'Jimmie Rodgers' is a Magnificent Tribute
Musical at Barter Theatre Through May 25
By ROBERT McKINNEY | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | May 05, 2009*** Published: May 3, 2009 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
ABINGDON, Va. – Barter Theatre's magnificent tribute to the life and music of Jimmie Rodgers stays at the Abingdon station through May 25, then it highballs the mainline, not to return for a long, long time, if ever.
So, if you are going to climb aboard for this poignant and wonderful haul down the silver rails of America's musical heritage, you have only a few more days to get your ticket.
Developed by local playwright Doug Pote and Barter's Producing Artistic Director Rick Rose, "Jimmie Rodgers: America's Blue Yodeler" follows the too-short life of the man who, probably more than anyone of his era, introduced white America to the soulful blues sound of what was, at the time, called "race" music.
It was a combination of Mississippi delta blues, a driving African inspired beat and an underlying sexuality that would go on to be explored and exploited by later white artists such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Eric Clapton and many more.
And it did, in its way, introduce mainstream – that is to say "white" – America to the deep current of seething expression just waiting for release.
In a backhanded sort of way, in fact, it was such musicians as Rodgers and Presley who paved the way for people including Little Richard, James Brown and even B.B. King to finally be recognized and appropriately rewarded.
Jimmie Rodgers parlayed his musical talent into a fleeting moment of fame and brief fortune before the Great Depression, gambling and fast living took all that he had except his life. Tuberculosis took that in his 35th year, the same age during which his mother also died of the then-incurable disease.
This is a wonderfully crafted vignette of the man, his times and his music with Tom Angland in the title role, backed up by Jasper McGruder as Rodgers' muse Hobo Bill, and Hannah Ingram in the dual role of Rodgers' wife Carrie and the ghost of his mother Eliza.
Angland is purely wonderful in the role, but, in my mind, the singing of McGruder and Ingram bring a fullness and beauty to this production that pushes it far, far beyond just another musical play.
None of which, for a second, forgets the rest of the highly talented supporting cast, including musicians Roger Rasnake and the always intriguing Ed Snodderly.
Also, watch Ezra Colón in multiple roles – mark my word, you are going to see this kid on the big screen sooner rather than later.
The musical numbers include, among many others, "Years Ago," "California Blues," "You and My Old Guitar," "T for Texas," "The TB Blues" and, the best of the whole lot, "Miss the Mississippi and You."
If this last one isn't a tear-jerker, pinch yourself – you're probably dead.
Even if you saw the earlier version of "Jimmie Rodgers" at Barter's Stage II, or especially if you did, this revised and tightened reincarnation on the main stage well bears enjoying again.
Jimmie Rodgers survived a life and times very similar to our own and, although he did not physically triumph, his music and his inspiration did.
And America did.
And Bob Porterfield's Barter Theatre did.
And that, my friends, gives even me comfort and optimism.
For dates, times and reservations, call (276) 628-3991 or visit the Web site at www.bartertheatre.com.