Country Cabaret hits all the right notes for audiences

Kelly Pendergast, Ashten Banister, Sara Davis and Marissa Girgus perform a number of country music hits to a full house.
Kelly Pendergast, Ashten Banister, Sara Davis and Marissa Girgus perform a number of country music hits to a full house.

By Samantha Brandbergh

Musical theater and country music lovers gathered in the Bart Luedeke Center Theater to experience Constant Craving: A Country Music Cabaret, as 16 women from the School of Fine and Performing Arts showcased the emotion and stories told in country music on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14.

Right from the get-go, Constant Craving proved to be more than a traditional performance. With the stage embellished with rocking chairs and stools, the scene was set for a night of classic country music. Once the performances and dance numbers started, it felt more like a party than a production.

Adorned in cowboy boots, flannels, and denim, the women performing made it their mission to make sure the audience had the time of their lives. Samantha Funk, Margaret Warrington, Dani Pierce, Rosie Webber, Sara Davis, Ally Hern, Samantha Prentice, D’Arcy Green, Ashten Banister, Kelly Prendergast, Hannah Bearer, Angelina Valente, Abby Anderson, Alexa Canelos, Anna K. Smith and Marissa Girgus all put on a show for an audience sprinkled with their friends and family. The theater had a constant positive vibe.

After a lovely group performance of KD Lang’s “Constant Craving,” complete with flawless harmonies and lead vocals by Webber, the female performers and the fantastic band accompanying them broke out into the upbeat Alabama tune “Mountain Music,” embellished with clapping, stomping and synchronized line dancing.

Girgus, a senior musical theater major, indicated that the choreography was “motivated by the stories” being told in the songs, which made the steps easy to remember.

“We had such fabulous choreography given to us by [senior] Abbey Sierakowski,” she said. “In addition to the choreography, Abbey lent us her eye for detail and helped us run and clean the numbers every rehearsal.”

Whether the songs were taken straight out of the country genre, or spiced up with a Broadway or classical twist, Constant Craving proved to be an hour jam-packed with music that spoke to the soul.

During the show, there was never a dull moment; even during the emotional performance of “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette, the audience was cheering on performer Warrington, and the performers backstage could be seen jumping up and down with excitement when Warrington belted out a high note to close out the song.

There was no barrier between the women and the audience. Engagement peaked during “Meet Me in the Middle” by Diamond Rio. The whole cast poured off the stage and into the aisles, the audience joining them in clapping to the beat and singing the chorus.

Constant Craving offered tunes that both older and younger generations could enjoy, such as Funk’s charismatic performance of “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood. A fun personality shone through Funk’s performance, which had the audience singing along.

One of the highlights of the night was sophomore musical theater major Bearer’s extremely animated and humorous performance of “Ticks” by Brad Paisley. Halfway through the song, Bearer made her way down the steps and brought an audience member from the front row on stage. Before sending him back to his seat, she planted a kiss on his lips, at which the audience went wild. Spectators weren’t the only ones surprised; according to Bearer, the kiss wasn’t planned until the last minute.

“I just thought I was going to be twirling him around, but when [director] Franklin Trapp pulled me aside [at rehearsal on Wednesday], he told me to plant one on each one of them,” she said. “I wish you could have seen my face.”

Another high-energy and amusing performance, which highlighted the women’s theatrical ability and dance skills, was the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” with lead vocals by Smith. Even with spurts of laughter from the audience competing with the more comical lyrics, the cast never missed a step of its vivacious choreography.

Girgus let her voice shine during her performance of “I’m Not Ready to Make Nice” by the Dixie Chicks.

“The voice is such a big part of communicating with the audience in a show like this, so I try to make sure I don’t give myself any obstacles in telling the story,” she said.

With background harmonies by the remaining vocalists, the powerful ballad radiated emotion.

After a group performance of “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack, the women brought the energy back up again, closing out the night with the country girl anthem “Redneck Woman” by Gretchen Wilson. It earned a standing ovation.

It was clear through the interactions between the performers that they felt like one big, musical family. Girgus couldn’t be happier about the bond between cast members.

“I am so proud of the way these ladies work together,” she said. “The unconditional support given by this cast is incredibly special. You don’t get something like that on every job.”

With a strong blend of upbeat songs and ballads, Constant Craving did an excellent job of taking the audience through a journey of country classics new and old, and left the audience wanting more.

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