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Posted February 5, 2009 | comments Leave a comment

Review: 'Cross Roads' is homespun fun

From left, David Maga, Matthew Baldoni, William Diggle and Robbie Limon appear in a scene of Wayside Theatre’s production of “Southern Cross Roads.” Courtesy photo

By John Horan Jr. -- Daily Staff Writer

MIDDLETOWN -- Home cooking is hard to beat.

Buffeted, like everyone else, by the harsh economic downturn, Warner Crocker, Wayside Theatre's artistic director, scrapped a planned homage to singer-songwriter Harry Chapin and set about fashioning his own musical revue using local talent.

Crocker concocted the story about a family of Virginia musicians who find the theater where they're supposed to perform shuttered by foreclosure. Steve Przybylski, Wayside's resident musician, unearthed nearly 30 folk and country songs -- all in the pubic domain; hence, no royalties due -- and arranged them in novel ways to complement a six-member band.

Their handiwork, "Southern Cross Roads," is a rollicking, tuneful ride, brimming with humor and touches of pathos that belie its two-week gestation period. Indeed, the show deserves a life beyond its six-week run at Wayside.

Anyone who saw Wayside's productions of the gospel-singing Saunders family trilogy will recognize the ensemble of quirky characters whose versatility on an array of stringed instruments is seemingly boundless. And Thomasin Savaiano, whose manic dexterity as the Saunders' percussionist, was both riveting and hilarious, is in fine fettle in "Southern Cross Roads." Not only does she have even more odd instruments -- washtubs, pots and pans, horns and whistles -- she has a partner, Vaughn Irving, in the musical mayhem.

Some of the songs are done straight, especially Robbie Limon's soulful efforts and a mesmerizing a cappella quartet's take on "Cripple Creek." Some -- like fiddler Larry Dahlke's earnest rendition of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" -- begin innocently enough before veering off in wild directions and some are completely zany. Spike Jones, the 1940s era bandleader who pioneered musical hijinks and satire, would be delighted.

Especially brilliant is David Maga's piano virtuosity. The plot says he spent time in New Orleans, which allows him to insert a dazzling version of Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" and some other stride piano turns into the show. At odd moments, he also plays the trumpet, accordion and jew's-harp.

William Diggle's metamorphosis from dour banker to the band's gleeful soul mate is one of the highlights. Leah Raulerson plays his snobbish wife who undergoes her own surprising transformation. Dacia Dick is the sympathetic ingenue and Matthew C. Baldoni the local go-fer.

Till Turner's supplies the spare, hard-times set. Tamara M. Carruthers' costumes are restrained with one flashy exception. Adam J. Gearhart designed the lighting.

* Contact John Horan at jhoran@nvdaily.com.

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