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'Why, Baby, Why' a musical of gut-wrenching country

Paul Pierce, the producing artistic director of the Springer Opera House, had been talking to actor/singer Debbie Anderson for years about writing a play about the volatile relationship between George Jones and Tammy Wynette.

Anderson, who grew up singing country music in her family band, would be the perfect featured female singer for the show, Pierce decided.

Last summer, Pierce read the autobiographies of both country music superstars, Jones' "I Lived to Tell it All" and Wynette's "Stand by Your Man."

Pierce started writing and didn't stop until he had a draft as long as "War and Peace."

By that time, he knew the male featured singer would have to be Springer veteran actor/singer Steve Valentini.

"Why, Baby, Why: The Music of George Jones & Tammy Wynette," opens tonight at the Springer Opera House's Foley Hall. The show features 48 songs, including some of Jones' best-known drinking songs. 'Labor pains'

Valentini and Anderson have worked together since 1999, and starred in several Springer shows, including "The King and I" and "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

When Pierce finished his draft, he started meeting regularly with Valentini and Anderson to read over the script and listen to songs.

"(Jones) has a phenomenal volume of work," Pierce said. "Some of it is fantastic."

Both Jones and Wynette were prolific writers, and Jones has had more than 250 Top 40 hits. There was no shortage of material for the show.

"I conceived of it," Pierce said of the play.

"We've all had labor pains," Valentini joked.

"And it's about as painful, too," Anderson said.

Anderson and Valentini are not playing Jones and Wynette. They are, instead, presenting the music of one of the first superstar country couples.

They'll be joined on stage by a five-piece band and a backup quartet.

Wynette was 56 when she died in 1998; Jones, 77, is still living and touring. They were married from 1969-1975, a short time, but it was a tumultuous six years. It seemed longer, because they had worked together before they married and even after their divorce.

"Most of their hits were after they divorced," Pierce said.

When Wynette was 14, she was listening to the radio when Jones' song "Why Baby Why" came on. She told her Aunt Carolyn that one day, she was going to move to Nashville and work with Jones.

During the writing and rehearsal, Pierce learned that the fans had a lot to do with the creation of the Jones and Wynette persona. Because the two were constantly in the supermarket tabloids, fans thought the songs they sang were about their relationship.

"They began to give in and recorded songs they knew people could relate to," he said.

Both Anderson and Valentini grew up listening to country music, but there were songs they were not familiar with. They are now.

Some of the songs are emotional, so much so that seasoned professionals like Anderson and Valentini have problems finishing the songs, they said.

And while country music songs may sound simple, Anderson, who is the show's music director, says they are often very complex and difficult to sing.

Despite their fame and the millions of dollars they made, Pierce said Jones and Wynette were basically "dirt-poor country folks." When the money came rolling in, Wynette wanted to do something for her family. She and Jones had purchased a plantation near Lakeland, Fla. They bought trailers for the families, and built an 11,000-seat amphitheater for performances.

Anderson said the Springer audience will hear as many songs as they would at a concert.

"You'll get a lot of value for the ticket-buying audience," Pierce said.

THE CAST OF "WHY, BABY, WHY"

Featured singers: Debbie Anderson and Steve Valentini began their musical collaboration in 1999 when they performed in Miriam's Cafe & Gallery. In the years since, they have created and produced shows for the Columbus Regional Medical Foundation, the Columbus State University Patrons' Dinner, the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts, the Columbus Museum's Master Circle Gala and its 50th anniversary celebration and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra's Noteworthy Parties. They have been seen together in "The King and I" as Anna and the King of Siam, "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" as Miss Mona and Sheriff Ed Earl Dodd and "Ragtime" as Mother and Tateh. Quartet member: Brad Daniels received his bachelor's degree in musical theater performance from the University of Florida where he performed in "Working," "Man of La Mancha," "The Seagull" and "A Midsummer Night's Dream." He was a dancer in "The Lost Colony" outdoors show. At the Springer, he has been in "A Christmas Carol" and "Carousel." He appeared in "The Laramie Project" at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.

Quartet member: Kristen Metcalfe has been on the Springer stage in "Crimes of the Heart" and "A Christmas Carol." Behind the scenes, she worked on "Amazing Grace," "The Member of the Wedding," "Afternoon of the Elves," "The Big Friendly Giant" and "Winnie the Pooh." She has been a Springer Theater Academy teacher for five years and is the Springer's assistant box office manager.

Quartet member: Kelli Canorro has been in Springer shows like "In the Mood," "My Fair Lady," "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas" and "Guys & Dolls." She has also performed at Georgia Southern University and Vicenza, Italy. She returned to Columbus after working in Walt Disney World in Orlando. She works at Aflac.

Quartet member: Jim Rutland returned to Columbus after 20 years in New York City, where he spent eight years touring with the a cappella group the Flirtations. With the Flirtations, he appeared in the movie "Philadelphia," performed in concerts in Carnegie Hall and on HBO. He is the education and program director at the RiverCenter for the Performing Arts. At the Springer, he appeared in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," "Barrymore" and "Ragtime."

Piano: Daniel Windsor has a few connections with the late Tammy Wynette. He accompanied the later gospel great Jake Hess, who was a personal friend of Wynette's and sang at her funeral. As a teenager, he played and sang on the "Country Boy Eddie Show" in Birmingham, where Wynette made her very first television appearance. He has performed in "The King and I," "Guys & Dolls," "Jekyll & Hyde," "The Music Man" and "My Fair Lady."

Guitar: Glen D. Giles is the co-owner of Gorilla Guitars and earned his bachelor's degree in theater from CSU and has a master's degree in theatrical technical production management from the University of Tennessee. He was the Springer's technical director in 1986. He was a faculty member and technical director at Frostburg State University in Maryland and Florida State University. This is just his third theatrical production.

Bass: Andrew Norton played bass for the Family Theatre production of "The Taffetas" and "A Taffetas Christmas" He is a sophomore at Chattahoochee Valley Community College.

Drums: Kevin Brewer is an Army musician stationed at Fort Benning and is a founding member of the Fountain City Stingers Rockabilly Revue. He was introduced to country music by his Mawmaw Ruby at age 5, and has been a fan since. Unlike George Jones, he has never ridden a lawnmower to the liquor store, but he has gone in a golf cart.

Lap steel guitar, guitar, mandolin: Jonathan White teaches guitar, banjo, mandolin, dobro, lap steel, music theory and composition at Gorilla Guitars. He also plays trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba and percussion. He earned his bachelor's degree in music composition from Florida State University. He has written several scores for independent films. He has also recorded a solo guitar CD called "Rainsongs."

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