Texan Larry Gatlin is passionate about several things. One is writing and performing country music, as he's done for decades with the Gatlin Brothers and as a solo artist. Another is spending time on the range -- with clubs and carts, not horses and cattle. "Coach [Darrell] Royal beat me by one shot!" Gatlin says from his home in Austin, where he's just come off the course with the former University of Texas football coach. In true links-lover fashion, Gatlin's already thinking about the next game: "We're definitely going to find the time to play in Houston; I know they have some wonderful courses."
Gatlin, a former football player and law student at the University of Houston, will get reacquainted with the local greens during the world-premiere run of Theatre Under the Stars' Texas Flyer, which he wrote and stars in. Set in the rural Texas of the 1950s, it concerns a down-at-the-heels small-town cafe owner and former rodeo champ (Gatlin) dealing with the damaged relationship with his son. Flyer features two dozen new songs by Gatlin, who authored the musical Alive and Well and starred in The Will Rogers Follies on Broadway.
The impetus for Flyer was "Hard Workin' Hands," a fathers-and-sons song Gatlin wrote 25 years ago. "I wanted to do a concept album around that song, like Willie Nelson did with Red Headed Stranger. I was going to call it Texas Cafe and set it in Odessa. This show is what finally got written instead," Gatlin says. "I just searched my heart for the characters in the story and looked for situations in my own life, but I told my dad that it wasn't just about our relationship; it's about a lot of folks who experience alienation and then find renewal."
Gatlin hopes to take the show on tour -- possibly to New York -- after the Houston premiere. "I'm proud of the music, and the show is in pretty good shape. It just needs some final polishing," he says, adding that during rehearsals, "it's like we had all the parts for a new Ford pickup scattered all over the lawn, and now we're coming to Houston with it all put together."
Texas Flyer previews July 16. The press opening is July 17. The rest of this week's performances are July 18 and 20 through 22. The run continues through July 25. All shows start at 8:30 p.m. The Miller Outdoor Theatre, 100 Concert Drive in Hermann Park, 284-8350. Free.