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Tuning in to country

It’s half “A Prairie Home Companion” and half Dr. Demento.

Touches of Laguna’s hometown zaniness infuse every aspect of No Square Theatre’s newest production, “Radio WHIK,” a country music revue that’s onstage tonight and tomorrow at 8 p.m. in the Artists’ Theatre.

Not even the costumes remain untouched. One singer’s Western shirt bears a soupçon of paisley; a black fringe bolero recycled from a closet was brought out to adorn a lucky singer, à la a 1980s Dolly Parton.

The show features the musical abilities of 20 performers, from Patrick Quilter on the lap steel guitar to Alissa French’s poignant singing. They present a range of tunes by artists including Johnny Cash and LeAnn Rimes.

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“The talent in the show’s immense,” said show creator and director Ken Jillson at a rehearsal on Monday.

Jillson had picked his set list prior to auditions, he said, but when he heard someone sing Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” during an audition, he put the song in the show.

Many of the local performers sing from the diaphragm rather than the nose, bringing an urban sensibility to what may have otherwise been a twang fest.

Not all of the singers are newbies to country. Randy Hatfield was born in Houston and raised in “the sticks” of Beeville, in Bee County.

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Still, though, country music didn’t have a huge impact on Hatfield as he was growing up.

“I grew up in the middle of it, but I wasn’t a kicker,” he said.

Alternately, fellow Radio WHIK performer CM Hourigan sang with country crooner Eddy Arnold for several years.

But No Square founder Bree Burgess Rosen freely admits her Nashville deficiency: “I don’t know diddly-squat about country music,” she said.

Her long friendship with Jillson allowed her to see his vision when he pitched it to her, she said.

“For me personally, the music’s just a tremendous passion,” Jillson said.

In the show, Chattanooga country radio station DJ Sparky Stevens introduces the various acts, then gets into a bit of trouble of his own as the show goes on.

Equal parts tear-jerker and slapstick, the show’s songs are interspersed with real and imagined commercials and radio tags, from the famous Dr. Pepper jingle to an ad for a local dental clinic that specializes in missing teeth.

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The show also features an original tune by Jillson, “In Mourning ‘Till Noon,” and the antics of Fernando Quinde. DJ Stevens also presents news of the past throughout the show. As he breaks the news of Patsy Cline’s fatal plane crash, a singer appears onstage as Cline and performs.

“There’s a lot of magic to this show, the way it’s presented,” Jillson said.


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