By Valerie Hill
Waterloo Region Record
After a successful run at the tiny St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre in 2017, “Kings & Queens of Country” opened Thursday night at Drayton Festival Theatre, this time on a much bigger stage and with an exciting new addition: singer/songwriter Stacey Kay.
The Cambridge native was a finalist in the 10th season of America’s Got Talent, a member of the multi-award winning a cappella group Eh440 and she has been performing all over Canada and the U.S. Kay is worth the price of admission, particularly her renditions of Patsy Cline’s heartbreaking song “Crazy” and Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”
Both songs had the audience cheering wildly. Kay’s voice is beautiful, crystal clear and her vocal range is truly astounding. Of course in this production, it’s not all about one singer so audiences experience a wide range of vocal abilities as the six singers in the company perform medleys of songs by some of country music’s legends, opening with Johnny Cash and running through the songs of the Statler Brothers, Willie Nelson, Glen Campbell, Hank Williams, Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers and Tammy Wynette. The list is long and each song is a display of the storytelling that this genre of music is known for.
There’s also plenty of hurtin’ songs such as the Ray Price’s “Release Me” and “Crazy Arms” sung as duets with Kay and Tyler Check, Michael Cox and Chelsey Duplak.
The show was created and directed by Drayton’s artistic director, Alex Mustakas, with Nicole Gusé’s orchestrations and vocal arrangements. The music covers all genres that fall under the label of country, more than 100 tunes that include country gospel, country waltz, old-time country, bluegrass and country novelty songs by singers such as Little Jimmy Dickens. J. Sean Elliott, who plays the role of the cornhusk hillbilly host, sings Dicken’s hit (hilariously on his knees with boots attached) “May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.”
Elliott is the constant comic relief throughout the show but he also has a rich singing voice and engaged a poor woman who made the mistake of sitting in the front row. One minute she is watching the show, the next Elliot is serenading her and looking for a dance partner.
The exceptional three-piece band, under the direction of music director Steve Thomas, includes Earl Filsinger and Kevin Dempsey with Al Braatz on double bass when he is not singing with the company.
Even for those who are not fans of country, it’s hard not to be moved by the songs in this show, the music and the message: life is all about love and pain.
“Kings & Queens of Country” is one of the many musical tribute shows conceived and created by Mustakas for Drayton Entertainment and this is one of the best, largely because of the talented company.
PHOTO: Michael Cox, J. Sean Elliott, Al Braatz, Tyler Check in Kings & Queens of Country, Drayton Entertainment 2018. Conceived & Directed by Alex Mustakas, Orchestrations & Vocal Arrangements by Nicole Gusé, Music Direction by Steve Thomas, Set Design by Simon Day, Costume Design by Jessica Pembleton, Lighting Design by Lyle Franklin. Photographer: Darlene O’Rourke