“Among contemporary country artists, Robin and Linda Williams shine like a diamond among crystals,” David W. Johnson of The Boston Globe once wrote of the husband-and-wife folk duo. Now, with playwright Mary Sue Price, the Williams family embarks on a journey down the Streets of Gold.
They will be in Fayetteville to provide the music for a reading of Price’s play titled Streets of Gold at 5pm on November 5th. Admission is free at Fenix Art Gallery on Sequoia Mountain.
“It’s going to be a table read—a completely informal, almost cold read,” says Price, whose work on the play was funded by an Artists 360 grant. “One of my goals is to build a group of actors that I can work with after Robin and Linda leave. Of course we will include the songs in the reading. We’re figuring out how that’s going to happen.
“The goal at this stage of the project is to get a demo, script and trailer ready to pitch to sponsors and producers,” she adds. “All three of us are planning a professional stage production as soon as possible. It’s a great show and it’s perfect for Fayetteville.”
“Streets of Gold,” according to Price, “is a stage/backstage musical that spans one season of the Spencer family’s ultra-traditional and conservative Ozark mountain jubilee struggling to survive in the 1990s as Branson’s fading A country music star known for his cheating songs suddenly joins the show. Chaos ensues as everything, including the music, must change in order to survive.
“The main character is Corinna Spencer, who married the show’s MC when she was 19,” Price continues. “They both grew up on the show… Their family lost all their land when the White River was dammed, and the best way for their father to make a living was to become a hillbilly clown.”
The concept of Streets of Gold dates back 30 years, when Price moved to New York to earn a master’s degree in playwriting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her graduation play, titled “White River,” focused on a family affected by the damming of the White River. “Then I started thinking about Branson and came up with the idea of the Spencer Family Ozark Mountain Jamboree.”
Price reached out to Robin and Linda Williams, who have been making music together for half a century.
“They loved the script and had experience with musical theater through ‘Stonewall Country,’ which ran in Virginia from 1985-2005,” Price recalled. And the Circle Repertory Company, founded in 1969 and home to playwrights such as Lanford Wilson, John Robin Baitz, AR Gurney, David Mamet and many others, soon joined in, working on the play in what it called The Lab.
“Circle Rep and I started applying for funding to do a full production of ‘Streets of Gold,'” Price recalls. “We were so close. I made the finalists for everything I applied for, and Circle narrowly lost a huge amount [National Endowment for the Arts] grant for the show. It didn’t help that we were competing with “Rent” for development funds, but I think we also achieved a cultural bias toward the Ozarks, bluegrass/mountain music, and the fact that the show is about a conservative Christian woman who has outgrown her marriage.”
In the end, she says, “even though we were very close, when it came time to give out the money, we didn’t get any at all.”
Price went on to write for daytime television, including General Hospital, and Robin and Linda Williams went on to record a string of popular albums, their most recent self-released A Better Day A-Coming in 2021. It wasn’t until Price moved “home” to Fayetteville — she’s a native of Cassville, Missouri — the draft returned.
“Doing the show here now is better than doing it in New York,” says Linda Williams. “How much do people know about Branson in New York? That’s where the show comes from. That’s where the music-turned-showbiz in Branson came from.
“Reviving ‘Golden Streets’ was an opportunity,” she adds. “We’re both in this for a long time. We’re looking to do something that’s interesting and that has real meaning to us.”
“Streets of Gold”
Read the table
WHEN — 5pm on November 5th
WHERE — Fenix Arts Gallery, 150 N. Skyline Drive on Sequoyah Mountain in Fayetteville
COST — Free; donations are welcome
INFO — Email Mary Sue Price at [email protected]