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Review: DEAD RINGER at Musical Theater Heritage

Now through July 18

Review: DEAD RINGER at Musical Theater Heritage
Zachary Stevenson as Buddy Holly in "Dead Ringer" at Musical Theater Heritage.
Photo by Tim Scott

Live Theater has returned to Musical Theater Heritage in Crown Center with the World Premiere production of "Dead Ringer." starring Kansas City favorite Zachary Stevenson.

Stevenson has developed a cottage industry with his vivid re-imaging of famous, mostly deceased, pop stars. Kansas City audiences will know Stevenson from multiple turns as the title character in "The Buddy Holly Story" at New Theater Restaurant, but this guy has more in his musical bag of tricks than just Buddy Holly.

With a backup band of three, Stevenson leads a COVID-19 reduced (for safety) audience down memory lane with warm and entertaining characterizations of Buddy Holly, early folk singer Phil Ochs, crossover country star Hank Williams, a still kicking it Jerry Lee Lewis (now eight-five years young), and original numbers from Stevenson's personal songbook.

Any free evening between now and July 18, would be well spent enjoying this super performer. Stevenson is more than an excellent actor and versatile musician. He makes his acoustic Martin guitar, his rock Stratocaster, and the grand piano all sing in multiple styles.

Zachary Stevenson graduated with a BFA in Musical Theater in his native Victoria, British Columbia in 2003 and built a significant following as rock star Buddy Holly. In 2013, he was hired to portray Holly at New Theater Restaurant in Overland Park. Stevenson evidently liked KC and his local leading lady, Molly Denninghoff, so much, he married her and maintained his KC connections.

Review: DEAD RINGER at Musical Theater Heritage
Zachary Stevenson
as Hank Williams in "Dead Ringer"
Photo by Tim Scott

Among Buddy Holly's biggest hits are "That'll be the Day," "Peggy Sue," " Oh, Boy," and Words of Love. Buddy famously died in a plane crash at Clear Lake Iowa in 1959 with the "Big Bopper," and LatinX star Richie Valens.

The least familiar performer on view is 1960s era folk singer Phil Ochs. Phil Ochs became prominent writing and singing protest songs during that turbulent period. He sang and wrote memorable numbers later performed by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, The Limelighters, The Chad Mitchell Trio, Joan Baez, and others. He sadly died in 1976 at age thirty-six.

I personally remember Phil Ochs from my first paid writing job at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Ochs was one of those arrested in the Grant Park riots (where he also performed) and later testified at the infamous Chicago Seven trial that followed.

Although not performed in this show, my favorite Och's song is "The Draft Dodge Rag" that shows off both his protest sensibility and his oddball sense of humor.

Review: DEAD RINGER at Musical Theater Heritage
Zachary Stevenson
performs as Jerry Lee Lewis in "Dead Ringer
Photo by Tim Scott

Next up is Stevenson's impression of country crossover legend Hank Williams. Williams wrote and performed "Your Cheatin' Heart", "Hey, Good Lookin'", and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry". Hank passed of natural causes at age twenty-nine on the way to a gig.

After mixing in some original music and personal experiences, Stevenson transforms into crazyman Jerry Lee Lewis. Lewis is best known for his piano antics pounding the keys and his classics like "Crazy Arms," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," and "Great Balls of Fire." He is also cousins to TV evangelist Jimmy Swigert and cowboy barkeeper Mickey Gilly.

Zachary Stevenson provides a hell of an entertaining evening and a charming presence on stage. "Dead Ringer" features with Doug Perkins on guitar, Kyle Brown on drums, and Joey Panella on bass.

"Dead Ringers" continues through July 18 on Musical Theater Heritage's Main Stage. Tickets can be purchased at the www,mthkc.com website. Seating is limited because of covid-19 safety protocols. The box office telephone is 816-221-6987.



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From This Author - Alan Portner