Haunted Billy: toe-tapping, ass-slapping country shenanigans

By Alidor Aucoin on May 23, 2012

Dracula meets  Dogpatch in  Haunted Hillbilly, the  honkey-tonk  black comedy at the Centaur until June 3. The show is based on Derek  McCormack’s  book  which is centred around  a hapless  backcountry buck,  Hyram Woodside,  who  sells his soul to the devil to win acclaim as a singing sensation known as  “The Lonely Boy.” 

The premise has been around for centuries:  Luc Plamondon  did it in his musical, La Légende De Jimmy,  in which  movie  hearthrob James Dean sold his soul to the devil for stardom. In this case the Nashville setting is part of the joke.  The play is send up of Hank William’s career -, the  self destructive cowboy singer who was fired by the Grand Ole Opry  for his alcohol and substance abuse, and died  in 1953 at the age of 29. 

 This is SideMart Theatrical Grocery’s  most recent staging of the musical which originated at the Segal Centre three years ago then  went on to Toronto’s Summerworks Festival.   It has lost some of its grit along the way, but none of its originality.  Narrated by Pastor Ray (Graham Cuthbertson, who wrote the script), Haunted HIllbilly remains  as demonically delicious as ever.

haunted_hillbilly.jpgMatt Raudsepp  is  Hyram, the mournful  singer with a pompadour hair to die for, who inadvertently sacrifices  any  hope of love and affection for fame.   In the exchange  Hyram  becomes the exclusive property of a perverted Vampire  named Nudie,  a drooling, wheelchair bound  ghoul who designs the costumes that envelop his victims.  Raudsepp brings a macho vulnerability to the part of a celebrity awash in public adulation but starved of any meaningful relationships;  he’s affecting  as a shining star who dissolves into uncertainty and panic.   Greg Kramer tackles the role of Nudie,  (as well as  Hyram’s physical  assets,)  with sinister richness.  Danny Brochu hits the stage running as Erskine Mole,  Hyram’s rival on the country charts,  with the spirited enthusiasm of a cranky Stubby Kaye.  The entire cast is seasoned enough to trample on the nonsense and click into its comic country rhythms.  Katie Swift, as Hyram’s wife, Audrey is amped up as a  woman cheated of passion.  In one ridiculously orgasmic scene, Alexis Taylor, as the maid,  Bobbi, has her leg amputated on stage, and in another scene, Raudsepp drops his chaps for a bare-bottom slapping while  Nudie’s assistant, Dr. Wertham, (Kyle Gatehouse) steals every scene he is in as a backwoods Nosferatu .

Juno nominated composer  Matthew Barber’s pedal steel music , a mix of bluegrass and country swing, is executed with precision by on stage musicians including Barber,  Joe Baron Grass,  Bucky Wheaton, and  Julian Brown.  (A CD of the songs is sold in the lobby) 

Sarah Yaffe has designed a  cheerful,  rustic carnival tent hung with naked  light bulbs, and Susana Vera has created the dazzling rhinestone-cowboy costumes that  complete the time warp.  The play may not be to everyone’s taste.  It’s a crass, salacious, occasionally exhausting evening but  never a tedious one.  Director Andrew Shaver has not relaxed his grip on the creepy material . The show remains a  “Monsterpiece.”



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