The set-up: Those wonderful entertainers at Music Box Theater get their twang on for Saloon Songs, their spirited foray into country music. The show, an absolute crowd-pleaser. is as comfy as a well-worn pair of jeans and as refreshing as a long neck, or two. They turn the intimate venue on Colquitt into the best little honky-tonk on the bayou.
The execution: Although irreplaceable, co-founder Rebekah Dahl is taking time off after the birth of her little baby cowboy, so proud father Brad Scarborough and the other three intrepid troopers (Cay Taylor, Kristina Sullivan, and Luke Wrobel) carry on with the boot-scootin.'
As in all their revues, the four mix and match their prodigious musical talents in a rodeo of solos, duets, trios, or a capella numbers, each member getting to shine on his or her own in a number especially designed for their particular vocal personality.
The plot is a wisp of a thing: four people who all intend to be somewhere else stumble into a bar during a dust storm. As there's already a band in place, why not sing their troubles and dreams? A little goofy comedy and bad puns keep the wagon wheels rolling, but it's the incredible singing that lifts MBT into blue heaven.
If you're familiar with these theater pros, you already know what miracles they perform when they get their hands on the American Songbook, so it's no surprise at all to hear their supple way around country and bluegrass. These guys and sexy little ladies know how to put across a song. Most often, under their loving treatment, the way they sing a song turns it into the definitive version. This is something to behold, and Music Box Theater's ace in the hole.
Take, for example, Wrobel's rendition of Lionel Ritchie's ballad "Stuck on You." OK, not every song in the revue is pure country, but where it falls in the show, this easy-listening tune makes perfect sense. Wrobel's honeyed baritone wraps around such pop sentiment as "I'll be with you till the end; guess I'm on my way; mighty glad you stayed," and breaks your heart with understated intensity. Or wallow in Scarborough's sincere sweetness for the Eagle's plaintive "Desperado," or his rockin' Elvis on "You Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog." Taylor, who plays a comically psychotic serial murderer, goes all scary for Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots are Made for Walking" (with Wrobel and Scarborough hullabulooing wildly in the background), and then magnificently reverses direction and softly charms during Alison Krauss's "When You Say Nothing At All."
Sullivan ups the wattage in Reba McEntire's low-down "Fancy," and then mesmerizes with Joni Mitchell's haunting "All I Want," her crystalline soprano in sync with the plaintive fiddle of Alisa Pederson. Throughout the night, Pederson's exquisite music making adds a fifth person to the onstage quartet. Her playing wails, weeps, and laughs. Under Glenn Sharp (keyboard), Mark McCain (steel guitar), Long Le (bass), and Donald Payne (percussion), the band has never sounded better.
The verdict: Boot scoot over to Colquitt for this country-fried revue. These urban cowboys will take you for a melodic hayride into the warmest, loveliest sunset.
Catch the country stylings weekends through October 26 at The Music Box Theater, 2623 Colquitt. Purchase tickets online at themusicboxtheater.com or call 713-522-7722. $27-$37.