(Charnoff) A new musical has it’s world premiere tonight at Montpellier’s Lost Nation Theater .
(Guitar music plays)
(Charnoff) “Streets of Gold” takes us to Branson, Missouri, an Ozark Mountain town with a rich musical heritage. Family country and bluegrass revues are the main source of local entertainment.
(Woman sings) “…It’s good to see you again. We missed you smile and your bright face. Come tell me how you’ve been.”
(Charnoff) The play tells the story of The Spenser Family Ozark Mountain Jubilee.
The Spencer Family is led by Corinna, who must try to hold the family together while facing personal, and cultural changes.
The Ozark region is being transformed by the influx of tourism and development. The local groups are losing their audience to big-money musicians moving in from Nashville. At the same time, Corinna is facing a troubled marriage and trying to manage the infighting in her band.
(Corinna sings) “It’s a world of long ago only known to a very few. We can still get there I know. It belongs to me and you.)”
(Charnoff) Streets of Gold was written by Mary Sue Price, a fifth-generation Ozarker now living in Corinth, Vermont.
Price first developed the show at New York’s Circle Rep Theater. She showed her script to Robin and Linda Williams, both Prairie Home Companion veterans. They enthusiastically agreed to write original music for the play.
Eventually, Streets of Gold came to the attention of Lost Nation Theater through the Vermont Playwrights Circle.
Playwright Mary Sue Price says that the show parallels the personal growth of Corinna against the erosion of Ozark culture in the face of change.
(Price) “As Corinna finds her voice as a woman in this world, then the show also finds a new voice. And so you get to see the musical progression as you see Corinna’s progression.”
(Charnoff) Kim Bent is Lost Nation’s artistic director, and is directing Streets of Gold.
Bent was intrigued by the world of Branson, and how the family performers had to adapt to the influx of musicians from Nashville.
(Bent) “One of the wonderful things that happens is that you get caught out as an audience member. You catch yourself having expectations about the people that are presented to you initially in the play, and then as the play evolves, you find that they’re not the people you thought they were. They surprise you. They change in really interesting and different ways. They reveal themselves, and everybody in the play earns the right to sing, because they’ve all grown together.”
(Charnoff) Bent says that an aura of authenticity is added to this production with the participation of Vermont musicians, The Cold Country Bluegrass Band.
(Charnoff) Matthew Ecclestone plays one of the Nashville musicians brought in to supplement the Spencer Family. Ecclestone says the production has benefited enormously by having Cold Country as the house band.
(Ecklestone) “I really didn’t understand before coming to the show the distinctions between bluegrass and country and gospel and how the interrelate exactly, and having enough an authentic house band here made all the difference.”
(Charnoff) Playwright Mary Sue Price says that the Ozarks have been forever changed by rural and retail development. She moved to Vermont partly because it reminds her of what Branson used to be.
(Price) “I feel very strongly about the tradition that has been lost in that part of the country. And I like to write plays about real people and people that are going through changes. But the Ozarks that I want to live in is in my imagination, and rural Vermont, Corinth Vermont is the closest I could come.”
(Charnoff) Director Kim Bent says that the play does ultimately offer a vision of hope in the face of change. He points to lyrics from the title song as the heart of the play’s message.
(Bent) “Let love lead, let your mercies unfold. Let your good deeds be your stronghold. And it’s a wonderful message for this time. I think it’s a great play to be doing now.”
(Charnoff) Lost Nation Theater is hosting an opening night parade before tonight’s performance. Streets of Gold will then run through May 7th in Montpelier’s City Hall Auditorium.
For VPR Backstage, I’m Neal Charnoff.
(Cast sings) “You’re as welcome as the flowers in May.”