Review: Sierra Rep's telling of singer's life story is first rate

COLUMBIA — It's more than a little ironic that the singer who recorded "Stand By Your Man" had five marriages.

One of the top country artists of the 1970s, Tammy Wynette had a wild ride of a life that included picking cotton in Mississippi, raising four daughters, getting a beautician's license and having a romance with Burt Reynolds.

It's all covered in Sierra Repertory Theatre's fascinating musical "Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story."

Written by Mark St. Germaine, the show debuted in Nashville in 2001 and features 28 classic country hits, including "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," " 'Til I Can Make It on My Own," "We're Gonna Hold On" and the title song.

Filling out Wynette's often sad ballads are several foot-stomping, upbeat hits by her most famous husband, George Jones, including "Why Baby Why," "The Race is On," "Love Bug" and "White Lightning."

The show opens with Wynette's death at age 55 in 1998 and features the deceased singer looking at flashbacks of her life under the guidance of her mother.

You don't have to be a country music fan to appreciate the first-rate singing by everyone in this top-notch cast. Sierra Rep certainly has recruited the best of the best to appear in the show.

Stephanie Adlington, who stars in the title role, captures Wynette's Southern drawl and ambling pace. She comes off as sympathetic, and you root for her to succeed at every turn. Ernest L. Hall exudes magnetic charm as Jones, flashing a bright smile whenever he comes on stage. The pair have great chemistry in their frequent duets.

Lillian McLeod is blunt as Wynette's mother, "Mee Maw," while John Walbolt and Steve Marvel stay mostly in the background as Wynette's other husbands.

Michelle K. Foletta is perky as both young Tammy and Tammy's daughter Tina, and Justin Fatz is brash as Wynette's producer Billy Sherrill. Laura Michelle Hughes and Paul Binotto adeptly fill in the rest of the cast in several small roles.

Director Michael Licata keeps the pace moving at a rapid clip, and set designer Noble Dinse creatively provides settings for a bedroom, hospital room, farm, recording studio and huge "Tammy" sign that lights up on the very small stage.

Costume designer Clinton O'Dell contributes fun 1970s costumes that include pantsuits, long frilly dresses and jackets with ultra wide collars.

That people still love to hear these old country songs was made abundantly clear at the well-attended Sunday matinee at Fallon House. The audience hummed along to the music and gave the cast a standing ovation.

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