"Tammy Faye" receives multiple standing ovations

By: Heather Beyer

“I thought it was really good and I thought the music was phenomenal. JT’s music really stood out to me,” Miller South student

Illustration by Brian Palubiak

Josie Reynolds said.

JT Buck, composer/ lyricist and musical director, dedicated the musical “The Gospel According to Tammy Faye” to his dad, who died in October 2010 and to his mom who died July 28 from a battle with cancer just four days before rehearsals for the musical were set to begin.

“Opening weekend was very successful. We played to near capacity at every performance, and got positive feedback from those who came, including the American College Theatre Festival respondents and even our provost,” Buck said. “This is a story that might be meaningful to my mother. It helped me personalize the story. You have to find a way to personalize the story,” Buck said.

Playwright Fernando Dovalina wrote the book for the musical. Dovalina, former managing editor for The Huston Chronicle, was present to support the musical’s opening.

“Having Fernando around made the weekend much more fun for everyone. He’s a nice guy, and his presence had a very reassuring effect on the cast. In addition, he got to share in the applause and feedback, which is more rewarding than hearing it all secondhand. Finally, it gave us the chance to talk much more in depth about the next steps we want to take,” Buck said.

During his visit, Dovalina was able spend time with cast members and theater students. He went to college for journalism and began his career as the police reporter for Beaumont Enterprise and eventually worked his way up to the Houston Chronicle. After many years of editing, he missed writing.

“I wanted to write for the stage. I like to talk about things that people don’t like to talk about. A playwright has to know who he or she is,” Dovalina said.

Buck and Dovalina had the opportunity to interview Tammy.

“I used my journalism techniques to interview her. She was the same in person that she was on TV. She had a natural ability to connect with people,” Dovalina said.

Dovalina said, “You have to be observant of human actions, the little bitty things that tell you about a person’s character.”

Tammy Faye died when the musical premiered in Houston. According to Dovalina, “Tammy died minutes before curtain. JT and I announced to the audience that she had passed after the show. There was an audible gasp. Some of the cast began to sob. It was an incredible night.”

The music was inspiring. Some moving moments were of Caorl Eustey singing “Sing Your Song” and Jenni Browning and company singing “Satellite.” Eustey has an extraordinary voice and delivered a captivating performance. This actress could sing a page from the phone book and make it sound powerful.

Jenni Browning’s portrayal of Tammy Faye Bakker was unforgettable. She captured the very essence of the character.

Actor Alex Funk was a critical element to the show. Funk played five different characters.

“My main character is Pat Robertson, who is a real person and still very much alive today. JT told us at the start of the process that these people are real but that we are not to mimic them in any way. We were to create our own version of the character based on what was written in the script,” Funk said.

“I also play a church lady, a TV announcer (voice over), a drag queen and Jay Bakker. Preparing for them has been different. For the men, it was just speak the lines as I normally would. For the women, I needed to change my pitch or accent,” Funk said.

Funk stole the show in his portrayal of the church lady and later a drag queen. He embraced the roles who heartily and won the audience over as well.

“One thing I learned as a drag queen is that heels suck and I completely understand women who do not want to wear them again,” Funk said.

The entire cast had an infectious energy. They were all fully committed throughout the performance.

“The audiences loved it! We received a standing ovation all four nights of opening weekend. People really liked the show and left singing the songs,” Funk said.

“The Gospel According to Tammy Faye” wraps up its run this weekend. Shows are tonight through Saturday at 8 p.m.

“I’m proud to have written a piece that moves people. The writing has grown significantly and it shows in the overall impact of the performance. I am very happy with the result, although obviously this experience has come with a great deal of personal baggage. I can’t say it’s been much fun to do this show under these circumstances, but it’s been very artistically rewarding and I hope a great learning experience for the students involved. I know the show has definitely grown from this, and we’re poised to move forward,” said Buck.