What do you get when a talented playwright and an equally talented country songwriter join forces? You get Troubador, the romantic country musical written by Janece Shaffer with original songs by Sugarland’s Kristian Bush.
The idea for Troubadour began on a family vacation. Shaffer was exploring the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville when something caught her keen writer’s eye. At one particular point, country stars’ costumes suddenly changed from somber to covered in rhinestones (hello, Dolly).
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“I wanted to know what happened in that moment. I wanted to know who came to town and changed country music. Two years later, I have this story,” said Shaffer.
She teamed up with Bush, and the two fell into storytellers’ sync. What started with four songs soon became eight, and then 12, and then 14.
“Janece’s story is like a giant tree, and I’ve hung a country song off each branch,” said Bush.
Like all great country songs, Troubadour is about love, chasing dreams, and family. One of the play’s conflicts takes the form of tension between a young man and his country-music-legend father. When real-life country singer Radney Foster landed the role of father Billy, it was like the stars had aligned.
“During auditions, he came in the door as that character, with a weathered bible, carrying an old guitar case. There was no denying Radney.” said Janece.
Adds Foster, “I came in, nervous as hell, but I knew to do that. I was shocked as anyone would have been when I got the part, and I’m real proud, too.”
Troubadour shows exactly how country music and theater converge in a common, beautiful tradition: storytelling. The play tells a relatable story that hits close to home to just about everyone involved, including its audience. Shaffer hopes that the play will inspire people to realize their own ambition, and to find the courage to do it. Foster speaks of how, although set in the 1950s, Troubadour captures a part of human nature that never changes. Joe Mason, the country-music heir attempting to find his own in the shadow of his father, is played by Zach Seabaugh, an Atlanta-born singer fresh off The Voice with nearly identical country music aspirations of his own.
Perhaps most convincing of the play’s resonance is the way it relates to Bush, when he faced personal tragedy. While Bush was busy writing for the play, his own father was diagnosed with liver cancer, and passed way.
“I went through the loss and reconciliation with my own father,” said Bush. “I can’t help but think that this play shows that if there is a chance you can get straight with your dad, you should do it.”
And we can’t forget the music.
“Kristian writes what we call ‘earworms,’” said Foster.
“I want you to sing them while you’re walking around Target shopping,” said Bush.
Troubadour runs at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta from January 18 to February 12, 2017.