Andrea Swift-Hanlon, Judy Turnbow, and Julie Powers.
courtesy photo taken by April Martin
Coachlight’s Cowboy Sweethearts
One of Five Shows
by Bill Weaver
Cowboy Sweethearts is one of five shows that Coachlight Musical Theatre is presenting this fall. In it, cast members Julie Powers, Judy Turnbow, and Andrea Swift-Hanlon recreate the friendship between three legends of popular music—Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, and Brenda Lee—performing their most memorable hits, along with an inspiring set of gospel favorites. They also explore the lives of these women, the vagaries of romance andthe music profession, and their deep friendship for one another.
“Last year we needed something that we could do on the spur-of-the-moment, so I worked up a Patsy Cline show by myself,” says Julie Powers. “When doing the research I learned that Patsy, Brenda Lee, and Loretta Lynn all knew each other and all recorded with Owen Bradley for Decca records.”
Bradley was the chief architect of the “Nashville Sound,” which professionalized and popularized country music.
“Loretta and Patsy were best friends and Patsy was a mentor for Brenda. They all hung out together. The conversations that we have in the show are all true. Sometimes they’re tweaked a little bit,” she laughs, “but they’re real.”
These days it’s easy to forget that women were not always accepted at the top of the charts. “Before Patsy—even with Kitty Wells—women were ‘pretty miss so-and-so.’ Patsy changed that and, as big as she was, welcomed other female singers and helped guide them, cooked them dinner, and gave them advice—she mother-henned everybody. It’s a nice camaraderie we have, both as characters and as actors.”
Judy Turnbow plays Loretta Lynn. A native of eastern Kentucky, Turnbow didn’t have to read about the kind of life Lynn experienced as a child—she’s lived it herself. “I knew that Judy loved country music so she seemed like a natural for Loretta. When she sings Coal Miner’s Daughter it’s dead on,” Julie observes. “She has down-to-earth openness.”
Andrea Swift-Hanlon plays Brenda Lee, capturing the infectious, bubbling personality that Lee’s music communicates so well.
One pleasant bonus for the performers is meeting people who actually knew these women. “A couple of weeks ago a man said to me, ‘The last time I saw you, you looked pretty bad!’ He was friends with Patsy’s first cousin and they visited her in the hospital after her car accident. He knew her as a person first, not as a star. He said, ‘You’ve got her pretty good there!’ He was talking about her personality, not her voice. I told him that I wanted his autograph.”
Powers read everything she could about Cline, watched every film, and listened obsessively to her music, singing along while driving. “When I first started, my young daughter told me that I didn’t sound anything like her—kids are honest. So I kept working on it. One day we walked into a Cracker Barrel and they were playing a Patsy song. She thought it was me! So I’d obviously gotten a little bit better,” Julie laughs.
The show strives for authenticity first. “With an iconic figure people know what it’s supposed to sound like. Nobody cares about my interpretation of Patsy Cline. We try to be true to the music.”
There are about ten actors who perform in Coachlight’s many productions and they do the behind-the-scenes work as well. “Because I’m also one of the owners I have a lot of obligations that are not on stage,” she says. “Costuming, the website, phones, tickets, box office, writing and directing. Andrea is in all our shows and is also our choreographer. Kevin Butler does vocal direction. We all pitch in. Everybody helps out where they can. We have a close-knit family atmosphere and that makes for better shows.”
September will feature a new production: Brown County Bandstand!, which is a heady tour through the history of pop culture. “We cover everything from Frankie Avalon and Do-wop groups to Ed Sullivan, Laugh-In, Sonny and Cher, Disco, Madonna: all the way to the present-day retro-pop revival—from Brian Setzer to Christina Aguilera and Amy Winehouse, doing that R&B, old Motown kind of thing. Everything old is new again.”
During the Christmas season Coachlight Musical Theatre will present Our Brown County Christmas.
“We’re having a contest for people to submit their funniest Christmas story about Brown County,” she says enthusiastically. “We’re going to take the best four or five and incorporate them into the show.” Stories may be submitted either by mail to Coachlight Musical Theatre, Christmas Story Contest, PO Box 101, Boggstown, IN 46110; or email: <firstname.lastname@example.org>. The deadline is September 30.
“It’s been crazy at times but we love it,” Julie admits “People are learning about us, they like the quality of our shows, we’re getting better, the crowds are better, and the shows are better. My business partners and I couldn’t be happier. We love being in Nashville and we love the people we’re working with. It’s been a great experience for everybody.
“I’ve always wanted to be an entertainer,” she concludes, remembering the records with their storybooks that she loved to act-out as a child. “Being an entertainer has been a calling. I’ve never wanted to do anything else.”
Ticket prices for Cowboy Sweethearts are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors (60+), and $10 for 12 and under. Other shows that will be presented this fall include Platinum Girls, a musical tour of the 60s; the old west spoof Tumbleweed; and Cabaret Live!. See <www.coachlightmusicals.com> for times and dates or call (812) 988-2101 and toll-free at (800) 304-8588.