EXCLUSIVE: Grammy Winner Ray Benson Steering Country-Western Musical Toward Broadway

News   EXCLUSIVE: Grammy Winner Ray Benson Steering Country-Western Musical Toward Broadway
Nine-time Grammy Award winner Ray Benson is hoping to bring his western swing musical A Ride With Bob — based on the life and music of late musician Bob Wills — to Broadway.

Ray Benson
Ray Benson

"We've been doing the play now for five years and have performed in dozens of cities throughout the U.S. We've always aimed to come to Broadway at some point," Benson told Playbill.com.

Benson, the front man for the acclaimed Western swing band Asleep at the Wheel, recently performed an encore with the cast of Broadway's Million Dollar Quartet Nov. 16. Tony Award-nominee Hunter Foster introduced the veteran musician and also hinted that A Ride With Bob was aiming to fiddle its way to Broadway.

Million Dollar Quartet and Grammy Awards executive producer John Cossette, a close friend of Benson's, is being courted to present the Broadway production, though a timeline is not in place. "We've been talking to him about seeing A Ride With Bob. He knows a lot about the show and he is really high on doing it," Benson said.

"We're looking for the right deal," he explained. "It's a very large show. At the moment it has 22 actors, musicians and dancers on stage. It presents some economic challenges in terms of Broadway."

He said $2 million has already gone into the project to get it where it is. "We're in a little better position than some of the plays [aiming for Broadway], which need all that development," Benson said. The two-act musical, which uses 15 of Wills' songs for its score, is co-written by Benson and Anne Rapp, who penned the films "Cookie's Fortune" and "Dr. T and the Women" for Robert Altman. Benson also penned incidental music for A Ride With Bob, which includes iconic American fiddle songs and Waylon Jennings' "Bob Wills Is Still the King."

Benson plays himself in A Ride With Bob, which imagines his encounter with the ghost of iconic country musician and fiddler Wills. Akin to the structure of Million Dollar Quartet, Asleep at the Wheel band members inhabit characters in the production and also play instruments. According to Benson, "It examines my 40-year career and how it relates to his, but it also tells Wills' very colorful story in a very entertaining way and it's funny as hell."

The music veteran would ideally like to present A Ride With Bob on Broadway with members of Asleep at the Wheel in tow, including fiddler Jason Roberts (who plays Wills as a young man) and Elizabeth McQueen (in a variety of roles).

A Ride With Bob began as a way to commemorate the 100th birthday of Wills in 2005. It sold-out its six initial performances in Austin, TX, and Benson and his team knew they had something that would capture the larger public imagination.

Benson and Rapp refined the work over the next two years. A Ride With Bob has played engagements in San Antonio, Ft. Worth, San Francisco and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

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