Kimmie Rhodes – Small Town Girl, A Musical – (Luck, TX)
There’s a little piece of heaven out in the Hill Country west of Austin on Willie Nelson’s sprawling ranch, a place where the earth and the sky seem to blend into one perfect panorama. Perched on the top of a rolling hill is an authentic replication of an old western village, a timeless small town that served as the setting for a series of workshop performances of Kimmie Rhodes’ play.
Small Town Girl is a sweet tale of an angel’s journey to earth and back to heaven. The ensemble cast included Rhodes’ daughter Jole Gracey as Rose, the small town girl; Joe and Sharon Ely as her earthly parents; and Joe Sears (of Greater Tuna fame) as Rose’s guardian angel. Other family members and friends rounded out the large supporting cast, which included a number of cherubs following the scenes, and a circus troupe.
The story of Rose’s life is told in a series of vignettes, interlocked with musical narrative sung by Rhodes and accompanied by a small band featuring her son Gabe on lead guitar and husband Joe Gracey on bass. Rhodes incorporates a few of her older songs, such as “West Texas Heaven”, along with a number of new compositions as the foundation of the play.
As Rose travels from heaven to earth and spends her mortal life in pursuit of her dream, which is to one day be able to fly, she finds joy in the celebration of Christmas and spending time riding in the car with her father, and sadness in the tragic loss of her mother. As she and her father finally escape the small town, Rose almost makes her dream come true when they join a circus and she becomes a high-wire acrobat. Of course, in the real world people cannot fly, and the inevitable disaster finally takes Rose full circle when she returns to heaven to be reunited with her mother, now an angel herself.
The plot is a very basic and quintessential tale of the circularity of life and death, with a tender and graceful motif. Several particularly effective scenes include a car ride during which Rose switches the radio station several times and the band jumps from Hank Williams to Willie Nelson to Lefty Frizzell with ease; the funeral, where the audience actually goes into the chapel and participates in the service; and the circus, which features real fire juggling, acrobats, clowns and even a strongman.
Jole Gracey delivers a wonderful and pure performance; at the age of 13 she has the talent, poise and grace of a seasoned veteran. The Elys allow the natural chemistry of their relationship to shine through in their roles, and Sears plays the part of participant/observer flawlessly. There is a real feeling of community in the production; everyone is having fun, and it shows.
Rhodes is a wonderful songwriter and singer, and this play stands as a testament to her immense talent. She consistently incorporates the themes of spirituality and worldliness in her songs, and with any luck, this production will soon be on the road. Sometimes heaven is easy to find if you just look for it, and on this night it felt like the angels were sitting right there next to us, enjoying the show.