Opry Tribute show opens Aug. 19 at Willow Leaves of Hope

On the one hand, Falicia Whited is excited to finally publicly sing as one of the her favorite artists from her childhood. On the other, she is a little frightened of such, too.

“This has been 36 years in the making of sorts,” Whited said of her role as Wynona Judd in Actor’s Studio of Hope’s two-hour, concert-style Opry Tribute Show opening Aug. 19 in a dinner theater format at Willow Leaves of Hope. “But, for me, acting is one thing. You can save yourself a few ways when you’re acting.

“But singing is quite another thing. So, yes, I’m a little scared.”

Outfitted with a long, red wig, she’s teaming with show co-producer Naomi Fleetwood-Pyle portraying — who else? — Wynona Judd for some of the country duo’s biggest tunes: “Love Can Build a Bridge,” “Girls Night Out,” and “Mama He’s Crazy” among them.

Crazily, the idea for the show originated with a brainstorm of several people seeking a way to build a show for local actor and singer Jason Bowser to croon one of the artists he does best: piano man Billy Joel. What they finally landed on is Joel’s friendship with country superstar Garth Brooks — and their each recording separate versions of the song “Shameless” — as the indirect connection to the Grand Ole Opry.

“Every now and then, I simply like to throw in a music show like this for variety,” said Fleetwood-Pyle.

This offers the requisite variety: tunes from Ginny Pugh Spillman as Patsy Cline and Tammy Wynette, Bowser as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, Whited as June Carter Cash, and Nancy Worland as Minnie Pearl. Plus, other artists are featured in the tribute lineup.

The more-twang-for-your-buck theme is similar to the “Hee Haw Show,” a big success that Fleetwood-Pyle created in March.

Whited as stage manager even is pushing to make the stage layout look as much like the Opry as possible, including the WSM radio insignia on the microphone. The production even includes a few gospel standards such as “How Great Thou Art” and “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You” near the end with Pugh Spillman and Fleetwood-Pyle.

“It helps people to leave with an all warm and fuzzy feeling,” Fleetwood-Pyle said.

Another reason is that she knows her audience, drawn from Bartholomew and surrounding counties, loves traditional gospel. And Fleetwood-Pyle simply loves performing.

“I’m definitely not intimidated by a microphone,” she said with a laugh. “And I’m certainly always willing to put myself out there.”