In a loving, albeit irreverent, tribute to the classic country greats, The Doyle and Debbie Show, by Bruce Arntson, harks back to the days when Porter Wagoner, George Jones, Dolly Parton, and Tammy Wynette were regularly played on the air and on jukeboxes around the country.
As Doyle Mayfield’s best friend and bandleader, Buddy Apple, explains prior to the show, this performance is Doyle and Debbie’s return to Music City after 11 years out of the spotlight. Doyle has now been three years sober, but tonight is the anniversary of his father’s death so he is in a very vulnerable state right now. For those who don’t recognize Debbie, that’s because she is a brand-new Debbie, Doyle’s third Debbie to be exact. He discovered her singing with her band at the VFW in his hometown of Mooney’s Gap, Tennessee. A single mother of three, this Debbie has dreams of becoming a famous country singer in Nashville and is hoping Doyle will be her ticket to stardom. But when Doyle starts drinking and having an emotional breakdown, how much is this Debbie, who has only been with him for six weeks, going to be able to take before she snaps?
Throughout the evening, you hear stories of their lives and the songs they are performing. There are such hits as “Stock Car Love,” romantic numbers like “Blue Stretch Pants,” and touching breakup songs such as “When You’re Screwing Other Women (Think of Me).” Doyle and Debbie also perform a medley of their greatest hits, ending with patriotic fervor, American flags waving, as they sing “So say your prayers to the Man Upstairs and give thanks for their Merles and Hanks. Look who’s got more guns and tanks. God loves America best.”
As the hapless has-been Doyle Mayfield, Andrew Lloyd Baughman shines. He perfectly epitomizes the stereotypical classic country singer with his fringed black suede jacket and western shirts as he tells anecdotes and sings, yodels, and scats. He sings comedic songs like “Snowbanks of Life” about writing the name of the woman you love in bright golden letters in the snow with sincerity. However one of the highlights of Baughman’s performance is when he relates the story of his daddy’s passing and the two things his daddy left him and then sings about “Daddy’s Hair” to the delight and shock of the audience.
Karissa Swanigan-Upchurch is just a darlin’ lil’ spitfire in her portrayal of Debbie. Costumed in a sequined top, shiny jacket, red and black miniskirt, and cowboy boots, Swanigan-Upchurch embodies the star-struck dreamer who discovers the star is quickly fading. She sings such lyrics as “Just keep me barefoot and pregnant, that’s all I want to be” (“Barefoot & Pregnant”) in Doyle’s attempt to write a song from a woman’s perspective and “My PHD in ESP trumps your MA in STD” (“ABC’s of Love”) with such earnestness while the audience howls in delight.
Ray Shaw as Buddy Apple, Doyle’s long-suffering best friend, not only is a talented musician, but is delightful as he emcees the evening, accompanies the singers, tries to keep Doyle under control, and then sings a rapid-fire list of foods in the song “Fat Women In Trailers” that would make any Modern Major-General in “Pirates of Penzance” envious.
Director John Sadowsky brought together a stellar cast to bring this show to life. With the use of minimal sets, we were able to follow Doyle and Debbie onstage and backstage. He also included an audience member by incorporating Facebook Live posts during a couple numbers in the show. Stage Manager Amanda Williams kept the show running smoothly while also running lights and sound. It is a small venue, but the sound was not overpowering and the balance between music and vocals was perfect.
Whether you are a fan of classic country or not, this toe-tapping, hysterical parody of the stars of yesteryear can’t be beat. You’ll want to throw on some cowboy boots and kick up your heels with the performers. You don’t want to miss Landless Theatre Company’s production of The Doyle and Debbie Show. This show is for mature audiences.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
The Doyle and Debbie Show runs in rep with Puffs or Seven Increasingly Eventful Years at a Certain School of Magic and Magic through March 29, 2019, at DC Arts Center, 2438 18th Street NW, Washington, DC. Performance times vary. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 462-7833 or purchase them online.