Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Ride with Bob, Asleep at the Wheel at the Zach Theatre, February 20 - 24, 2013

Austin Live Theatre reviewA Ride with Bob Asleep at the Wheel Annie Rapp Ray Benson Zach Theatre Austin TX

by Michael Meigs

This was my first time to see this comical-historical-pastoral concert piece by Ann Rapp and Texas music star big Ray Benson. You might well have seen early stagings in 2005 and later; the public message is that this four-night-and-two-matinee celebration is happening this week, February 20 - 24, as a farewell to Austin.

A Ride with Bob Ann Rapp Ray Benson Zach Theatre Austin TX
Jason Roberts (image:

We may well hope that's a marketing ploy and not a definitive retirement decision, because the boys and girls in the band and in the cast are in fine form, and Ray Benson anchors the show with cheer and confidence. In any case we can take heart from the theme of A Ride with Bob: Texas swing music belongs to us all and Bob won't ever go away. Right there on stage we can see the fiddling tradition passing, alive and well, down through the generations -- not only in the narrated story of Bob Wills himself but also in the enthusiastic participation (in declining order of chronological age) of Walt Roberts, Jason Roberts as the fiddlin' Bob Wills, the delightful 16-year-old Ruby Jane Smith and the solemn and promising fifth grader Colby Sheppard.

A Ride with Bob Ann Rapp Ray Benson Zach Theatre Texas
Ray Benson, Marco Perrera (image:
This jovial and tuneful evening is a cross between a good news mega-church service, a dance hall concert, serious biography and a comedy routines of the sort that Homer and Jethro used to do for RCA and the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Benson is always himself and the fiction is that he's tired of Interstate bus riding ("an hour and a half just to Round Rock"); he wants the tour bus to take the same North Texas two-lane roads that Bob Wills and his Playboys used to take. He's surprised to find that he has an unannounced substitute driver -- and even more surprised when that driver turns out to be the spirit of the great Bob himself. Marco Perella is droll and energetic in that role. As he relates his life to the astonished Ray (who inevitably addresses him by his full name, "Bob Wills!" complete with the exclamation point), the large cast takes us through scenes from Bob's life.

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