Jennifer Blake's acting career is about to do a 180. The Alabama-born actress is known chiefly for comedic roles in such films as Behaving Badly and Zoolander, and TV series including How to Live With Your Parents and Sex and the City. But beginning in May, the award-winning stage performer is poised to portray one of the entertainment industry's most tragic figures, Mindy McCready.
The late McCready's accolades include a double-platinum debut album and a dozen chart singles, including a Number One hit in 1996 with "Guys Do It All the Time." Yet, for all of the success she found on record and on stage, the behind-the-scenes turmoil that surrounded her life and dominated tabloid headlines beginning within just a few years of her initial success would lead to drug addiction, numerous arrests and suicide attempts, until a self-inflicted gunshot wound ultimately ended her life in February of 2013. A mother of two young sons, McCready died at just 37 years old.
Beginning May 8th, and running for the following six weeks at Los Angeles' Spirit Studio in Silverlake, Blake will star in McCready the Musical, which she co-created with the show's writer and director, Jon Bernstein. The play features Blake accompanied by a four-member band performing throughout the show. They also step out from their various instruments to portray a few of the well-known men in McCready's life, including actor Dean Cain and baseball legend Roger Clemens, both of whom made headlines during and after their turbulent relationships with the controversy-plagued singer.
"We start in 1990, where she first sang at the Hired Hand karaoke bar in Fort Myers, Florida," Blake tells Rolling Stone Country. "She was a karaoke star, so to speak, and it was the night that she met Roger Clemens. All of this is true. What we've done since is re-imagined what happened in those situations and those conversations in all the research we've done."
Like many who were aware of the more salacious aspects of McCready's public persona, Blake – who once roomed with Nashville actress Laura Benanti in New York City – admits that after doing extensive research on McCready, she quickly realized she had more in common with the late singer than expected.
"I grew up in a small town, singing forever," says Blake. "I loved her ambition, her drive — which is a lot of what we are focused on the show — and her real deep, deep love for the men in her life including her brothers. We started to notice a theme of all the different men in her life and how that formed and informed different songs she would sing along the way. It just lends itself to such a good tribute, telling her life through her own songs. To me, that was fascinating. There were a lot of those 'oh my gosh' moments, the synchronicities of her life. She wanted it so bad and when she got it so fast and skyrocketed and kind of burned out quickly, she spent the rest of her life trying to get back to that double-platinum country megastar. But she was an easy target."
Beyond L.A., McCready is being staged with future productions in mind. "We want to be able to tour with it, to take it around and set down in different bars or small theaters all around the country. We've been talking to a couple of friends in Nashville, Alabama, South Carolina, and just letting them know this is what I've been working on. They've said that it would do really well there. We can take the show anywhere. We're not relying on major lighting or sound. The overhead isn't insane. It's sort of a traveling minstrel show in a way. It's like a country concert when you walk in. It really is about the music."
Because the songs most familiar to McCready's fans are now nearly 20 years old, Blake and her band have given them fresh arrangements, while staying true to the energy and essence of the original material, and stripping of what she calls their "Nashville sheen." Approaching the stage production with the same sort of focus as the acclaimed musical biopics of Ray Charles (Ray) and Johnny Cash (Walk the Line), Blake says she has been incredibly protective of McCready throughout the development process.
"It sounds sort of actor-y to say, but I'm a fan, too," she insists. "A lot of people know the negative parts of her life and there is some of that [in the play] because that's a large chunk of her life – making not necessarily the best decisions and surrounding herself with not necessarily the best people. The hardest thing has been trying to figure out which parts of her life to focus in on, because there are so many stories within the story."
McCready the Musical, starring Blake and band members Brady Harris, Jim Bianco, Michael Ursu and Clinton Pickens, opens May 8th and runs through June 12th. Get tickets here.