NASHVILLE Nicolette Hart never knew Tammy Wynette, but the young actress will tell the late country superstar's compelling story in a musical.
Hart will star in "Stand by Your Man: The Tammy Wynette Story," running September 13 to October 28 at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. She will become Wynette with the help of a script blessed by Wynette's widower, George Richey, and by singing Wynette classics such as "Stand by Your Man," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" and " 'Til I Can Make It on My Own."
Ryman officials introduced the actress at a reception Wednesday (July 25) at the Wildhorse Saloon, a few blocks from the Ryman.
"I'm extremely honored and humbled by the opportunity to portray such a heroic woman," Hart said. "Tammy's story is inspirational, but at the same time there's a lot of heartbreak in it. It is incredible what she was able to do against every odd."
Hart, 26, is a Rochester, N.Y. native who has lived in Nashville for four years. She recently completed the national tour of "The Civil War," which starred country singer Larry Gatlin. Her credits include "Kiss of the Spiderwoman," "Little Shop of Horrors," "Cabaret," "42nd Street" and "Always ... Patsy Cline."
Hart said she began listening to country music in her teens, and cited Wynonna Judd, Pam Tillis, Lorrie Morgan and Reba McEntire as early influences. In recent years, her appreciation for older legends such as Cline and Wynette has deepened, she said. She is talking to record labels in hopes of having an album out by the end of the year.
Richey has been heavily involved in most aspects of "Stand by Your Man," including the casting and writing. He was on hand for Hart's final audition in New York this month.
"I am extremely pleased for Tammy that her life and career are being honored in this musical," Richey said Wednesday. "She would be embarrassed [by the attention] but also would be quietly proud.
"Nicolette is a great singer and a pretty girl," he added. "As soon as I heard her, I knew right away she was the one. She just had that magical thing we were looking for. "
Singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale will play George Jones, Wynette's husband and duet partner from 1969 to 1975. Lauderdale called the Wildhorse from San Francisco, where he is playing Thursday and Friday as part of Lucinda Williams' band, to congratulate Hart. The two have not met.
Lauderdale will open for Jones in a concert at the Ryman on October 21.
"George Jones has been a hero of mine for as long as I can remember," Lauderdale said in a statement. "I approach this part with respect and honor and sincerely hope that I can do justice to him and Tammy because they are truly musical icons."
Other cast include Brad Albin and Miles Aubrey, who will play two of Wynette's five husbands, and Kevin Owens, likely to be cast in the role of her producer Billy Sherrill.
Gabriel Barre is directing the musical, which was written by Mark St. Germain.
Wynette died of a blood clot in 1998, at age 55, and was mourned at the Ryman during a nationally televised funeral service.
Once the home of the Grand Ole Opry, the historical venue has hosted theatrical productions about Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and the Everly Brothers since re-opening in 1994.