DAYTON, OHIO: Play It By Heart is a musical about a country-music legend by the name of Jeannine Jasper, who, after decades on the road, wants to retire. Her mother, the dynamo behind the Jasper music empire, has other plans. The show—with a book by Brian Yorkey, music by David Spangler and Jerry Taylor, and lyrics by Spangler, Taylor and R.T. Robinson—runs at the Human Race Theatre Company June 12—29.
The 27-year-old Ohio company, which began developing musicals in 2000 through its Musical Theatre Workshop, first learned of Play It By Heart in 2006, when composer Spangler was working at Human Race on his musical Nefertiti. Spangler proposed the project to producing director Kevin Moore, who was intrigued. The play’s roots, Moore soon learned, go all the way back to 1986, when it debuted as Country Show, a composition by Spangler and Robinson. Six years later, Taylor, who has impressive credentials in country music, joined the team; then Yorkey (the not-yet-Pulitzer-winning author of Next to Normal) was brought in to rewrite the book. In 2005, Play It By Heart premiered at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, Wash.
The script still needed work, Moore knew, but he saw the show’s potential. And the team felt that country music—with its large following in the U.S. and Europe—hadn’t really gotten its due in a full-blown musical. Play It By Heart’s latest iteration features new character arcs and new songs as well as new characters—including an industry producer who was once Jewish but is now a young Harvard-educated entrepreneur from Dubai. As the world changes, so does the savvy musical.