Composer brings moving musical to the University of Akron

By Heather Beyer

When asked why audiences should come see “The Gospel According to Tammy Faye,” Musical Director and Composer JT Buck said, “ It is a life story that lends itself really well to singing, dancing and theatre. Tammy Faye is a very theatrical character, very larger than life. There is a lot more to her story than most people know. It is worth the audience’s time to come and see two hours of a story that they thought they knew.” According to Buck, the show’s inception was merely happenstance. One evening at a cast party, a classmate of Buck asked him what his next musical would be and coincidently an interview with Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Barker) was on TV. Buck replied, “ Tammy Faye. I was just joking at the time,” recalls Buck. Or was he? The idea stayed with him. “The more I thought about it, I couldn’t get rid of it and thought it was a pretty good idea,” said Buck. The next move was to contact Fernando Dovalina, “he was the associate editor at the Houston Chronicle for a long time and a very good playwright,” explained Buck.  “I asked because he is a journalist and she is such a journalism story, she is such a news story. I wanted somebody that would not only have a lot of remembrance of her story but also be able to be a fair journalist in telling the story. I thought a journalist would be a good playwright for her story.”

University of Akron Theatre Professor, Dr. Susan Speers will be directing and choreographing the musical. “JT did various productions of The Gospel According to Tammy Faye and also did one at the Manhattan Theatre Club in New York. He told me about it because we have always kind of been ‘hooked’ in about what each other is doing. So I went up there to see it and was very impressed,” explained Dr. Speers. It was a goal to bring the musical to the University of Akron for many years. Now seems to be the right time. “It is very much an issue for this generation,” said Dr. Speers. “I think the play exposes a woman who was totally misunderstood by the people who did not know her. JT did meet her and was around her. She was bigger than life. She was one of the few Christian women who embraced everyone and did not judge,” explained Dr. Speers.

Tammy Faye Messner was a televangelist best known for her excessive makeup, on screen crying, scandals and her battle with caner. The musical chronicles the life of Tammy Faye Messner and begins in the year 2003. Messner’s learns that her cancer has returned and the audience is taken on a journey of her life through her memories.

Caorl Eutsey is portraying the role of Mama in the musical. “After reading the script I was truly intrigued about Tammy Faye’s journey because I recall her “fall” as they call it, from television ministries and I did not know a lot of things that are revealed through this play.  The affair of her husband overshadowed all of their good intentions.  This play gives vital information about her loving heart and how we should ALL embrace others regardless of our differences,” actress Caorl Eutsey said.

“As I read through the script it is kind of miraculous that I ended up with this part because I feel like I really connect with Tammy Faye Bakker in a lot of ways. It makes me want to go ‘seriously God. Seriously! I am such a good person, “actress Jenni Browning exclaimed!

Buck is personally connected with this musical. Recently, his mother passed away after a courageous battle with Cancer. The production process of the musical had just begun. Buck attended his mother’s calling hours and funeral and then headed straight to rehearsal. “ JT for as long as I have known has been a person who can amazingly compartmentalize. He has come to a point where he can compartmentalize things in his life. I feel most of all that his mom really wanted this for him. He has been able to really deal with it as an artist. The greatest thing I think you can do is be in touch with all the extremes with every one of your feelings. He deals with things as they come. He is a very, very strong person, “ actress Jenni Browning said.

The Gospel According to Tammy Faye will be performed on September 8, 9, 10, 15, 16, and 17th at 8pm in Sandefur Theatre located in Guzzetta Hall. There will also be a matinee performance on Sunday, September 11 at 2pm. Tickets are $12 General Admission, $10 seniors/faculty/alumni/staff/parents of UA students, $6 Students Reservations can be made by calling the box office at 330.972.7895.

“If you walk into this musical never having heard of these people before. I think that where people are going to resonate with this story is that we live in very hard times right now. There are a lot of people on this campus who are here right now because this is there second or third shot. They maybe had a career, lost it because of the fall of the economy and are coming back to get retrained. Or maybe you are here for the first time. It is tough times,” said Buck. “The very first question that I went to when writing the musical was how does she keep going? She had so many set backs and how did she rise up time after time again? What is that thing that she had that enabled her to not get knocked off the beam? When almost anyone else would have multiple times over. There is something very inspiring about ordinary folks who have not become rich and famous to come and see a story about a woman who started with nothing hit the top several times and got knocked down several times and kept getting back up again. There is nothing wrong with putting a message out there, especially in times like this that you can do this,” affirms Buck.