MONTGOMERY, AL- The world premiere of White Lightning, Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s play about racing, moonshine and revenuers, received rave reviews from three of the greatest stock car legends in the history of motorsports Thursday evening at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.
In attendance at the premiere of White Lightning, presented by Talladega Superspeedway, were original Alabama Gang members Bobby and Donnie Allison, and Red Farmer – all three who were short track aces in Alabama and the southeast in the late 1950s and 1960s (residing in Hueytown, AL).
“The play was spot-on with authenticity,” said Donnie Allison, a 10-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series winner (two wins at Talladega Superspeedway) and member of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega. “We didn’t know what to expect, but it was an excellent show. I have never been a guy to go to plays or movies, but I just loved it. The story was remarkable and I give it a big thumbs-up.”
White Lightning, which will run through March 13, and then another showing from April 28-May 7, follows the story of Avery McAllister, a young man from a moonshinin’ family who was born with his foot on the gas pedal. Before long Avery is the fastest trip boy in the county, outracing the competition and outrunning the revenuers. Eventually, Avery and his souped-up ’39 Ford move from the winding dirt back roads to the burgeoning racing circuit of the South, where there’s lots of money to be made and even more attention to be had. With a pretty girl in the mix and a revenuer out to put the brakes on Avery’s career, there’s romance and adventure around every turn. The fictionalized account of Avery McAllister’s exploits in the 1940s tailgates the real story of stock car racing’s early stars and the beginnings of NASCAR.
“It was a lot of fun… I laughed a lot,” said Bobby Allison, the 1983 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion and winner of 84 triumphs, including four at Talladega Superspeedway. “We were all surprised at how much we enjoyed it. We were impressed with the actors and actresses and the theatre in general.”
Farmer, who has won more than short track 700 races – and is still dirt track racing today at age 83, said he has the most enjoyable evening he “had in quite a while….so much that you will not want to leave your seat to get popcorn. The plot of the show was great. The stage hands moved the props around so gracefully to set the scenes for the incredible actors. I may be driving back from Birmingham to see it again,” added the International Motorsports Hall of Famer.
Tickets for the limited run start at $30 and are available online at www.asf.net, by phone at 800.841.4273 and at the ASF box office located at 1 Festival Drive in the heart of Montgomery’s beautiful Blount Cultural Park.
White Lightning features Matthew Goodrich as Avery McAllister and Becca Ballenger as his love interest, Dixie. Goodrich has performed on Broadway in the plays The Nance and Picnic. His regional theatre credits include Tom Jones (Florida Studio Theatre), Hamlet (Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival) and Macbeth (Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival). Among Ballenger’s television and film credits are Redrum (Discovery) and The Haunting Of (Lifetime Movie Network). On stage she has appeared in Absolution Off Broadway and Steel Magnolias at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.
Others in the cast include ASF favorites Brik Berkes (Chester Pike), Rodney Clark (Hank) and Larry Tobias (Mutt). Berkes performed in the ASF hit Driving Miss Daisy earlier this season. Both Berkes and Clark can be seen in this season’s productions of A Christmas Carol and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tobias performed in ASF’s acclaimed world premiere of Twenty Seven in 2013.
White Lightning is the fourth world premiere at ASF for playwright and Mobile, Alabama native Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder. Gee’s Bend (2006), The Furniture of Home (2009) and The Flag Maker of Market Street (2011) were all commissioned and developed through ASF’s acclaimed Southern Writers’ Project Festival of New Plays. Wilder is the recipient of multiple awards including the prestigious Osborn Award given by the American Theatre Critics Association.
Geoffrey Sherman, ASF’s producing artistic director, will be directing White Lightning. Sherman’s most recent credits at ASF include the record-breaking and critically acclaimed musicals The Little Mermaid, which is the highest grossing play in ASF history and Mary Poppins as well as classics such as King Lear, Timon of Athens and his own adaptation of A Christmas Carol. Sherman will direct Disney’s Beauty and the Beast later this season.
Others on the artistic team include James Wolk (Set Design), Pamela Scofield (Costume Design), Travis McHale (Lighting Design) and Brett Rominger (Sound Design). Melissa Nathan will serve as stage manager.
In addition to Talladega Superspeedway, White Lightning is made possible by the generous sponsorship of Laurie Jean Weil, D.M.V. and Dr. Tommy Wool, Cotton & Pine Creative, Mims Management Group, Mrs. Edith Johnston Crook, Vulcan Materials Company Foundation and Welch Hornsby, Inc.
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival is among the largest Shakespeare theatres in the world. Designated as the State Theatre of Alabama, ASF has been located in Montgomery since 1985 when it moved from Anniston as a result of Mr. and Mrs. Wynton Blount’s gift of a performing arts complex in the 250-acre Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park. This program has been made possible by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.