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Classic Nashville Roadshow comes to the Ritz

Katie Deal and Jason Petty harmonize on one of the iconic country hits performed during “Classic Nashville Roadshow.” Petty, an Obie Award winner for his off-Broadway tribute to Butler County’s own Hank Williams, “Lost Highway,” made his fourth appearance on the Ritz stage Thursday night.

Katie Deal and Jason Petty harmonize on one of the iconic country hits performed during “Classic Nashville Roadshow.” Petty, an Obie Award winner for his off-Broadway tribute to Butler County’s own Hank Williams, “Lost Highway,” made his fourth appearance on the Ritz stage Thursday night.

Memories, stories and songs made famous by Music City luminaries of the past—with a generous dollop of sly humor mixed in—provided Thursday night’s Ritz audience with a lively and entertaining evening downtown.

“Classic Nashville Roadshow,” the second touring production in the Greenville Area Arts Council’s 2016-17 artistic season, brought a  face familiar to many longtime GAAC patrons.  The show marked Jason Petty’s fourth appearance on the Ritz stage.

“I love being here . . . it feels like a second home,” said Tennessee native Petty, an Obie winner for his off-Broadway hit about Butler County’s native son, Hank Williams, Sr.  “Lost Highway” (“It’s been 20 years now since I first played Hank. I’ve been Hank longer than HANK was Hank”).

Petty partnered on stage with “Georgia peach” Katie Deal, who has toured with her own successful show paying tribute to country legend Patsy Cline.

The duo, backed by a top-flight band of musicians, performed hits that took listeners through the history of classic country, sharing iconic tunes such as “Wabash Cannonball,” “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” and “Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man.” Interlaced with the music were anecdotes about the songwriters and singers behind the hits.

Petty told the audience a young Roy Acuff once dreamed of being an athlete before illness sent him to bed and led him to pick up a fiddle.  Deal shared that the “rags to riches” country queen Tammy Wynette renewed her cosmetology license every year until she died “in case she had to get a real job.”  Sarah Colley, better known as Minnie Pearl, once shared by request the naughtiest joke she ever told with Opryland’s young cast members “and had us rolling on the floor,” recalled Petty.

Petty proved adept at channeling the vocal styles and mannerisms of not only Hank Williams, but many other country superstars, including Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. 

Deal ably performed songs by Loretta Lynn, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton, Jeannie C. Riley and other country legends. She also displayed her comedic flair as Minnie Pearl, coming down to interact with the audience for part of her routine.

“Nashville Road Show” proved to be something of a country fashion show with the vintage costumes worn by both Petty and Deal. One of Deal’s many costume changes turned her into “Willie Nelson,” complete with braids and vest. Her unabashed adoration for the “Red-Headed Stranger” was a running gag throughout the show.

Petty dazzled the audience in two rhinestone-encrusted Nudie suits like those worn by Williams, Sr. and Porter Wagoner in their heyday.  Petty explained that Nudie Cohn, a Ukrainian-born American designer, created these flashy suits for a number of celebrities (“You can’t miss these walking down the street”).

Thursday night’s production earned its vocalists and musicians a standing ovation. Afterwards, the performers signed programs and CDs and posed for photos in the theater lobby, later heading down the street to the Camellia City Bakery for the after party.

“It was a great show,” said attendee Vivian McGowin. “It was wonderful to hear all those old songs again. Hardly anyone plays them anymore.”

The next GAAC production, “Mountain Heart,” is set for January 21, 2017.