Larry Gatlin recalls learning about the story of Cynthia Ann Parker’s 1836 capture by Comanches during a hunting trip with fellow crooner Red Steagall.
“Being a Texan I had grown up knowing a little bit about it … not a lot and not enough,” Gatlin tells Big Hollywood. He got an earful that day from Steagall, and inspiration quickly struck.
“I told Red back then, ‘that’s a Broadway musical,'” says Gatlin, a solo country star and member of the Gatlin Brothers.
“Quanah,” a musical based on the Parker story, is having a world premiere stage reading at Pace University through Jan. 24 at Schaeberle Studio Theater.
Parker was kidnapped at the age of 9 by a band of Comanches. Typically, the kidnappers would do horrible things to young women, like use hot sticks to disfigure them so they were unsuitable as mates. But one of the young Comanches protected her and made sure she was raised by his family as one of their own. The two later became husband and wife.
Gatlin, who wrote the music, story and lyrics for the new production, used creative license to flesh out the story where the historical documents came up empty.
For “”Quanah,” that means reflecting on the westward movement, Manifest Destiny and the evisceration of an entire people, says Gatlin, the rich tenor responsible for hits like “Broken Lady” and “Delta Dirt.”
“It is about race. It is about religion. It is about politics. It is about land,” he says.
Just don’t expect the show to be anything like a poly-sci course.
Gatlin, who has performed at the Inaugurations of several Republican presidents, says he’s free to “shoot from the hip and tell ’em exactly what I think” at political rallies. But he applies a different standard in a traditional show or concert.
As entertainers, “We ought to get off our soapbox a little bit,” he says.
Artists should entertain, not lecture, he says. But if you can “stick something in there cleverly and artistically that uplifts your fellow man,” that’s all right, he adds.
“Judy Garland said, ‘all I owe them is a great show.’ I don’t think that’s all we owe them,” he says of his audience. “Let the audience decide.”
Gatlin says he’s thrilled that college students at Pace are helping him bring “Quanah” to life.
“It’s been one of the most rewarding fortnights of my life,” he says of his time at Pace so far. The students “are like sponges. They want to know, and they ask good questions. They’re very talented and very young. They’ve grown emotionally and spiritually, not religiously, from seeing and being around this story.”
Gatlin, who previously starred on Broadway in “The Will Rogers Follies,” is hoping his show will make it to the Great White Way.
He’s got a few theatrical pals lined up to visit Pace University this week.
“I figure whoever needs to be there will show up. Everybody’s looking for that next big thing,” he says.
Gatlin is less optimistic that his latest album, an homage to Johnny Cash called “Pilgrimage,” will get the radio airplay it deserves. He says it will take a miracle for the album, which CountryWeekly.com called “a history lesson with a heart” in its three-and a half star review, to gain radio traction.
With the exception of George Strait and Reba McEntire, country radio stations routinely ignore singers over the age of 35.
If Tiger Woods goes out and shoots the lowest score at his next golf tournament, “it doesn’t matter if he’s a scoundrel or a good husband … he’s a winner. Our deal is different,” he says of the more subjective music industry.
“It’s supposed to be about who writes their ass off and sings their ass off. My brothers and I know how to do that. That’s what it’s supposed to be about.”