Albert Lea Community Theatre to present the Tammy Wynette story

Published 9:06 am Saturday, September 27, 2008

When Albert Lea Community Theatre opens the first play of its 44th season on Thursday, audiences will not only find a musical, but a story too.

“Albert Lea loves a musical, but with this, they’re getting a top drama as well,” said Director Rory Mattson. “They will see a real story.”

The show is “Stand By Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story.” The Mark St. Germain biographical musical is based on the woman behind the legend and the incredible songs that made her the first lady of country music.

Email newsletter signup

The audience will relive her life’s journey from the cotton fields of Mississippi to becoming an international superstar.

Stephanie Erdman, who is playing Wynette, said she likes the story because the writer had the singer’s daughters share what was important about their mother and included that. The story includes Wynette’s relationships with five husbands, including George Jones, as well as her daughters, her strong-willed mother and her dearest friends.

“I love Tammy’s life story. She was an incredible woman,” Erdman said. “It’s hard to do justice to such a person. It’s been fun trying to capture some of her persona.”

Among the 26 songs included are “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” “Till I Can Make It on My Own,” “Golden Ring,” “How Great Thou Art” and, of course, “Stand By Your Man.”

Erdman was last seen in an ACT production in the musical review, “Honky Tonk Angels,” in 2006. Since then, she’s gone on to do tribute shows to the leading ladies of country music in the area.

It was in “Honky Tonk Angels” that she got to know Lisa Sturtz, who plays her mother in the show.

“I learned so much from her about acting,” Erdman said of Sturtz.

She is also enjoying working with Todd Utpadel, who plays George Jones. “We’ve wanted to do something together for a long time,” Erdman said. “But we’re both really busy.”

Utpadel came into the show late — he replaced an actor who didn’t work out — and has been busy learning his lines. “It’s fun,” he said. “I’ve done the music for so long.”

Utpadel said he appreciates the fact that the play is a fairly accurate depiction of the singer’s life. “The writer didn’t take a lot of liberties,” he said.

For Erdman, the play also offers her a chance to work with her parents, Neil and Barb Lang, who are part of the on-stage band along with Bruce Himmerich, Teresa Iverson and Merle Krause.

“It’s been a challenge to get the musicians together,” Mattson said. “But it’s a dream band. They’re committed to what they’re doing.”

Mattson said he ended up with a dream cast as well, but added it took seven phone calls to get it. “A lot of people complain that they always see the same people on stage, but the truth is, not very many people came to audition.”

Tony Segura said he was at the American Legion Club having dinner during one of the audition nights. On a whim, he decided to go over to the theater and give it a try. “I always wanted to do a musical,” he said.

And it’s as good as he imagined it. “It’s amazing,” Segura said. “The musicians are awesome. We all sound great together.”

Segura is cast as Wynette’s first husband and has a number of ensemble roles as well.

Mark Place of Owatonna said he tries to work with Mattson “any chance I get.”

“My wife has final say on the scripts, and she said, ‘You’re going to do this one, aren’t you?’” he said.

Carrie Boyer plays young Tammy Wynette and other ensemble roles. Boyer had the title role of “Annie” in the Minnesota Festival Theatre production of the show about 20 years ago — when she was 11 — and hasn’t done a theatrical role since.

“It’s really nostalgic coming back after all this time,” she said.

Because she recently decided to get into country music and write her own CD, this show seemed like a good opportunity. “It’s great to be able to sing with people who are professional and with a band that’s professional,” she said.

Gary Neist plays Wynette’s second husband, a preacher and a witness. He did a couple other community theater plays in the early 1980s, and is enjoying getting back on stage. “It’s fun,” he said. “I enjoy giving back to the community.”

Also in the cast are Jay Paul, who plays Burt Reynolds; John Woodruff, who plays Wynette’s fifth husband; and Kate Ellertson, who plays Wynette’s daughter.

Mattson said he first cast Ellertson in a melodrama he directed and she carried a sign across the stage. Now, he said, she’s become a very capable actress.

“We’re establishing a whole new generation of actors,” he said.

The crew includes set design by Steve Kinney, costume design by Rosalie Truax, sound design by Tubby Petersen and lighting design by Mike Wangen. Lori Larsen will run the lights and Karen Szymanowski and Loyal Leas are serving as stage managers.

“Stand By Your Man” runs Thursday through Saturday and again Oct. 8 to Oct. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Marion Ross Performing Arts Center. There is also a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday, Oct. 5.

The box office is open for the public starting on Monday. Hours are from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on performance nights; and from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. before Saturday performances. The phone number is 377-4371.

Season tickets are still available through the first show of the season. Individual ticket prices for this show are $17 for adults and $12 for students.