Out-of-work country singer Lashley Lee Lashley (Carter Calvert) breaks into a rousing tribute to a dearly departed soul as her sister Junie (Lori Fischer), Dad Lyle (Reathel Bean) and Pastor Phil (Jesse Lenat) worry about what’s coming next in “The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers.”
ALBANY Carter Calvert’s vocal talents are diverse enough to make her feel right at home in any genre. She’s most comfortable, however, singing country music.
“My daddy was a big fan of country music, and he raised me on Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette,” said Calvert, who will star in “The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers,” opening next Tuesday at Capital Repertory Theatre. Preview performances begin tonight.
“That’s where my heart lies,” Calvert said. I love doing folk music, blues and jazz, and I do enjoy the big Broadway show tunes. So I do think I’m diversified, but my preference is country.”
‘The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers’
WHERE: Capital Repertory Theatre, 111 N. Pearl St., Albany
WHEN: Previews begin Thursday; opening night is Tuesday and show runs through Aug. 4; performance times vary
HOW MUCH: $60-$16
MORE INFO: 445-7469, www.capitalrep.org
Second shot at fame
“The Sparkley Clean Funeral Singers” is a world premiere event written by Lori Fischer and Don Chaffe, and directed by Adirondack Theatre Festival co-founder Martha Banta, who left Glens Falls four years ago to work in New York City.
The story is set in Ashland, Tenn., where two sisters have reunited to handle the family business — a dry cleaning store — after walking away from their musical careers. Lashley Lee Lashley, played by Calvert, was the bigger star but recently has been in and out of rehab, while Junie Lashley, played by Fischer, is a much more stable individual who didn’t enjoy the same success as her sister.
“Junie is the caretaker, the happy and positive one, and Lashley is the recovering alcoholic who used to be a big country star but kind of sabotaged her career,” said Calvert. “They had a group, but Lashley was the frontman and Junie was the backup singer. But Junie decides she wants to become famous again.”
Their second careers get a jump-start when pastor Phil, played by Jesse Lenat, recruits the women to write and perform a few made-to-order songs for a couple of funerals at the nearby Third United Methodist Church.
Rounding out the cast are Broadway veteran Reathel Bean as the sisters’ father, Lyle Lashley, and Chaffe, whose voice comes in from off stage as a radio announcer.
“It’s a hilarious show, very funny and heartwarming, and family-friendly,” said Calvert. “It’s been hard to get through rehearsal because we’re always laughing at each other.”
Calvert and the cast and crew have been working on “Sparkley” for two years now.
“Lori and I did ‘Honky Tonk Angels’ at the Cincinnati Playhouse a while ago and we became fast friends,” said Calvert. “She’s an amazing writer, songwriter and performer. We maintained that friendship, and I was very excited when she asked me to join them on this project.
“She plays my sister, and I can’t imagine anyone else doing the part. We did a reading of it in New York and Nashville, and they’ve been tweaking it and fine-tuning it, like you do with any new play. Then they had an opportunity to work with Martha, an amazing director, and together they’ve given it new life.”
Calvert grew up in the Cincinnati area and went to high school at the School for the Creative and Performing Arts. She then went to Western University in St. Louis before transferring to a liberal arts Christian school, Evangel University, in Springfield, Mo.
After she graduated, it didn’t take long for Calvert to find work. She got her first big break in 1999 when she landed a prominent role on Broadway in “It Ain’t Nothing But the Blues,” nominated for four Tonys. Then she earned another great gig, playing Grizabella in the national touring production of “Cats.”
“I went in for the audition thinking understudy, and they ended up giving me the role of Grizabella,” said Calvert. “That was pretty exciting. I managed not to pay rent anywhere for two years.”
She was also in the European tour of “Smokey Joe’s Cafe,” and has performed as Patsy Cline in “Always” at the Cincinnati Playhouse and other regional theaters. She is married to a professional musician, drummer Roger Cohen and recently released a CD, “Carter Calvert and the Roger Cohen Trio.”
“My husband is an amazing drummer, and when I got offered this gig, I asked them, ‘Do you need a drummer?’ and the answer was yes,” said Calvert. “So, we’re all up here. My husband, our daughter, our beagle. I feel like the Von Trapp family.”
When she finishes up at Capital Rep, Calvert is heading to the Algonquin Arts Theatre in Manasquan, N.J., to perform in a cabaretlike setting with her husband’s trio.
“I’m doing my first-ever solo show, so it’s kind of exciting,” she said. “I feel like I’ve made a living using my voice, but I have all this acting experience, and what’s great about a show like ‘Sparkley’ is I get to use both muscles equally. Performing in this, for lack of a better word, cabaret setting will be different for me but I’m looking forward to it.”