Back in the saddle

Somewhere in rural Arkansas — smack dab between Branson, Miss., and Nashville, Tenn. — is a town called Success. It’s the kind of place you’d blow through when you’re long-hauling cross-country. There’s no reason to stop there — except for the Cowboy Cafe.

Every night, country-singin’ mama Billie Joe and her three grown-up daughters stop cooking up the vittles to dance and sing for whatever kind of drive-by crowd the local sheriff can blue-light and strong-arm into attending. By most folks’ reckoning, Billie Joe and her kids — Louisa, Missi and Tex (wisely named after the states they were conceived in) — put on one mighty fine show.

Then things get serious. When Billie Joe hears tell of a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to tear down the town’s levee, she sets her gourd to thinking so she can come out on top even when humble Success is washed away by the Big Muddy.

Luckily, the hopeful name of the one-horse town panned out in other ways, karmically speaking. Back in 1994, Parkway Playhouse in Burnsville — where Cowboy Cafe will return this weekend — was run by a fella name of Bill Dreyer. He was the kinda guy always taking risks, and when one of his actresses — Phyllis MacBryde, who’d done a turn on Broadway up in New York City — told him she wanted to write a musical for him, well, he just couldn’t resist.

Quick as a wink, MacBryde went home and started writing some show tunes, using — no lie — her car’s windshield wipers as a metronome to keep the beat. And it gets weirder, friend: The guy picked to direct the music was Roger Bartlett, an hombre who used to play guitar with Jimmy Buffett — not to mention his doing the sound for a little movie called The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Cowboy Cafe broke Playhouse records, and even PBS took a shine to it, producing it for North Carolina Now.

So you can see how it’s fitting that, 10 years later, the production is right back where it started. Bill Dreyer has since passed on, leaving the reins to Highland Repertory Theatre co-founder Andrew Gall, but a whole heap of the original cast made it back to be in the show. Even Phyllis MacBryde is taking up her old role.

It’ll be fun to see all them veteran players scooting their boots on the Parkway Playhouse stage. As a tagline for the original Chainsaw Massacre once questioned: “Who will survive, and what will be left of them?”


The Parkway Playhouse (202 Green Mountain Drive, in Burnsville) presents Cowboy Cafe at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 17 through Saturday, June 19, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 20. Shows the following week start at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 24 through Saturday, June 26, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, June 27. All tickets are $18. For more information, visit www.parkwayplayhouse.com, or call 682-4285.

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