REVIEW: FANCY, a Country Jukebox Musical’ Sends a Strong Message of Moxie and Self-Sufficiency in World Premiere at MBT

Ladies and gentlemen, intermission is officially over!

After 19 long months, Meadow Brook Theatre (MBT) came to life Wednesday evening for the delayed world premiere of FANCY, a Country Jukebox Musical, which runs September 8 through October 3, 2021, on the campus of Oakland University in Rochester, MI. Wednesday night was the first preview performance, and you could feel the enthusiasm rippling through the audience and radiating from the actors.

L to R: Larissa Klinger as “Fancy” and Debbie Williams as ‘Mama’ in ‘FANCY, a Country Jukebox Musical’ at MBT. Photo courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

Simply put, FANCY is a musical based on the powerhouse rags-to-riches hit of the same name. For those unfamiliar with the song “Fancy,” it’s about an 18-year-old girl from the rural south who overcomes extreme poverty through prostitution before leaving that life behind to make a name for herself. It was originally written and recorded by Bobbie Gentry in 1969, but Reba McIntyre’s 1991 cover is probably the best-known version and is considered one of her signature songs.

Writers Susan DiLallo and Dan Wackerman created this jukebox musical by imagining what might have happened to Fancy. So, while the song “Fancy” is the framework for this show, her story is uniquely told through a variety of other country hit songs. As the name implies, a jukebox musical is where most of the songs used are well-known popular songs, rather than original music. Other examples of this genre are Jersey Boys and Mamma Mia! If you’re a country music fan, you’ll recognize songs from Alabama, Johnny Paycheck, Bonnie Raitt, Lee Ann Womack, and more. Even if you aren’t, you will still find yourself enjoying these energetic interpretations of many recognizable country hits.

Some of the standout songs from the show are Garth Brooks’ “Long Neck Bottle” sung by Ned (Max Falls in his MBT debut) and his bar buddies. The four-part harmony gets you right from the first note and it wouldn’t be country if there wasn’t a little boot-scootin’ going on. Sally (Jacqueline Petroccia) blew the roof of her solos – Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” and Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats.” Although this shouldn’t come as a surprise since her bio states she has played the legendary Patsy Cline in numerous stage productions. Ron Williams is no stranger to the MBT stage (Working) and as Fancy’s smarmy manager, Charley, he serves up one of the best comedic moments of the show with his rendition of the George Strait classic, “All My Exes Live in Texas.” The audience couldn’t get enough! And of course, there’s MBT veteran Larissa Klinger (The Spitfire Grill) as Fancy.

Larissa Klinger in ‘FANCY, a Country Jukebox Musical’ at MBT. Photo courtesy of Sean Carter Photography

Fancy starts out as a scared and naïve girl and throughout the story transitions to a woman who understands and owns her self-worth. To believe her journey, the actress portraying Fancy must help the audience see the evolution of the character. Thankfully, Klinger is more than up to that task. From timidly performing Dierks Bentley’s “If You’re Going Through Hell” to finding her voice with Lynn Anderson’s “(I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden,” and finally bringing it home with the soul-shaking proclamation of “Fancy,” I bought every note. For me, Klinger wasn’t simply playing a part, but embodying a soul. A huge part of Klinger’s believability should also be credited to the costume designer, Karen Kangas-Preston for her amazing designs. I’m not sure if she was using Loretta Lynn as a muse, but the looks she pulled together for Klinger transformed her into a classic leading lady of country and enhanced her performance. Kudos also to the scenic designer, Kristen Gribbin. All the scene changes come courtesy of rolling set pieces. This clever minimalist design helps keep the focus on the story and characters so that the nuances of the show don’t get bogged down by unnecessary elements. And this show would be nothing without its talented musicians. The band is led by musical director Zachary Ryan, who also plays the piano. Sig Hepler plays electric and acoustic guitars with Andrew Toering on acoustic, pedal steel and lap guitars, Greg Platter on bass, and Brian Buckmaster on percussion. And I can’t forget the resident sound designer Mike Duncan.

Director Travis Walter, along with all the cast and crew should be extremely proud of their return to live theatre. Picking up again after a long hiatus with a world premiere is an ambitious task, but there’s a reason why MBT is Michigan’s answer to Broadway. Everyone in the audience was clearly having a great time. And I have a feeling as the actors get more comfortable with their characters and that electrifying feeling of being back in front of live audiences, that by the end of its run, FANCY won’t have let anyone down.

The performance runs over two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Tickets range from $36 to $46 and are available by calling the Meadow Brook Theatre box office at 248-377-3300 or by going online to www.Ticketmaster.com. Student discounts are available at the box office. Groups of eight or more should call 248-370-3316 for group pricing.

A special note: As Covid-19 is a constantly changing situation, MBT will be monitoring and adhering to the guidance given by the CDC, the State of Michigan, the Actor’s Equity Association, and Oakland University. Check the Meadow Brook Theatre website at www.MBTheatre.com for the latest information on efforts to keep everyone safe.

About Sarah Hovis

Freelance wordsmith, arts appreciator, grammar geek, sports spectator, stationery snob, and world traveler, Sarah charts her own course as the owner of saliho creative. She uses her creative mind and engaging dialogue to fearlessly bring the written word to life in print and online… all while keeping a watchful eye out for the next literary adventure. You can reach her at [email protected].

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