Are Your Dreams Big Enough? The Songs and Story of the Original Carter Family
At: The Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 U.S. Route 1, S. Chesterfield, VA 23834
Performances: April 1 – May 6, 2023
Ticket Prices: $49 with discounts for students, seniors, and veterans; rush tickets $25 at the door when available
Info: (804) 748-5203 or https://www.swiftcreekmill.com
One of the things I liked about KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE, the story of the Carter family of country music fame, is that playwright Douglas Pote didn’t sugarcoat the darker side of the story.
A.P. Carter, his wife Sara Carter, and his wife’s cousin Maybelle who was married to A.P.’s brother Ezra made up the original Carter family. A.P. toured the countryside collecting songs – ballads, blues, folk, gospel, – that collectively became a part of the foundation of the uniquely American genre known as “country music.”
Known as the First Family of country music, the Carters popularized a new style of harmonizing; Maybelle crafted “the Carter lick,” a unique style of guitar picking, and Sara sang and played the autoharp – which is how se and A.P. first met.
But the hardships of touring, and separations necessitated by work eventually led to the dissolution of the trio. Sara eventually separated from A.P. moved to California and remarried – to one of A.P.’s cousins.
Director Tom Width is clearly enamored of this foot-patting, hand-clapping story, carried along by a selection of 27 of the Carter family’s most well-known songs. Even those who are not fans of country music may be familiar with “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Are You Lonesome Tonight,” which was covered by Elvis Presley. The talent was passed down through the generations, with June, one of Maybelle and Ezra’s daughters marrying country music superstar Johnny Cash. The program even includes a handy Carter Family Tree.
This musical play – as distinct from a musical – starts with A.P.’s funeral in 1960, jumps back to the day A.P. and Sara met in 1914, returns to 1960, a few days before A.P.’s death, and concludes in 1976 – six years after the family was welcome into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The cast is simply amazing, with H. Drew Perkins as the effervescent A.P. Carter, Jackie Frost as the reluctant performer Sara Carter, and Emily J. Cole as the innovative musician Maybelle Carter. Mikaela Hanrahan plays the role of Carter daughter Janette, who also acts as the play’s de facto narrator. Brian Harris and Greg DeBruyn round out the cast playing all the supporting characters.
Maura Lynch Cravey’s dresses and suits support the period and Adam Dorland’s scenic backdrop of the Virginia mountains provides an attractive to Tom Width’s simple set. The set, oddly enough, has an unfinished feel, with Sara’s Aunt Nick’s detailed front porch on the left but just the frame of a country church on the right. The focus is on the music, and the slowly unfolding story, accented by family secrets. Keep in the Sunny Side is a delightful show that provides a lot of entertainment and a bit of education.
“If you’ve never been called crazy, it’s just ‘cause your dreams aren’t big enough.” -A.P. Carter
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.
KEEP ON THE SUNNY SIDE
Written by Douglas Pote
Vocal Arrangements by Eugene Wolf
Musical Arrangements by Doug Dorschug
Directed by Tom Width
A. P. Carter ……………….. H. Drew Perkins
Sara Carter ……………….. Jackie Frost
Maybelle Carter ……………… Emily J. Cole
Janette Carter ……………….. Mikaela Hanrahan
Preacher at the Funeral, Mr. Ralph Peer, Preacher Bill, Life Photographer ……………. Bryan Harris
Ezra Carter, Assistant to Mr. Peer, Theatre Manager, Dr. Brinkley,
Joe Carter ………………… Greg DeBruyn
Directed by Tom Width
Musical Direction by H. Drew Perkins
Lighting Design by Joe Duran
Costume Design by Maura Lynch Cravey
Scenic Design by Tom Width
Technical Direction by Liz Allmon
Scenic Art by Adam Dorland
About two hours with one intermission
Regular $49. Seniors, Students, Military & First Responders $44.
Photographer: Kieran Rundle
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