Rick Price in The John Denver Story: Take me home, country roads
Okay, Rick looks like a crooner here... no argument!
But the fact that Price doesn't look like Denver, and doesn't remotely sound like him, does us a favour -- this is a show with a much broader appeal than you might expect -- it also does Denver a favour. Instead of relying on that unique and clarion voice, Price and his band are forced to rely on the songs (which stand up to the extra scrutiny, mostly, especially in the context of a biographical concert) and to rely on arrangements and delivery. Instead of torch songs, they're played as country rockers. And that works surprisingly well.
The song that started it all, 'Leaving on a Jet Plane', is not a bit churchy here. The twangy, slow version of 'Back Home Again' -- with mandolin, pedal steel & double bass -- is a ripper. Only 'Thank God I'm a Country Boy' crosses into vomitous territory... all those fiddle/griddle rhymes. Shudder!
The John Denver Story actually starts out as the Rick Price Story. Price compares and contrasts his childhood with that of Henry John Deutchendorf, Jr: growing up in Beaudesert in Queensland for Rick and in Kansas for John. Rick got the music from his father's family, John's musical roots were in his mother's family. (Deutchendorf senior was a test pilot and so 'Junior' was christened in Roswell New Mexico where the family were stationed!)
Weirdly enough, the only song in which Price attempts to scale the rocky mountain heights of Denver's voice is just about the hardest in the catalogue: 'Calypso'. And, damn, he nails every yodeling note. It's bloody miraculous.
On the downside, Price gets lyrics wrong, even in the greatest hits. The best one can say about his rendition of 'Annie's Song', for example, is that Price is consistent. He gets his lines wrong throughout.
Price is also leg-roped by the show's structure and a very ordinary script. When he looks like letting rip in the opening song of the second act -- a terrific rendition of 'Grandma's Feather Bed' -- the narrative appears like a speed bump on a freeway. It goes beyond hagiography. It goes beyond Kamahl. The script is pitched at die-hard sycophant fans. Price looks embarrassed to deliver it.
Happily, the music wins the bout by a TKO.
Here's the set-list...
01. Take Me Home, Country Roads
03. This Old Guitar
04. My Sweet Lady
05. Leaving on a Jet Plane
06. Love Is Everywhere
07. Follow Me
08. I'd Rather Be A Cowboy
09. Back Home Again
10. Thank God I'm a Country Boy
11. Grandma's Feather Bed
12. Annie's Song
13. Welcome to my Morning
14. Perhaps Love
15. Goodbye Again
17. Some Days Are Diamonds
18. Rocky Mountain High
19. Sunshine On My Shoulders
20. Country Roads singalong.
The John Denver Story: Take me home, country roads. Written by Jim McPherson. Directed by Simon Myers and Jodi Gallagher. Produced by Simon Myers and Andrew Barker for Bold Jack. Music direction by Ed Bates. Sound design by John O'Donnell. Lighting design by Michele Preshaw.
Performed by Rick Price (vocals, guitar and piano), Ed Bates (pedal steel), Tim Matthew (basses), Luke Moller (vocals, mandolin, violin) and Roger Bergodaz (who looks like he strayed from the Moody Blues, circa mid 1970s) on drums.
At the Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne, then Brisbane from July 12. More information here.