||Honestly, I have never seen a show — let
alone a musical — like this. And I bet you
haven’t either. Everything about it is local: the setting of the story,
the writers, the composer, the actors — and
everyone else involved. But the appeal of SouthFork Confessions
isn’t limited to a local audience: it would delight audiences wherever
it was performed.
The idea is that a group of townspeople from the
booming Coloma of the 1850s — all deceased
— are gathered in the town cemetery for the
rare opportunity for their spirits to “go up higher.” But to do so, they
have to seek redemption by telling their life stories. And as they do,
there is conflict, tension, surprise and a lot of humor
— as they give and get forgiveness for their
Over the course of the evening, each character gets a chance to tell
their story, and as they do, the audience gets a peek into the private
lives of over a dozen colorful individuals. Not only are they well
acted, but they have the benefit of an intelligent, insightful script
from Director and co-writer, Chrissie Addison and co-writer, Peter
And then there’s the music. Accompanied by a 5-piece band that stays
hidden in the “church” on stage, there are 8 original songs
— the kind that you would like to hear over
and over again, most with a bit of country flavor. The music was written
by Music Director Betsy Moore, who also wrote the lyrics, except for the
opening number “Make Way” and “Dust from the Gold,” a song that could
easily have commercial success on its own. Co-writer Peter Tyner
wrote the lyrics to those last two pieces.
There are so many good singers that the ensemble numbers are really
impressive. Moreover, there are many excellent individual voices
showcased in different ways. And besides their accompanying the singing,
the instrumentalists provide incidental music throughout the show. It
almost feels like the music never stops.
Along with the good music and good writing, it’s the good acting that
gives this show its special appeal. The central character, played by Tom
Loeprich, is Father Jimmy Flanagan, the leader/confessor of this motley
group of spirits. He anchors believability in what is fundamentally an
unbelievable situation. The couple of Michelle Harwell and Chris Rimoldi
go through an incredible range of emotions, and give the show its most
poignant moments. Sadly, there’s not space to acknowledge the other
actors individually, but each makes an important contribution in a
setting that has nearly 15 main characters. And when the stage is full,
as it is through much of the long first act, there are nearly 25 actors
on the stage, each in character and in almost constant motion. There’s
not a dull moment.
A lot of historical characters telling their personal stories and
confessing their sins may not sound — on its
face — like much of a plot. But this show is
full of surprises, and clever, creative staging ideas that catch and
hold an audience’s attention. And the well-crafted set and authentic
costumes, hair styles, hats, etc. contribute to the magic of
transporting the viewer to another time.
There’s not only magic in this show, but a bit of mystery. For
example, there are frequent unexplained sound effects or moments when
the actors move in slow motion. I’m still puzzling over those mysteries.
But I’m also thinking about the great music, interesting characters, and
thought-provoking dialog. That does it. I’m seeing this show again
— it’s that good.