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The N.C. State University Center Stage presentation of The North Carolina Theatre production of Good Ol' Girls is a must-see musical revue about those distinctly Southern gals with the big hair and even bigger hearts. Adapted and directed by Paul Ferguson (Killer Diller and The Devil's Dream) from the stories of Hillsborough, NC, novelist Lee Smith (Fair and Tender Ladies) and Boston-based novelist Jill McCorkle (The Cheerleader) and the songs of country songwriters Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman, Good Ol' Girls is the Triangle's best home-grown musical since Theatre in the Park executive and artistic director Ira David Wood III transformed A Christmas Carol by 19th century English novelist Charles Dickens into a madcap musical that has filled Raleigh Memorial Auditorium every December since 1974.
"The show is written in a revue style," says adapter/director Paul Ferguson, "and that revue... traces the journey of a contemporary Southern woman from girlhood to adulthood to old age and beyond. No one actor portrays a single character; but as the good old girl's life progresses, each of the actors portrays — in either scene or song — a character at that stage of life. Each of the ensemble members represents a good old girl at that stage of her journey through life. The show continuously alternates between spoken-word segments and musical segments and is almost completely underscored with instrumental music."
Universal critical acclaim greeted Good Ol' Girls when the show debuted in March 1999 in Swain Hall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Its original cast of seven included Amanda Blackburn, Anna Gunn Bowen, Tina Morris-Anderson, Julie Oliver, Andrea Powell, Katherine Rogers, and Callie Warner. The NCT production of Good Ol' Girls — adapted for six performers and also directed by Paul Ferguson — will star three original cast members — Blackburn, Oliver, and Rogers — and three newcomers — Jodie Beck, Bianca Carragher, and Meme Simmons.
"As a celebration of Southern womanhood," wrote Triangle Citysearch theater critic Scott Ross (now of Robert's Reviews), "it rivals, and in many way surpasses, Robert Harling's Steel Magnolias, the previous champion in the field."
"There is not a single low point to be had," claimed then-Chapel Hill News theater reviewer Alan Hall, "every last minute of this show was a high point, a high spirit, and a high resolution picture of Southern Women."
WRAL-TV/Channel 5 anchorman and newscaster David Crabtree agreed "You'll be tore up from the floor up," he quipped.
"The original workshop in 1998 included 11 cast members and seven source writers," recalls adapter/director Paul Ferguson, who is an Associate Professor of Performance Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. "For the premiere production in Chapel Hill and a later production at Theatre in the Park in Raleigh, the show stabilized to four writers — Lee Smith, Jill McCorkle, Matraca Berg, and Marshall Chapman — and seven cast members."
Ferguson adds, "That play was constructed with seven cast members to represent the Seven Ages of Woman, sort of the mirror image of the Seven Ages of Man. The show remains with those four authors, but now has six cast members. Writing it down from seven to six cast members was done to make it easier to tour the show. But that writing down works quite well.
"We now have two complete versions of the play, one for six cast members and one for seven cast members," Ferguson says, "Ultimately, the music will be arranged for a band that can vary in size from three to five musicians. [The current production] will have six players and five musicians, and it follows the original design of the workshop production. The cast consists of five good women supported by five good men.
"Behind every good woman is a good man," quips Ferguson. He notes, "Joe Newberry is serving as band director for the rehearsal period, and then Mark Simonsen is serving as band director for the tour. Julie Oliver is serving as vocal director for both the rehearsals and the tour."
The NCT's tour of Good Ol' Girls, which begins Sept. 18-20 with the performances in Stewart Theatre for NCSU Center Stage, continues through Oct. 26. Ferguson says the tour will take the show to 27 cities in North and South Carolina, Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama.
"What I like best [about Good Ol' Girls] is the content," says North Carolina Theatre producer William Jones. "It is a simple piece that tells real life stories about women of the South, many of the same stories my mother tells and actually lived through. The music is infectious and honest."
Jones says, "The set is a front porch, much like many throughout the South. The band sits on the porch, and the six girls sit in chairs in front of the porch.
"The lighting uses a simple plot," Jones says, "with three moving lights to create the different moods and locations described throughout the play. The first act uses brighter light to help with the comedy situations, [but] the second act [lighting] is much more isolated and colorful to create the somber moods of the more emotional stories."
Wally Jones says, "The costumes are unique to the individuals; they try and create each one's personalities, from simple to flirtatious.
"I have been in love with the show," Jones confesses, "since I saw it at Chapel Hill in 1998. I thought it was an excellent piece to remount and to tour throughout the region."
Paul Ferguson says, "The first several productions really honed the script. The biggest change was writing out one of the characters and taking the part of the good old girl's journey through life that that character represented and writing it equally into parts of the other six characters.…
"The original script used the names of the actors," Ferguson says. "Callie Warner represented the good old girl as adult. [Audiences] would certainly remember her, because she's the character who sang the title song. She sang 'Good Ol' Girl.' She also did the comic monologue at the end of the first act about good old girls who don't get it right in their first marriage; but they keep on trying, through several marriages, until they get it right."
One performer may be gone, Ferguson says, but the material is still there. "The base content of monologues, scenes, and songs is all intact," claims Ferguson.
He notes, "When [people] heard that I was rewriting the show, at least three dozen people contacted me by phone and e-mail and let me know that if I've taken out anything from the previous productions, I was going to be in big trouble with them. I was delighted by that as a playwright. I think they were only half-serious, but it told me how fond they were of the material and how much it meant to them.
During one of those conversations, Ferguson says, the women who called told him said: "The title of one of your songs is the advice that I would give you. The title is 'All I Want Is Everything.' I want her to know, if she's out there reading this newsletter, she got her wish. Everything is back."
Ferguson adds, "Good Ol' Girls is a great show to come to with friends, especially the kind of friends with whom you enjoy having a glass of wine and sharing stories. I should say a glass of wine or beer. A good old girl will drink beer. And if you're a good old girl looking for a good night out with the girls, this would be one."
N.C. State University Center Stage presents The North Carolina Theatre production of Good Ol' Girls Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 18-20, at 8 p.m. in Stewart Theatre on the second floor of NCSU's Talley Student Center, 1202 Cates Ave., Raleigh, North Carolina. $22-$27. 919/515-1100 or http://www7.acs.ncsu.edu/Center_Stage/tickets.htm. NCSU Center Stage: http://www7.acs.ncsu.edu/Center_Stage/Default.htm. North Carolina Theatre: http://www.nctheatre.com/goodolgirls.html inactive 9/04]. Lee Smith: http://www.leesmith.com/index2.html [inactive 10/03]. Jill McCorkle: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=0449912809#bio. Matraca Berg: http://www.matraca.com/ [inactive 4/04]. Marshall Chapman: http://www.tallgirl.com/.