- October 17, 2017
“Guitar Girls” is currently singing and strumming the praises of America’s hardworking female singers and singer-songwriters on the Florida Studio Theatre cabaret stage. The revue is the brainchild of Rebecca and Richard Hopkins along with Catherine Randazzo, who also directs this time. It’s the second iteration of the original show from 2003.
So, who are these guitar girls? Tamra Hayden, Cat Greenfield, Anna Stefanic and Jannie Jones are the latest lineup. (Strictly speaking Stefanic is more of a keyboard girl. Jones is a powerhouse singer, and occasionally, a tambourine girl.) Joe Casey is the solitary guitar guy. Jim Prosser arranged the tunes. Brilliantly as always, although this time around, he’s not on stage.
The first act is more than a little bit country. You can hear a distinctive twang in Dolly Parton’s “Coat of Many Colors” and “Jolene,” A.P. Carter’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” Mary Chapin Carpenter’s “Girls with Guitars,” June Carter’s “Ringing of Fire,” Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and The Dixie Chicks’ “Sin Wagon.” Some of the hymns and traditional songs (like “House of the Rising Sun” Kisses Sweeter than Wine, and “Amazing Grace”) predate 20th-century country music. Honoring the roots of that music seems to be the point. And those roots can get tangled.
The second act is not entirely countrified, but it’s still wearing faded blue jeans, albeit with a tiny peace sign appliqué. The show lights a candle to Janis Joplin with “Mercedes Benz” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” (No candle for songwriter Kris Kristopherson, though.) The sisterhood of '60s songwriters get a nod with Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Hippy happiness aside, the legacy of women in country music is never uprooted. There are no less than three additional hits by Dolly Parton, two more by Mary Chapin Carpenter, and a soul-stirring rendition of Rosetta Tharpe’s “This Train,” the basis of Johnny Cash’s “Bound For Glory.”
And that’s all she wrote, folks.
I guess they’re saving the power chords of Sheryl Crow, Joan Jett, Stevie Nicks, and Bonnie Raitt for “Guitar Girls Redux” in the future.
Back in the present, it’s a powerhouse ensemble. The charismatic Jones dials it up to 11 as usual, but doesn’t steal the spotlight. Stefanic is magical at the keyboard. She provides backup for most of the show, but steps out of the shadows for soulful renditions of those two hits by Kitty Wells and Carole King. Greenfield made her own magic on any stringed instrument in reach. (Her picture’s probably next to the word “vivacious” in the dictionary. The talented Hayden is the center of the storm. She holds it together — and I figure she could carry the revue if nobody else showed up. Casey is a good sport as the lone representative of the XY chromosome. He bravely takes his share of ribbing and plays a mean guitar. Girls or guys, they’re all fine musicians. And they all sing and play from the heart.
Prosser’s arrangements are airtight. He respects the beloved originals (or the most high-profile versions) without slavish imitation. Kudos for making the digital keyboard sound exactly like a Hammond B-3 organ on “Rising Sun.” Kudos also for the revue’s song selection. There’s a nice flow. One song makes you cry, the next song makes you laugh. It’s never the same-old-same-old.
The chit-chit is filled with music trivia. Did you know …
That, behind her bubbly, buxom stage persona, Dolly Parton is a brilliant songwriter? That “Ring of Fire” was a big hit for macho man Johnny Cash, but a woman named June Carter originally wrote it from a female point of view? That “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” was Kitty Wells’ riposte to Hank Thompson’s slut-shaming “The Wild Side of Life”…?
Good to know. The fun facts are, well, fun. But this revue isn’t a music history lesson. The songs aren’t in chronological order. Some are written by women, some aren’t. So what’s the organizing principle?
Storytelling, which is the heart of country music. “Guitar Girls” is essentially an anthology of short stories in song. The authors and their characters are mostly women.
That’s my intellectual lens. Peer through it, if you find it useful. Feel free to use it as a guitar pick if you don’t.
Either way, sit back and enjoy the show.