Sugarland singer Kristian Bush takes on a different role for the Alliance Theatre’s new musical.
Spend a few moments talking with Kristian Bush, the prolific songwriter, musician and half of Grammy-winning country duo Sugarland, and you get the sense that the 46-year-old Candler Park resident finds wonder and inspiration in just about everything.
Case in point: He found himself writing almost a song a day and, through a serendipitous twist of fate, is a first time composer for the Alliance Theatre’s original musical, Troubadour, a story set in 1950s Nashville, opening in January. Here, he shares a glimpse into the magic of his creative flow.
It sounds like you’ve been busy.
Sure! In the last three years since Jennifer [Nettles, of Sugarland] and I parked the tour bus, one of the strange changes in my life is that I’ve started to write a lot of music. Whereas I would normally write 15 songs or 20 songs a year—because that’s kind of what’s required for an album—songs started coming at about 300 a year.
How did you get connected with the Alliance?
In early 2015 I got a phone call from Janece [Shaffer, playwright]. She just cold-called me and said, “Hey, I was wondering if you’d consider writing a song for my play.” I said, “Well, I seem to be writing songs all the time, so let’s have breakfast.” It was one of those epic two-hour breakfasts where she told me the whole story of these characters. She’s an expert-level storyteller, so I was in love with it by the middle of the meal, and I pretty much finished writing the song by the end.
Was that the beginning of the metamorphosis of Troubadour from a play to a musical?
Yeah. After our breakfast there was this pause for a week, and then she was like, “Hey, Kristian. Would you consider writing a second song?” I was like, “Sure!” I wrote the second one, and then maybe two or three others, just so she could have choices. She kept all of them, and then suddenly said, “I need to introduce you to Susan Booth [Jennings Hertz Artistic Director] at The Alliance.”
What can you share about Troubadour’s plot and setting?
It’s set in the backdrop of country music in 1951 in Nashville, at the Opry. It’s that moment where the clothes moved from church clothes into these bedazzled, intricately tailored Manuel Cuevas suits. One of the characters is a Russian immigrant tailor. The king of country music is retiring, and his son has been in his band. The question is: Will the son step into his shoes? Nobody really has heard the son sing. One night on the Opry as the broadcast was going out, something happened to the father’s microphone, and for about three minutes just the son’s voice singing was broadcast all over America. This girl from Tuscaloosa heard his voice on the radio, and she was suddenly able to write music. The whole story happens because she, the tailor and the son end up in a garage apartment. If you’re a fan of the musical Once or O Brother, Where Art Thou?, this is your thing.
Are you already itching to work on another musical theatre project?
After working with Janece, I can tell you I’ve never met anyone who can tell a story like that, ever. I’m constantly obsessed with talking her into doing this again.
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STORY: Jennifer Bradley Franklin
Photo: David McClister