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By Dana Casadei
In Steve DeBruyne’s director’s note, he mentions that something they wanted to do from the beginning at The Dio was produce shows that their audiences have never seen. Such is the case with their latest show, “Country Roads: A Musical Journey,” which made its Michigan premiere this week.
The plot, or lack thereof, focuses on a record shop in Nashville called Country Roads. It’s a place “where stars are made.” The shop is managed by Jimmy (Tim Brayman), who has been in Nashville for 20 years with hopes of making it big. For now he sells records of country greats, and holds nights for new singers to perform. A new shop then opens and decides to hold nights like Jimmy’s, making him wonder if he’ll be able to stay afloat. He then must decide if his own dream is worth going for, or if he should throw in the towel.
His friend, Patsy (Aynsley Martindale), is going through a similar battle. She originally wanted to be a singer, but now she’s writing songs for others to sing. Then there’s fresh-faced Liz (Thalia Shramm), who just arrived in Nashville and has big dreams. The musical takes a view into their journeys, and features over 40 country songs along the way.
DeBruyne does a bit of it all. His direction makes moments feel natural. He also plays a variety of roles in the show, and sings each song with gusto. Act II’s “If Tomorrow Never Comes” best showcases his tenor voice.
As for the rest of the cast, there were some hits and misses.
Brayman doesn’t get to really sing until Act II, which is a shame because he does have a pleasant voice – and that almost makes up for his line fumbles and general awkwardness on stage. The only time Brayman didn’t look stiff was when he was singing.
Now on to the good, because there is much to like in this production.
Martindale’s Patsy may be over 40 and still trying to figure it out, but at no point does Martindale make her feel like a poor sap. Patsy is a character that we as an audience could simply feel bad for, but we never do. We root for her the whole time. Martindale’s powerful voice is one of the show’s highlights.
Per usual, Jared Schneider (Tourist/Ensemble) amazes not only with his acting but with his voice, which has a range that you don’t see coming. He earned huge applauses and rightfully so. Liz Jaffe’s (Minnie/Ensemble) Minnie Pearl is fantastic and spot-on, as is Jaffe’s comedic timing throughout the show.
Leslie Jo Hood’s script is basically a “jukebox musical” in which 40-plus songs are crammed together with very little dialogue that isn’t a set-up for the next song. I would have gladly taken fewer songs if it had meant more character and plot development. Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a musical that has a bit more of a story to it. And a few of the transitions between songs felt awkward as well.
Marilee Dechart’s costumes looked natural and what you’d expect in Nashville. There are a lot of plaid shirts and jean jackets, all of which felt authentic to the show. The same goes for Matthew Tomich’s set design.
Last night’s country fried chicken, a Dio favorite, was just as juicy and tender as I remember it, with a yummy crunch on the outside. The mac and cheese was creamy without being too heavy, and the BBQ pulled pork had a sweet tang. My only suggestion for Chef Jarod’s menu would be to include less starch. Personally, I would have preferred a green vegetable to the corn – mainly so I wouldn’t feel as bad eating four pieces of the delicious bread.
‘Country Roads: A Musical Journey’
The Dio – Dining & Entertainment, 177 E. Main St., Pinckney. 6:30 p.m. April 11-12, 18-19, 25-26, May 2-3 & 9-10; and 12:30 p.m. April 6, 13, 27, May 4, 8 & 11. 2 hours, 40 minutes $35-41. 517-672-6009. http://www.diotheatre.com