Playwrights Paul Ferguson and Jill McCorkle may teach at - and cheer for - rival schools, but on this New York trip, they were very much on the same team.
They were in town for the premiere of "Good Ol' Girls," a musical created by three Triangle writers and featuring two of the most talented N.C. actresses working in New York.
"Good Ol' Girls" opened Feb. 14 two blocks off Times Square. Based on the short stories of McCorkle and Lee Smith, the musical features songs by Nashville veterans Marshall Chapman and Matraca Berg. Ferguson, a dramatist who teaches at UNC Chapel Hill, wove the songs and stories into a musical revue. The show is to play at the Black Box Theatre until April 11.
A rambling road
Like any good Southern story, the tale of how "Good Ol' Girls" traveled from Chapel Hill to New York is a rambling one.
By Ferguson's count, the New York run is the 17th staging. The first was at UNC 10 years ago, at the N.C. Literary Festival. No one in this group claims ownership of the idea, but Smith is the fulcrum on which the creative team turns. She's old friends with Chapman, a rockabilly pioneer, and slightly newer friends with McCorkle, a former student who teaches at N.C. State.
Chapman suggested that Berg - the songwriter of "Wild Angels," "Strawberry Wine" and other country hits - should be involved. Together, Chapman and Berg selected songs from their vast repertoire to illustrate Smith and McCorkle's short stories.
The result was a two-act musical featuring a cast of 11 women portraying dozens of characters.
In 2002, Ferguson directed a N.C. Theatre touring production. With the cast pared down to seven, "Good Ol' Girls" hit 15 N.C. cities, plus other Southern states.
The Charlotte connection
In 2007, one of McCorkle's nieces, an actress in Fayetteville, pushed for the Cape Fear Regional Theatre to revive the show. Bo Thorp, the artistic director, agreed.
Thorp's 2008 production attracted top talent, including Liza Vann, an actress from Durham who came down from New York to see what the fuss was about. Gina Stewart, frontwoman of the Charlotte-based band Volatile Baby, also signed on.
"It was an event. It was more than a play; it was a celebration," Thorp said. "I just love the way it was so feminist and so Southern. I loved the voices of Jill and Lee. And it was so much fun for the audience."
Look for it on PBS
Soon "Good Ol' Girls" became a larger-than-Fayetteville phenomenon. UNC-TV filmed the production; stations across the country began airing the show in September. It airs on WUNG-TV at 9:30 p.m. March 18.
In a matter of weeks last fall, plans were made for a New York run.
Ferguson started helping director Randal Myler rework the material for five women. All six of the Cape Fear actresses auditioned, but only Stewart and Vann, who is also producing, made the cut.
After a matinee showing, Smith was particularly thrilled to meet the two accomplished older actresses in the show, Teri Ralston and Sally Mayes.
Reviews of "Good 'Ol Girls" have praised the performers, but expressed concern with the musical's structure.
The five women play about three dozen characters: diner waitresses, beauty parlor owners, wives of alcoholics. Broadway World called the characters "feisty and determined."
"Lee and I just keep looking at each other. We are thrilled to be off-Broadway," McCorkle said. "You know, we're just thrilled to have the chance."