By DAVID DOW BENTLEY III “The People’s Critic”
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An assortment of out-of-town commitments had taken me away from Texas for just over two years, so it was a dream come true to at last find myself back enjoying a fine meal at Joe’s Italian Restaurant in Conroe, before taking an after dinner stroll past the inviting town’s various gift shops, pubs and antique stores, on the way to the historic and beautifully restored Crighton Theater for the evening’s concert. And what a concert this “Authentic Tribute to CASH & ORBISON” would be, with the talents of Colin Dexter as the legendary ROY ORBISON, and Bennie Wheels as JOHNNY CASH presiding on the Crighton stage. Last minute tickets were hard to come by, but luckily a few scattered balcony seats were available for late arriving fans.
First up was the unexpected, but delightful arrival of the show’s “Special Guests,” the ladies of “Shake, Rattle and Roll.” Joining the fine musicians of the Walkin’ the Line Band onstage, the gals would be the back-up singers throughout the evening. Looking sharp in dark jackets, over glistening red-sequined tops, they wasted no time in lighting up the room with a terrific rendition of the old Ronettes classic, “Be My Baby.” If that wasn’t enough medicine for what ails us, they quickly followed with a “Love Potion #9” that had the appreciative audience singing along on the chorus. Closing out that opening set, they offered a cheerful, “Bye, Bye Love,” and then it was on to the main events, beginning with Mr. Dexter.
He arrived in a sleek and polished black suit and sunglasses, and took off right away with a great Orbison classic, “Only the Lonely,” that was a smooth as the silk of his suit. There would be rhythmic and pulsing backup from the band as he reached some of those challenging high notes in “Running Scared,” and he weaves a nice vocal tapestry with “In Dreams.” And speaking of dreams, his “Dream Baby,” had the audience rhythmically clapping along. He did a great job with the higher ranges in, “Crying,” and brought a fierce intensity to the “Mean Woman Blues.” When he sang Linda Rondstadt’s “Blue Bayou,” there was some nice smooth back-up from the gals. Then he made a lot of new friends in the crowd when he dedicated his last song to all the pretty women in the audience. Can you guess the title?
Following the Intermission, Mr. Wheels took commanding charge of the proceedings with his deep, rich and resounding voice immediately declaring he was fully qualified to take on the Johnny Cash repertoire. What better way to prove it than with a powerful “Folsom Prison Blues” for the opener? He told the audience that as a young child, he was first captivated by Cash when the singer did a guest appearance on “The Muppets.” What an impression that must have been. He went on to a sensational, “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” that had the ladies returned to the stage for more fine back-up. And when Wheels sang, “Get Rhythm,” he really had the room rockin’. Apologetically, he then explained that now and then he feels compelled to sing a sad song. With that he brought plenty of smiles as he did the great tongue-in-cheek tune, “A Boy Named Sue.” Performing the Cash #1 hit, “Walk the Line,” was a perfect place to show off his deeply resonant voice, and he also showed his skill as a storyteller with the beautifully visual tale of “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
Now of course we critics are sometimes thought to be cranky and mean, but that’s just not my style. But I will say this. I like to HEAR beautiful lyrics, and I like to HEAR beautiful voices. When instrumental volumes are so strong that singers with great voices cannot be properly heard, it is a disservice to both those performers and to the audience. At various points in this otherwise terrific show, this was an issue that needs to be addressed by the sound management team going forward. End of rant!
But of course the audience wouldn’t let Mr. Wheels off the stage without his doing the Johnny Cash hit, “Jackson,” and there would be plenty of audience foot stompin’ and hand clappin’ during the tongue twister that followed with, “I’ve Been Everywhere.” But the audience hadn’t seen it all yet. The star would amaze the crowd once again when he pulled out his harmonica for a high-powered performance of “Orange Blossom Special.” Now that’s entertainment!
THE CRIGHTON THEATRE, 234 North Main St. in Conroe Texas, will present “NIGHTBIRD An Authentic Tribute to Fleetwood Mac,” this Saturday, June 10th, 2023 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information visit www.crightontheatre.org or call 936-441-7469.
The columns of David Dow Bentley III have appeared on Broadway websites, in newspapers from the East Coast to the Gulf Coast, and may be viewed online at the website: www.ThePeoplesCritic.com E-mail may be directed to ThePeoplesCritic3@gmail.com