From the heights of music stardom to being brought down by personal demons and tragedy, singer Mindy McCready's life was something out of a country song. Now, actress Jennifer Blake (Zoolander, Sex and the City) has brought her story out of the darkness, back into the spotlight, with McCready the Musical currently playing as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival.
"I really missed singing and wanted to create something for myself that had a southern vibe," Blake commented about the show that serves as a tribute to McCready who committed suicide in 2013. Blake said the concept took shape over coffee with friend, and the show's co-creator, Jon Bernstein. "A few people have told me in the past that I look a little like Mindy McCready, and we both found her story fascinating," she added.
What resulted is an immersive experience narrated through story and McCready's songs, illuminating the life that unfolded for the 15-year-old "karaoke queen" from Fort Myers, FL. Within a few short years, McCready had a double-platinum debut album and a dozen hit singles, including a number one hit with "Guys Do It All the Time." She also found love in Superman, actor Dean Cain.
But, her personal struggles started to seep through the cracks and overcome her, which are depicted in the 65-minute show that first premiered in 2015. Her relationship to Cain disintegrated, as did one with Baseball star Roger Clemens - causing personal pain and making headlines in the process. A mother of two, McCready's challenges also led to, and included, her children being placed in foster care.
Born in Alabama, Blake said that as she began researching McCready's story, she realized she had more than her appearance in common with the singer.
"I grew up in a small town, singing forever," she said. "I loved [McCready's] ambition, her drive -- which is a lot of what we are focused on in the show -- and her real deep, deep love for the men in her life. We noticed how much that 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," she shared.
Affecting her health and persona, McCready's issues also led to several arrests, crippling drug addiction, and suicide attempts. She ended her own life in February 2013, having first shot the family dog before shooting herself on her porch. She did so in the same chair where record producer David Wilson, father to McCready's second child, committed suicide a month prior.
"Thirty-seven years of a person's life is a lot to sort through when you want to tell a compelling story without it being too drawn out," Blake shared. But through a personal lens, she said that "Ideally, I want self-reflection: what in me is pretending, what in me is going for what I want out of sheer will, what would be my tipping point if I experienced all of the things Mindy had?"
Blake says the response has been positive, too. "We see tears at certain points, and definitely have had conversations that start with 'I had no idea...' or 'I loved [the hit song] 'Ten Thousand Angels' back then, but had no clue that's what she was going through,'" Blake remarked. "I get excited when I hear that they've bought her music because of our show."
The show has continued to impact Blake personally, and in her growth as an artist. "I think it was halfway through the rehearsal process when it hit me: what the heck am I doing - these are some intensely dramatic scenes, and I'm so much more used to being the funny girl," she said.
But, Blake acknowledges that as the musical's creator she's been afforded the opportunity to shape how they tell McCready's story and to leverage the cast's, and her own, talents. "There's so much freedom when you create your own project. It hasn't been done before so whatever doesn't work can be thrown out," Blake said.
They also decided to shape the story through new music arrangements. Although McCready's songs are well known among fans, Blake says, "We weren't so crazy about the 90's Nashville sheen on the songs that were originally produced... so we wanted to bring our own sound to the table."
"We keep it paired down, acoustically played, and really let the musicians shine," she added.
McCready the Musical is playing now at L.A.'s The Dragonfly (6510 Santa Monica Blvd) as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (June 10th at 8pm, June 16 at 7:30pm, June 21 at 7:30pm, and June 26 at 2:30pm). In addition to Blake starring as McCready, the show features Zack Cosby, Robert Hardin, Craig Umhoefer, and Michael Ursu (who all double as band members and actors who portray the men in McCready's life) under the direction of Robert Glen Decker.
Steve Schonberg is the editor-in-chief of www.centerontheaisle.com and is seen regularly on NBC's "Weekend Today in New York."