‘Doyle & Debbie Show’ will wow your socks off
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org October 18, 2011 5:10PM
Jenny Littleton and Bruce Arnston star as the title characters in the wildly entertaining “The Doyle & Debbie Show,” with musical accompaniment by guitarist Matthew Carlton.
‘the DOYLE & DEBBIE SHOW’
◆ Through Dec. 31
◆ Royal George Cabaret,
1641 N. Halsted
◆ Tickets, $43.50-$49.50
◆ (312) 988-9000;
Updated: November 20, 2011 8:49AM
I confess that a show designed to punch doughnut holes through the familiar cliches of Nashville and its country music culture did not immediately thrill me. Yes, I love the music. But the mountain folk of the Ozarks, so often denigrated by the term “poor white trash,” might just be the last group in American society still subjected to politically incorrect abuse. And all the jokes are pretty exhausted by now.
But then comes “the Doyle & Debbie show,” which opened Monday in the Royal George Theatre’s intimate cabaret space after five years as a Nashville, Tenn., hit, and every preconceived notion flew right out the trailer window.
The creation of songwriter Bruce Arntson, who might well be dubbed “the Stephen Sondheim of country music sendups,” it is 90 minutes of goofy perfection — clever, hilarious, wacky and brilliantly performed by Arnston (as Doyle Mayfield, the washed up and decidedly creepy country singer), and the bravura Jenny Littleton, playing the latest of his many “Debbies.” Watching Littleton, a performer with a sensational, do anything voice, terrific comic acting chops and knockout looks, you have to wonder why she hasn’t become a full-blown star far beyond the Nashville city limits. (It won’t be long.)
All I can say is this: Watch out “Million Dollar Quartet,” because “the Doyle and Debbie show,” which doesn’t contain a single “cover,” might very well knock your box office socks off. It is worth the price of admission simply to hear Littleton belt out “The ABC’s of Love” (a catalog of the funniest, most ingeniously connected acronyms imaginable, and a song that seals the deal when it comes to dubbing Arntson a master lyricist).
But then there’s “For the Children,” a hoot of a “concerned parent” parody. And Arntson himself sings “Blue Stretch Pants” (an “ode” to the expanding dimensions of his best girl). And the two pair up for a slew of other songs that will have you howling.
The conceit behind the show is a no-brainer: Doyle, a man with many divorces, drinking issues, a nervous breakdown and more behind him — plus an old-timey approach to music that no longer gets audiences revved up — has found his newest “Debbie.” She’s a single mom of three who has long nurtured dreams of Nashville success. And desperate to get her chance, though certainly not blind to Doyle’s stranger aspects, she hitches her star to his red-fringed coattails. She also proceeds to out-dazzle him at every turn in their gig at The Station Inn. (Designer Kevin Depinet’s neon sign and Hatch-style, prints-covered walls are Nashville perfection.)
Debbie can turn Doyle’s appallingly old school numbers like “Barefoot and Pregnant” and “Snowbanks of Life” into winners. She also can mitigate his yodelling, and that crazy lunchbox filled with the hair from his dad’s bludgeoned scalp (don’t ask), and more. The two enact one of the great intermission scenes ever. But then there’s that “Harlequin Romance” tale, and the homage to “Fat Women in Trailers,” complete with rapidfire list of junk food. Well, you get the idea.