Chicago Theater Review: THE DOYLE AND DEBBIE SHOW (The Royal George Theatre)

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by Dan Zeff on October 18, 2011

in Theater-Chicago


Country music can be whiney, right wing, corny, and macho. In the case of The Doyle and Debbie Show, it is also hilarious. I am no lover of country music, but who can resist a revue that includes numbers like “Stock Car Love,” “Barefoot and The Doyle and Debbie Show at the Royal George Cabaret Theatre – Chicago Theater Review by Dan ZeffPregnant,” and “I’m No Homo (But You Sure Look Good to Me)”?

The Doyle and Debbie Show originated five years ago in Nashville (where else?). The show is playing the Royal George Cabaret Theatre, which has been converted into a replica of the Station Inn, an actual country music club in Nashville.

Jenny Littleton’s Debbie is a 100 percent country stereotype—long flowing hair, cowboy boots, short skirt, and deep cleavage. Vocally, she has the country sound down pat and sings just as well the gals who belt out their numbers on the Grand Ole Opry. The same goes for Bruce Arntson’s Doyle. I didn’t find any difference between his twangy vocal delivery and what we hear from Tim McGraw, Garth Brooks, and similar country music icons.

The Doyle and Debbie Show at the Royal George Cabaret Theatre – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

Arntson’s original score is generic country, no worse than what can be found on a typical country radio station. What makes the show a hoot are Arntson’s lyrics, especially the raunchy ones. Arntson is the Stephen Sondheim of country music parody. His lyrics are sharp, clever, and continually surprising in their offbeat wit. Doyle and Debbie perform the songs with a straight face, elevating the outlandish words to an even higher plane of hilarity.

Arntson goes to town on the most sacred theme of country music: broken-hearted love. The best riffs on these sagas of sad romances are too R-rated for explicit discussion. Yet this isn’t an off-color show. There is no leering in the performances. The style is over-the-top sincerity, and the funnier for it. The songs also touch on other well-worn country music themes, like super patriotism, old time religion, and conservative political attitudes. I didn’t catch any lyrics about trains and prison, but I failed to absorb some of the rapid-fire enunciations stampeding from the stage and could have missed references to plenty of those enduring country music sacred cows.

The Doyle and Debbie Show runs about 90 minutes without an intermission. There is a break two-thirds of the way through the show for a fake intermission that takes the two singers into their dressing room for several tension filled minutes. Then it’s back on stage for more of Doyle’s greatest hits. The show ends with Doyle’s onstage meltdown, something to do with his preserving the hair of his dead father. It’s a noisy bit that doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the show. That’s a small criticism compared to the pleasures of listening for an hour and a half to two talented performers shredding country music’s conventions and pretensions.

The Doyle and Debbie Show at the Royal George Cabaret Theatre – Chicago Theater Review by Dan Zeff

The intimate Royal George Cabaret is a perfect fit for the revue. A guitar player (Matthew Carlton) is the only other performer on the stage and he’s limited to a few lines and a bemused look. It’s all Doyle and Debbie standing in front of their microphones, bleating out songs with their hearts on their sleeves.

The revue is a whoop-and-holler show, the opening night audience reacting with nonstop boisterous approval. Even allowing for the natural good will of an opening night crowd (and the free bar service), the enthusiasm sounded genuine. This is the ultimate audience show and should be irresistible, even for those who otherwise find country music very much resistible.

For the record, Kevin Depinet designed the set, Annie Freeman the costumes, Keith Parham the lighting, and Rod Milburn and Michael Bodeen the sound.

photos by Doug Blemker

The Doyle and Debbie Show
Royal George Theatre in Chicago
ends on January 8, 2012 EXTENDED to May 27, 2012
for tickets, visit Doyle & Debbie

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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