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A CurtainUp Review
Texas in Paris

Texas in Paris is a metaphor for the dilemma of race that is currently dividing our nation, focusing on two people from the heartland, who like most Americans want to avoid talking about racism as an issue. But once in Paris, a dialogue emerges that could never have happened in their isolated worlds in the United States... The music is a songbook of American life - everyday songs, lost and found, black and white, remembered and discovered as new. —Playwright Alan Govenar.
Texas in Paris
Lillias White and Scott Wakefield (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
The York Theater at St. Peter's with Everyday Songs, dedicated to finding the roots of regional American songbook, turns to the songs of the land in Texas in Paris, spirituals, cowboy songs and country hymns. This music, once more popular, has now been replaced by the Nashville Sound and expanded into cross-over, but in the 30's and 40's, it took hold on the radio and silver screen. Singing cowboys like Tex Ritter, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers had a substantial following and influence in Europe. (Yves Montand, started out as a French cowboy singer before Edith Piaf polished a new suave image for him.)

There is not much talking in documentarian Alan Govenar's two-hander with songs and starring powerhouse entertainer, Lillias White ( The Life ) and lean, laconic Scott Wakefield's ( Hands on a Hardbody ). Based on true events, the couple, Osceola Mays (White), a down-to-earth black churchgoing widow and John Burris (Wakefield), a white reticent former rodeo rider, is invited to perform 26 of their songs at the Maison des Cultures du Monde in Paris. As the play opens, John is at the airport, waiting for Osceola who bustles down from the back of the theater, clutching her duffle bag. She cannot hide her enthusiasm about her first plane ride but especially about going to Paris, France and once there, she rhapsodizes about everything, from croissants to the Metro.

John is not so enthusiastic. His wife, knowing they need the money to fix his truck, had signed him up for the job before he could make up his own mind. Like Osceola, John is hardworking, child of a sharecropper and an amateur singer. Like Osceola, he never had associated with anyone of the other race and like Osceola, he resists approaching the problems of racism.

Osceola loves everything about this trip and the Parisians are drawn to her. She wishes she could stay in Paris forever. She has never known such wide-spread acceptance. Her infectious spirit and down-to-earth charm reflects in her a cappella gentle children's songs and the rousing gospel songs with thigh-clapping rhythm. As a less showy character, John is honest with his deliveries, obviously best expressing himself through his songs of the range, accompanying himself on guitar, banjo, and harmonica. He is tempted several times to cut short his show and go home to the familiarity of Texas.

Yet they eventually manage to find some common ground, largely through church songs, and their culmination with a resounding, "When the Saints Come Marching In" and "Will The Circle Will be Unbroken?" is spirited, heartfelt harmony. At the same time, you know they will return home to the separated lives they left but perhaps with a lingering understanding of the other side.

The spare stage with two chairs and hazy projections by Jason Johnson-Spinos reflect the simplicity of the music. Directed by Akin Babatundé who worked with Govenar in Blind Lemon Blues, keeps the focus and color of Osceola Mays and John Burris, both of whom inspired Alan Govenar.

Described as a play with music, there is not much of a plot to this play but the songs are plentiful and done with authentic Americana charm by the vibrant Lillias White and engaging John Burris.

Texas in Paris
Book, lyrics, music: Alan Govenar
Directed by Akin Babatundé
Cast: Lillias White,  Scott Wakefield
Music Supervision: Amy Jones
Set Design: James Morgan
Costumes: Chris Vergara
Lighting: Brian Nason
Props: Kevin Maloof
Production Stage Manager: Niki Armato
Running Time: 80 minutes. No intermission
York Theatre Company at Saint Peter's (Citicorp Building, entrance on East 54th Street, just east of Lexington Avenue)
Tickets: Starting $90-$110 orchestra. $25 mezzanine and balcony.
Tuesday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday-Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
From 01/27/15. Opens: 02/05/15. Closes: 03/01/15.
Review by Elizabeth Ahlfors based on performance 02/01/15.
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