By CHARLES WHALEY
In “Southern Crossroads,” Derby Dinner Playhouse’s hardscrabble musical set in the Great Depression, the touring Green Family singers arrive for a gig at a small-town Virginia theatre to find the doors locked after a foreclosure.
But down to their last few dollars they decide in show-must-go-on tradition to do their act in front of the place and depend on the kindness of strangers to throw coins in their instrument cases.
They’re gutsy and talented, and the songs that singer Shannon Green [Elizabeth Loos] and her brothers Wallace [Paul Kerr], Rusk [Scott Bradley], Loomis [Scott Anthony], Willis [Chris Bryant], Ewell [Jim Schweikart], and Otis [Mark McCullouch] perform so expertly range through bluegrass, country, gospel, ragtime, and old-time standards.
Joy and hope shine through their eclectic song choices despite the hard times they’re experiencing and the uncertainties that lie ahead.
Warner Crocker, who wrote the book for Steve Przybylski’s musical selections and arrangements, concocted back stories for some of the characters, however, that verge on cartoonish.
Loomis, for example, has a girlfriend Marian [Jillian Prefach] who announces she’s pregnant in the midst of the chaos. Shannon tells in long exposition of how her husband and baby died. Rusk was run out of New Orleans for murdering a woman in self-defense.
And villainous bank manager William [Cary Wiger] and his snobbish wife Matilda [Janet Essenpreis] gloat over the theatre’s foreclosure and threaten the troupe with arrest for trespassing.
The audience has a grand old time booing those two. Meanwhile, some come to the stage to drop coins in the kitty. [These collections will be donated to Southern Indiana schools through the New Albany-Floyd County Education Foundation.]
It’s best to ignore the manipulation, along with exchanges such as “Have faith” and its “I’d rather have dinner” response, and simply enjoy the marvelous performances such as Scott Bradley’s superb “Maple Leaf Rag” and “House of the Rising Sun,” Paul Kerr’s fun-filled “Cripple Creek,” Chris Bryant’s “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad,” and Scott Anthony’s “Shenandoah.”
More favorites in the spotlight include “Irene Goodnight,” “Tom Dooley, “Mountain Dew,” and “Little Brown Jug,” which the dependably good Wiger makes hilarious while drowning his sorrows.
Produced and directed by Bekki Jo Schneider, “Southern Crossroads” runs through Sept. 29.
For tickets and information: 812-288-8281, toll free 877-898-8577, or www.derbydinner.com.