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 10, 1998. All rights reserved.
Review: `Texas Flyer’
Love, loyalty, longing to leave, parental anguish,
questions for God, it’s all here as country music star Larry Gatlin
brings his new musical, "Texas Flyer," up north to Bristol
Riverside Theater for its world premiere. Loaded with original country
music by Gatlin, the show runs until Sunday, June 21. Besides being
a Grammy winner and author of numerous hit songs (he’s written over
300 songs and recorded 24 albums), Gatlin is also a film and stage
actor. The multi-talented Gatlin not only wrote "Texas Flyer"
— music, lyrics, and book — he also plays Bud Ward, the lead
The cafe, a Texas version of Grand Central Station, is in a small,
depressed, out-of-the-way, town named Podunk (the name tells you
Even "The [Texas] Flyer Don’t Fly By Here" any more, as Bud,
who lives solo above the cafe, tells us in the wrenching yet vigorous
opening number. The once-rich town is such a has-been that even the
oil derricks are being torn down. The Texas Flyer is more than a
it’s a shared dream, and it once offered a way out of Podunk.
Nels Anderson has designed and dressed a set that’s just right for
an ordinary, cheerless cafe in 1959. In the background, shown first
against a liquid purple twilight sky, then against a blue night sky
and that song-inspiring Texas moon, oil derricks rise. Next to the
cafe is a ramshackle hotel.
All the players in this bright, vivacious cast perform with
polish and snap, and every character who sings has an outstanding
voice. All but George (George Riddle), that is, the town drunk and
fireman — he’s meant to be funny and he is.
Gatlin plays his role to perfection. Lois Anne Sach,
who plays Lulu, has a stirring and beautiful voice, and Richard White,
as Curley, a cowboy with "Hard Working Hands," might have
stepped straight out of "Oklahoma!" Arresting, funny, and
enchanting is Trenton native Bethe B. Austin as Katie, the town
(and more) who, in tight green stretch pedal pushers and high heels,
struts around the chic new arrival, Allison Grey. Katie and Bud are
"part-time lovers, full-time friends," Katie admits. In Act
II, with both Katie and Allison reluctantly in love with Bud, Katie
says that Bud loves Allison, and with a selflessness that exists only
in male fantasy, Katie cedes Bud to Allison. A cat fight would have
been more like it.
Chic New York writer Allison Grey’s arrival in Podunk sets the plot
— one of them, at least — in motion. Driving to Texas to claim
her father’s estate, she’s stranded when her Edsel breaks down.
with simple elegance, she’s a breed apart from the cafe denizens.
The role is played by Susan Powell (a former Miss America who now
hosts a television show). An acclaimed actress and singer, Powell
looks so fresh and unsullied here that it’s hard to believe that her
character is coming from a life of dissipation, alcohol, and cocaine.
But before Allison appears, a succession of cafe characters —
Cookie, JoAnn, Smitty, Lulu, George, and Curley — each tell of
their past or their feelings in song. And sometimes, as with Lulu’s
lovely song of longing to get out of this place, the songs seem just
teasers, not fully elaborated.
For instance, Cookie (ably played by John Henry Redwood, author of
the play, "The Old Settler," produced at McCarter) is devoted
to Bud and sings in a rich baritone that to get at Bud, "You’re
Gonna Have To Get Through Me." Aha! you think, something will
be made of his loyalty in the play. It isn’t. Similarly, JoAnn, the
waitress (convincingly portrayed by Danette Cuming) sings movingly
of her dead husband, "My Fly Boy Won’t Be Coming Home."
will be made of this? No. Lulu uses her bell-pure soprano to sing
of her longing to get out of town. Will this be the plot? No. Nothing
will be made of this, either. Then Curley reveals himself in song.
And George. And Smitty. In short, too many of the minor characters
tell us of themselves in song, when they should have remained minor
There are too many plots in this musical, and even the main plot is
in fact two. First there’s the conflict between Bud Ward and his
(he thinks) son, Guy Earl Ward, high school class valedictorian. But
Guy Earl tells his father that he doesn’t want to go to the University
of Texas and become a petroleum engineer: he wants to be in a band
and write and sing his own songs. (Just as Gatlin himself, studying
to be a lawyer, knew he wanted to be a musician.) So Bud throws his
son out of the cafe. The second plot hinges on the arrival of Allison
Grey and the love-at-first-sight between her and Bud.
Nor is it logical — and this show isn’t a fantasy — that the
newly arrived Allison Gray and Bud will fall in love so fast. They’re
so different. Further, it stretches belief that Allison, who rids
herself of her writer’s block and her addictions, is also the
that reconciles Guy Earl Ward and his father. Would you believe that
Bud also happens to have (in a refrigerator) the spare part for
There are numerous subplots: Allison’s finally abandoning a life of
alcohol and drugs, Smitty’s finding a job, Bud and Curley accepting
mortality in the beautifully harmonized song "One Helluva
the dying Ramsey’s plaintive question of God, "Will he take a
simple cowboy?" The final subplot is — if you can believe
it — that everybody’s going to leave town and sings joyously about
it. How are they leaving? On the Texas Flyer — the one that
stop here anymore.
Gatlin’s music is arresting and the lyrics stirring. Yet this is,
finally, too much of a good thing, 31 songs in all. That said, if
you look past the lack of focus, the musical is vibrant, energetic,
brilliantly produced, and entertaining. The production numbers are
sparkling, the choreography (by Sharon Halley) is well tailored to
this small stage, and the show is skillfully directed by Susan D.
Atkinson. On opening night, many in the audience rose for a standing
— Joan Crespi
Street, Bristol, 215-785-0100. Wednesdays through Sundays, to June
21. $30; students $12.
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