You don't have to be a country music fan to get a great big ol' kick out of "The Doyle & Debbie Show," which opened Saturday at the New Century Theatre. And if you yearn for a return to that twangy country sound of 50-plus years ago, you'll be in Hog Heaven. Two vibrant performers, David Andrew Anderson and Kim Kivens, bring to mind classic country duos like Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. But the range of topics they sing about is less restricted than those icons would ever have imagined.
Minnesota native Bruce Arntson, who originated the show in Nashville, at first plays it fairly safe, with catchy tunes like "Whine Whine Twang Twang," but steers into left field with saucier numbers like "Barefoot and Pregnant."
The setting is a honky-tonk bar. Anderson plays Doyle Mayfield, a washed-up, alcoholic singer. Married four times and a survivor of a nervous breakdown, he has now formed his third singing duo with a woman named Debbie (Kivens). With an air of seriousness, Doyle tells the audience that this new Debbie is a single mother with three children. After years as her VFW's star vocalist she has finally branched out.
Director Cathryn "Bula" Bulicek deftly guides the comedy so that that tone here is affection and not mockery. "I Ain't No Homo (But You Sure Look Good to Me)" is tantalizingly ambiguous. The show overdoes its references to obese women.
At one point Arntson seems to nod to 1950s horror movies in "Daddy's Hair." Doyle remembers his evangelical taxidermist father who died not long ago. He seems to channel his evil spirit by wearing a tuft of his hair. It nicely underlines the show's kookiness, not to mention that Doyle has been enduring a midlife meltdown since he first walked on stage.
In "The ABCs of Love," Kivens beguiles with a Scrabble board of acronyms: "I am GOP to your DNC. That's NFL, not PBS, on my HDTV." She and Anderson then release a cascade of fast-talking lyrics and yodels rippling with marvelous exuberance.
Paul Somers is delightfully discombobulated as Buddy, the duo's harried assistant. Erica Zaffarano's set glories in a honky-tonk look. Lynn Farrington's costumes enhance the cheesiness, and Andrew Bourgoin's music direction is bright and lively.
John Townsend writes regularly about theater.