Composer Chris Cerrone and I were interviewed in Tulsa, OK about our one-act opera which received its world premiere at Tulsa Opera in March, 2013. Read the interview here.
Tony Asaro: Press
All Wounds Bleed Press
OUR COUNTRY Press
Jun 21, 2009
There's nothing more exciting in the world of indie theatre than the feeling that you are discovering something very special, something that has the potential to become a big, big hit. That's the feeling I had after seeing the premiere of Our Country at Planet Connections Theatre Festivity. This musical about a country singer's rise, fall, and turnaround is top-notch entertainment, with a splendid score by Tony Asaro and a star-making lead performance by Justin Utley. With the right stewardship and nurturing, Our Country can and should become a huge, affirming, crowd-pleasing, heart-warming hit.
The story concerns Tommy Dautry, who confesses to us, when we first meet him in the opening musical number "Lord, Lord, Lord, How the Mighty Fall," that he has recently been arrested for "lewd conduct" with an undercover cop. Once a rising star in the Country Music scene, now Tommy is a has-been and a joke, fodder for National Enquirer covers, rejected by the industry and fans that once adored him.
He then narrates for us his life story, from his roots in a small town in the Bible Belt where he and his pal Duane become the center of a local band. Though Duane is a fundamentalist Christian and Tommy is an ambivalent, closeted young gay man, the two fall in love, and the song that Tommy writes for Duane, "Honestly," becomes their ticket to Nashville and a recording contract. A romantic night together leads to a close shave that prompts Tommy to abandon Duane and play it "straight." He becomes a star, with a string of hit records. But he's empty inside because of the double life he believes he must lead to sustain his success. His public fall from grace follows. Can he find the strength within himself to pull himself back up?
You already know the answer to that question. Like Jersey Boys and countless VH-1 Behind the Music shows, Our Country travels some well-trodden territory, albeit with a gay twist that makes it timely and gives it a certain gravitas. What makes this show special is the material: Asaro's score of 16 songs is toe-tapping, infectious, smart, witty, and often quite moving. There are great theatre songs in the mix: "Not Like That At All," for example, is a jubilant celebration of first love and first success that pushes the show forward brilliantly in its early scenes. "Sicka Singin' 'Bout Girls" is about exactly what the title says, and proves to be a great turning point in the story. The eleven o'clock number, "When Music Mattered," is Tommy's heart-felt summation of what he's learned in the play. And the finale, the title song "Our Country," is a rousing anthem that should get adopted by anti-Proposition 8 folks pronto.
Dan Collins's book and David Taylor Little's direction are a little less well-developed than Asaro's score at this point; some dramaturgical shaping will help make Our Country into the well-polished gem it deserves to be. (Not much, mind you: just a little nip here and tuck there.) One of the great things about the show's structure is the way that the band—Eric Day on electric bass, Matt Hinkley on electric guitar, Arvi Sreenivasan on drums, Justin Smith on fiddle, and Jeremy Pasha on piano—interact with Tommy throughout the show (they essentially play all of the other characters in what is otherwise pretty much a one-man musical).
Perhaps the strongest asset of this production, apart from Asaro's marvelous score, is that one man. Justin Utley, a newcomer to the NYC theatre scene, sings and acts the role of Tommy with unwavering presence and enormous charm. We love this guy, even when he's doing the most heinous things; we're really rooting for him to turn his life around. Utley is a fine singer with plenty of range and a well-developed sense of humor. I see big things for him in the future.
As, indeed, I do for Our Country. This feels like it could be a breakout hit on the order of Rent or the aforementioned Jersey Boys, though on a smaller scale: it has more heart, more melody, and more musical theater craftsmanship than most of the new shows on Broadway right now. I expect we'll be hearing more about it soon. Meantime, head over to the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity and become one of the first to experience this excellent new musical.
Book: Dan Collins
Music & Lyrics: Tony Asaro
Country music fans forgive of a lot of things. Arrested for DUI? Boys will be boys. A bit of domestic violence? It's bad, but you're forgiven. Drugs? We all make mistakes.
Gay? Well now, that's something else entirely.
Our Country, a new musical with music and lyrics by Tony Asaro and book by Dan Collins, confronts the issue head on. Tommy Dautry (Justin Utley) has it all - a great voice, a hit love song, "Honestly," that's climbing the country charts, a top-notch band, and a killer smile that charms everyone who sees it.
He also has Duane (Jeremy Pasha), his keyboard player and down-low boyfriend.
Knowing that he'll never catch the brass ring with a boyfriend in tow, Tommy dumps Duane and kicks him out of the band. While he does become a success, the pressure of leading a double life and hiding his sexuality (with the help of the occasional hustler, as explained in the rollicking "Hookers") becomes a bit too much to bear. After an incident involving an undercover cop and a men's room, Tommy spirals down to rock bottom. Faced with continuing to live a lie or embracing his true self, he picks up his guitar and starts over as an out and proud country singer, with a new band in tow. Our Country is presented as a performance on his comeback tour, one that seems limited to skanky venues in out of the way towns.
Begining with the rousing and funny "Lord, Lord, Lord, How the Mighty Fall," Tommy narrates the story of his rise and fall, from his first taste of love (the charming "Not Like That At All"), leaving his small town life behind ("Hittin' the Highway), desire to live his life openly ("Sicka Singin' 'Bout Girls"), and his revelation about life and his place in it ("When Music Mattered" and "Our Country"). Asaro proves himself an exceptional songwriter, capturing the sound and spirit of country music and the storytelling of musical theatre.
Dan Collins' book captures much of the same spirit of Asaro's songs. He also does a good job of taking the needs of the story (exposition, interaction between Tommy and Duane, etc.) and making them work in the context of Tommy's comeback performance. The result is much more theatrical than any country music concert would be, but Collins has captured the essence completely. One weakness in the book is the idea that Tommy would need to start from scratch in rebuilding his career. Embracing one's sexuality openly and honestly tends to lead to universal acclaim from the gay community (athletes Esara Tuaolo and Ian Roberts come to mind, or Neil Patrick Harris and Lance Bass). What made Tommy a pariah among country music fans would have made him a celebrity in gay circles. Our Country shows Tommy performing at a gay sex club, and while it allows Tommy and his band some ribald banter and emphasizes the message of the first song "Lord, Lord, Lord, How the Mighty Fall," it doesn't ring true.
One of the strongest aspects of this production of Our Country is Justin Utley. He has it all - looks, charm, talent, and an excellent voice. He's great when interacting with Pasha (the two have really good stage chemistry), the band, and the audience. As played by Utley, it's easy to see why Tommy was a star, and easy to imagine that he will be again. Jeremy Pasha performs well as Kevin and Duane (it's complicated, but Duane is played by Kevin, Tommy's current keyboard player, who is in turn played by Pasha). Kudos to the rest of the band - Eric Day, Matt Hinkley, Justin Smith, Arvi Sreenivasan - who are not only good musicians, but do a good job serving as a sort of chorus for Tommy.
Minor problems aside, Our Country is a terrific show and features some outstanding songs. While you may have missed your chance to see it at the Planet Connections Festival, it wouldn't surprise me to see this show get revived soon.
Music and Lyrics: Tony Asaro
Book: Dan Collins
Producer: Tony Asaro
Director: David Taylor Little
Music Director: Eric Day
Production Stage Manager: Debra Stunich
Associate Producer: Jennifer Ashley Tepper
Orchestrations: Tony Asaro
Set Designer: David Taylor Little
Lighting Designer: Nick Soylom
Sound Designer: Gregory Jacobs-Roseman
Costume Designer: Gordon Leary
Sound Board: Bill Nelson
House Manager: Kevin Cummines
Featuring: Justin Utley (Tommy Dautry), Jeremy Pasha (Kevin/Duane)
Band: Eric Day (Electric Bass/Music Director), Matt Hinkley (Electric Guitar), Justin Smith (Fiddle), Arvi Sreenivasan (Drums), Jeremy Pasha (Piano)
Tony Asaro and Justin Utley interviewed on the Broadway Bullet podcast
Justin Utley featured on the follwing websites:
A short interview with Justin about OUR COUNTRY will also appear in the Pride issue of HX magazine in NY publishing at the end of June!
"Women of Colors" Press
The Spotlight cabaret presents a reading of the new song cycle Women of Colors Jan. 30 at the Laurie Beechman Theatre.
Directed by Diana Basmajian, the evening boasts the talents of Natascia Diaz (Man of La Mancha; tick, tick...Boom!), Lucia Spina (Legally Blonde, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), Caitlin Burke and Aurelia Williams (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie...). Show time is 8 PM.
Women of Colors features book and lyrics by Tony Asaro and music by Asaro, Will Aronson, Kevin Cummines, Vadim Feichner, Tina Lear, Julia Meinwald, Ryan Scott Oliver and Julianne Wick Davis.
The evening features music direction by Rich Silverstein. Ryan Scott Oliver and Rob Shapiro produce.
The Laurie Beechman Theatre is located inside the West Bank Café, 407 West 42nd Street at Ninth Avenue. For reservations e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (212) 695-6909. There is a $10 cover charge and a $15 food/drink minimum.