Saturday, October 8, 2011

"Scoundrel"'s McCarthy Takes on Challenge in New Tuner

Posted by Bruce Miller
At least two reviews are in as of this writing (Saturday morning), and it looks like Jeff McCarthy, the dashing Broadway-leading-man star of Barksdale's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, has created another critically acclaimed character. In the New York premiere of the new musical, Southern Comfort, which opened last night, McCarthy stars as Lola Cola, a real life, transgender woman currently living in rural Georgia.

McCarthy is no stranger to playing dynamic leading roles on Broadway. Before earning his Richmond Theatre Critics Circle Award nomination for Best Actor in last summer's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels at Barksdale, Jeff created memorable leading man roles in the Broadway productions of Urinetown, Side Show, The Pirate Queen, and Smile. He also replaced male leads on Broadway in Beauty and the Beast, Chicago, Zorba, and The Pirates of Penzance.

This is the first time that Jeff, with all his athletic baritone masculinity, has played a woman.

Jeff co-stars with Annette O'Toole (pictured with Jeff to the right), who received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress for her performance in the ABC miniseries The Kennedys of Massachusetts. She is best known for her co-starring role as Clark Kent's mother in the hit CW series Smallville, and has had a recurring role on Nash Bridges, in addition to numerous TV guest appearances. With her husband, Michael McKean, she received an Oscar nomination for co-writing the song A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow, featured in A Mighty Wind. Her Off-Broadway credits include Kindness at Playwrights Horizons and The Seagull at the Classic Stage Company.

Here's what this morning's critics have to say:

"As touching as it is idiosyncratic, Southern Comfort effectively redefines the term 'family musical.' Based on a 2001 Sundance award-winning documentary, it features perhaps the strongest family to be seen on a New York stage. The show movingly depicts the characters’ constant struggle for respect and tolerance from both family members and the community. The patriarch of the clan is the 50-something Robert (Annette O’Toole), who’s dying, ironically enough, of cervical cancer. His partner is Lola (Jeff McCarthy), a hulking figure who struggles to wear blouses that downplay her massive shoulders. The gentle country/bluegrass-flavored score, performed by a four-piece band whose members also play minor roles, is filled with a few too many emotive ballads of self-empowerment. But some of the songs, such as Bird, Lola’s lament about “the cruel sound of my own voice,” are very touching. If there was ever a show with its heart in the right place, it’s this one. The comforts it provides are far more than just the Southern variety." - Frank Scheck, New York Post

" The strapping, deep-voiced McCarthy strikes a resonant chord in Bird as Lola bemoans the disparity between the "pretty little thing" she knows herself to be "when I see behind my eyes" and her actual, physical being, which will never come close." - Sandy McDonald,

The new musical is based on Kate Davis's 2001 documentary, also named Southern Comfort. Davis's film won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Subsequent awards included First Prize at the Seattle International Film Festival and Special Audience Award at the Berlin Film Festival.

Southern Comfort tells a true story about transgender friends living life openly, honestly and courageously in rural Georgia. After an initial reading at Playwright's Horizon, this is a limited run AEA Approved Showcase produced by CAP 21 Theatre Company, which bills itself as "America's Musical Theatre Conservatory." The showcase is supported in part by the National Fund for New Musicals (a program of the National Alliance for Musical Theatre) and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Also in the cast is Richmond theatre alum Allison Briner. Since her work here at TheatreVirginia and the Haymarket, Allison has appeared on Broadway as Rosie in Mamma Mia!, and in the national tours of Mamma Mia!, Titanic, and Les Miserables. Off Broadway, Allison starred in Forbidden Broadway, Listen to my Heart, Pete 'n' Keely, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Song of Singapore, and Return to the Forbidden Planet.

Jeff seems to be having a grand time in this terrific new role. He checked in to say that rehearsals were going well, and he was excited for Opening Night. We're really proud of him for taking on this challenge. We wish both Jeff and Allison all the best.

--Bruce Miller

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