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‘Gone Country’ at Signature Theatre

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Three accomplished performers are singing their hearts out in a real crowd-pleaser at Signature Theatre’s Gone Country cabaret, a short engagement conceived and directed by Walter Ware II.

Maria Egler, Gannon O’Brien, and Bligh Voth team up with music director Howard Breitbart of Capitol Steps fame to bring country music to a rehearsal.

Maria Egler. Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre.

Maria Egler. Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre.

Gannon O'Brien. Photo by Kristina Sherk Photography.

Gannon O’Brien. Photo by Kristina Sherk Photography.

Bligh Voth. Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre.

Bligh Voth. Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre.

The singers, dressed in country duds, covered songs by John Denver, Dolly Parton, and Willie Nelson, told stories, and even played an improv-style game in which they make up a song on the spot.

Among the smartly curated country selections in this performance are songs from Broadway musicals and Hollywood movies. Egler shines in her solo “Sleepy Man,” from the musical Robber Bridegroom, while Voth channels Dolly Parton when she sings “9 to 5” with Egler.

Egler and Voth also do a great duet of Parton’s more edgy “Jolene,” which is a highlight of the evening. Egler and O’Brien sing “Islands in the Stream,” made famous by Parton and Kenny Rogers, with original lyrics by the Bee Gees. Some of the couples in the capacity audience Tuesday leaned closer together as they listened.

Breitbart showed his country blues piano chops on O’Brien’s rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash’s number-one country single in the summer of 1968. O’Brien also did a sensitive interpretation of “Always on My Mind,” made famous by Willie Nelson.

Egler can really belt it out and played Electra on the national tour of Gypsy. Both she and O’Brien, who strummed and picked a respectable guitar on many numbers, have bachelor’s degrees in music from the Catholic University of America. Ware also was educated there, while Voth, originally from DC, went to the Boston Conservatory. The sweetness of her voice is nicely highlighted in her countrified version of the short  “XO” by Ryan Tedder, Terius Nash and Beyoncé Knowles.

Lighting is executed unobtrusively by Zachary Dalton and sound is nicely mixed by Scott Selman.

The clear favorite by applause meter was the traditional gospel tune “Down to the River to Pray/I’ll Fly Away” as reimagined by Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch, which the trio sings mostly a cappella. Since DC is the bluegrass capital of the world, this appealed to the well-versed audience, whose members didn’t hesitate to sing along.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

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Gone Country plays nightly through April 11, 2015, at Signature Theatre – 4200 Campbell Avenue, in Arlington, VA. Call (703) 820-9771 for tickets or buy them online.

RATING: FIVE-STARS-82x1555.gif

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