Members say: Relevant, Thought-provoking, Great acting, Original, Ambitious

About the show

The Public Theater presents a new musical based on Kate Davis’ 2001 Sundance Award-winning documentary about transgender friends in rural Georgia.

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'Southern Comfort' tells the true story of a group of transgender friends living life on their own terms in the back hills of rural Georgia. Winner of the prestigious Jonathan Larson Award, this folk and bluegrass-infused musical celebrates redefining family and choosing love over every obstacle.

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

The New York Times

"It’s the spirited, tuneful country score and the colorful characters that draw us close to the emotional ups and downs of Robert’s family. This cast is entirely winning...As sung by characters who would likely not be welcomed at the Grand Ole Opry anytime soon, the songs take on an almost radical charge...For the most part this musical avoids the trap of sentimentality. And it’s fitting that the show errs on the side of largess, granting characters their full, complicated humanity." Full Review


"As a piece of theater, the show rolls over and plays dead. The only unqualified successes in this inert production at the Public Theater are the stunning set and lighting design...The talky lyrics prove to be too much of a mouthful. And director Thomas Caruso seems to have let everyone more or less make it up as they go along." Full Review


"For the most part, 'Southern Comfort' seems more concerned with educating audiences on transgender issues than with storytelling...The chamber-style country score, while possessing lively moments, leans toward melancholy too often. More diverse emotional textures are needed. 'Souther Comfort' is certainly a noble effort, and the desire to educate audiences is an understandable urge. Despite its flaws, the emotions expressed are heart-tugging, well played and sincere." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"'Southern Comfort' suffers at times from its lack of narrative momentum and languorous pace, and the bluegrass/country flavored musical score does little to enliven it, with far too many emotive ballads of self-empowerment in the mix. Still, there are some lovely songs and it's performed well...This is a show that clearly has its heart in the right place, displaying a compassion toward its well-etched characters that is impossible not to share." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"The book succumbs to a tone of sentimentality and special pleading; the songs are pretty but mostly monochromatic. Oddly enough, they are also too generic. (They are filled with snorey clichés.) This leaves the cast working hard — too hard — under Thomas Caruso’s stiff direction...If worthiness were the same as stageworthiness, 'Southern Comfort' would be as effective as its source. But this is material that, however much it cries out for justice, simply doesn’t sing." Full Review


"With an engaging bluegrass score, a particularly lovely company, and wrenching honesty, this production really sings...'Southern Comfort' does have a tendency to feel like a simplified and somewhat preachy primer on trans issues. And the casting of only two trans actors still isn't enough. However, the piece treats its subjects with a great deal of respect and humanity...With issues of trans identity coming to the fore, 'Southern Comfort' is a beautiful entry into an important conversation." Full Review

Time Out New York

"This heartfelt, well-meaning production seems like a dated period piece...Its characters' journeys of self-discovery and love moved me to tears...However I was acutely aware of just how repetitive, traditional and safe the show is...There's still beauty here...Robert's budding romance with the transitioning Lola is the heart of the story. Watching him gleefully court her, political notions of gender and identity fall away and the show's finely tuned message translates into explosive emotions." Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

"If 'Southern Comfort' has a meaningful story to tell, it falters in its telling. Maybe the traditional story structures of conflict, climax and resolution are themselves too normative, but creating satisfying alternatives remains difficult...The songs have a certain sameness and too often re-articulate material from the book...Still, it’s pleasure enough to spend an afternoon or evening among these characters." Full Review

New York Theater

"Its novelty has diminished since it was first conceived, and perhaps some of its importance. There is also a struggle to give this musical an overall shape...The creative team has placed 19 songs, and several reprises – all of which are tuneful, some of which are moving or amusing, a few of which are repetitive enough to have been cut without discernible damage...All through 'Southern Comfort' are worthwhile moments of insight and emotion." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"The story has touching elements, but the standout is James J. Fenton’s beautiful set. The band trumps the actors in this respect. More disconcerting, in this particular production, is to hear traditional musical theater-style singing over folksy bluegrass instrumentation. In fairness, audience members would probably enjoy a concert of the 'Southern Comfort' band; it was impeccable. One suspects they would also like the documentary the musical is based on better than the musical." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"'Southern Comfort’ comes off strong in the good works department but less so as memorable theatre...It’s understandable that the narrative line for a musical has to be more dramatic than its documentary source, but when every emotion is expressed not only in dialogue but in nearly two dozen not especially distinctive songs, most of them iterating some aspect of transgender problems, the effect leans toward the didactic and treacly." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"This is first and foremost a message show—and plays like it...You need look no further than the likes of 'Show Boat,' 'South Pacific,' 'The King and I,' and any number of other familiar titles to see how big, socially relevant topics can be treated in thoughtful ways and still deliver on magic and entertainment. Alas, 'Southern Comfort,' as rich in advocacy as it might be, is dirt poor when it comes to those two vital qualities." Full Review

Times Square Chronicles

"This touching and heartfelt show is sure to move you…The book and lyrics by Dan Collins and bluegrass score by Julianne Wick Davis are musical gems…This cast is remarkable, but it is Ms. O’Toole who immerses herself so much into the character, she disappears and we only see Robert. Right now, this is the performance to beat as the best of the year." Full Review


"The Public’s Anspacher Theater, with its steeply raked audience that focuses the audience up close and personal on the action unfolding on the stage, is the perfect setting for this beautiful and heartfelt show...The book and lyrics by Dan Collins and music by Julianne Wick Davis are of a piece with the story and include several gems...It’s a beautiful show; bring the family." Full Review


"This 'Southern Comfort' is better than ever...Though faithful to the film and its sensibility, Dan Collins and Julianne Wick Davis have expanded the cast to create a full-bodied show about a marginalized group of people who struggle not only with their fears of public exposure and condemnation, but with accepting themselves...My complaint about that over long first act is a minor quibble, as is that all that heartfelt twanging can occasionally feel repetitious." Full Review


"'Southern Comfort' is an ambitious and admirable attempt to depict a community that till now has been left off of our stages. Though the material at times seems tamer that the content would warrant, it is ultimately a very moving musical. It also is a showcase for Annette O’Toole to give one of the finest performances of the season." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"While the book is mostly faithful to the essentials of the film, it makes things a bit more schematic. As I am not a fan of country/bluegrass music, I did not really enjoy the score. To my ears, much of the music seemed monotonous and repetitive...Thomas Caruso’s direction is seamless. The entire cast, especially O’Toole and McCarthy, are excellent. Although, for me, the music did not really enhance the story, it is still a moving and timely tale that I am glad will be seen by new audiences." Full Review


"Something has been lost on the way from thinking about the social justice message to the shaping of the material into a musical for the stage. Sadly, the book is overwhelmingly pedantic and the songs fail to reveal much about the characters or to move the plot forward...It’s hard not to care about the characters, and to appreciate the heart-felt performances of the actors. But if you want a model to emulate when telling such an important story, try 'Fun Home'." Full Review

The Wrap

"Needless to say, 'Southern Comfort' is not your typical musical. But it is an overly earnest one. The songs by Collins and Julianne Wick Davis aren’t as numbingly didactic as 'I Am What I Am' from 'La Cage aux Folles,' but a few anthems come close, and none of the music is very memorable. What does impress is that the victims on stage are all survivors, and that includes the one who’s dying." Full Review


"An enjoyable middle-of-the-road bluegrass musical...If not for the subject matter, director Thomas Caruso’s production of this might seem like one of those jaunty, old-fashioned little countrified musicals...Annette O’Toole is terrific, and unrecognizable, as Robert, born Barbara…The sound is sometimes overly familiar; the resolutions are a bit pat. Even so, we keep realizing that the unpretentious breakthrough of a show expresses feelings and ideas never onstage before." Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

"The various cast members playing the assortment of characters in Robert’s life are excellent, and the theme of we are who we are and proud of it gets excellent treatment throughout...The production is seductive, drawing us into the transgender world and eliciting respect and sympathy for the characters living according to their deeply felt identities. 'Southern Comfort' is an important socially conscious statement as well as admirably creative." Full Review


"At first, you wonder if the show will flounder in an excess of sugar, with the characters all smiles and hugs and good will. But conflict arrives in several forms...The musical, which has been in development for years, could also use some pruning to lessen repetition and increase momentum. But even taken as it is, 'Southern Comfort' is a success — a warm-hearted, affecting portrait of people who, whatever barriers they face, have achieved the contentment of finding their essential selves." Full Review

Broadway & Me

"The plot centers around several questions that transgender people have to confront...That's a lot to load onto a musical and 'Southern Comfort' has some trouble balancing all of it. Members of the transgender community have criticized the show for downplaying the way doctors failed to treat the real-life Eads and the production for failing to cast transgender actors in all the roles...Both O'Toole and McCarthy are cisgendered but they're also terrific in their roles." Full Review

Musical Theater Review

"With their uniformly bluegrass emphasis, the songs after awhile begin to sound pretty much alike. They also tend to instill over the proceedings a fairly soft focus; some grit might be useful. While compelling for the most part, the proceedings rarely become electrifying, and in its final moments it threatens to become a bit of a sentimental weepie. In the overall, it’s the subject matter rather than presentation that gives 'Southern Comfort' its groundbreaking importance." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"The Public Theater continues its tradition of presenting groundbreaking theater in an accessible setting with the folk-bluegrass musical 'Southern Comfort'...Out of a mostly forgettable score, one song stands out...The creators of the show are quite sensitive to the issues surrounding being transgender...Hopefully, 'Southern Comfort' will bring a lot of comfort to transgender audiences." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Great staging, Contemporary

See it if you love bluegrass music and want to be challenged both emotionally and mentally.

Don't see it if you are closed-minded.

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Quirky, Cliched, Entertaining

See it if You would like to gain some insight into the transgender community and issues; if you like bluegrass music.

Don't see it if If you don't like bluegrass music; if you don't want to see a play about transgender issues.

Original, Intense, Resonant, Interesting

See it if you want to see a show about trans issues, even if it does seem a bit outdated.

Don't see it if you are hoping for a show that really delves into trans issues as opposed to just scraping the surface.

Original, Relevant, Disappointing, Well-intentioned

See it if You're interested in LGBT subject matter.

Don't see it if You are looking for compelling musical theater, i.e. another Fun Home - this show felt VERY bland.

Absorbing, Clever, Intense

See it if you want an exceptional experience with an interesting diverse cast of straight and trans people and great bluegrass score

Don't see it if if you cant open your mind

Ambitious, Disappointing, Cliched, Slow, Unmemorable

See it if you feel it's important to support a show about transgendered couples. They handle the subject respectfully.

Don't see it if you are looking for another ground-breaking musical from The Public. (This isn't it!)

Disappointing, Poor job of presenting the issues, Story line is unclear, No character development, Unremarkable music

See it if Big opportunity to introduce audiences to issues of the trans community wasted. The characters were not clearly drawn, difficult to connect

Don't see it if The Public Theater is a wellspring of great musical theater. Do not expect much from this show. It is really in workshop stage.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if You want to be engaged with the idea of gender identity and are willing to explore your own attitudes and feelings

Don't see it if You're looking for fluff or the "typical" musical

Absorbing, Ambitious, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if You like music with strong country and folk influences, non traditional families, stories about real life,or the rural south

Don't see it if You don't want to have to question traditional definitions of sex and gender identity, you find southern accents are hard to understand

Original, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Refreshing

See it if you are LGBTQ. I enjoyed the innovative use of the band. Annette O'Toole is stunning - as is the rest of the cast. Creative adaptation.

Don't see it if you like your musicals on the traditional side. If you aren't open to LGBTQ issues.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Great writing, Entertaining

See it if want to learn more about transgender people (who doesn't?).

Don't see it if you're too phobic to be open to a story about transgender people.

Poignant, Absorbing, Great acting, Resonant, Great music

See it if you're looking for a touching show about chosen families & transgender relationships, well-acted with a poignant non-conventional score.

Don't see it if you're averse to the transgender community, don't like bluegrass music, or don't have a heart.

Original, Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Refreshing, Resonant

See it if you enjoy new work with subject matter that is often overlooked, especially in the musical theatre world.

Don't see it if you are looking for a light hearted and traditional musical.

Original, Thought-provoking, Slow, Moving, Relevent

See it if Unique musical about a trans community in rural Georgia, and the notion of creating a family of choice; was moving but ran too long.

Don't see it if You don't like bluegrass music - it was integral to the rural theme and well done, but got repetitive; if you're not open to LGBT issues.

Banal, Disappointing, Cliched, Slow, Unengaging

See it if You especially enjoy plays about transgender folks trying to keep their identity.

Don't see it if You are looking for a well-written play with relatable characters and absorbing plot lines. You want to see the best of the new.

Original, Enchanting, Intelligent, Relevant

See it if a music about a chosen family with transgender members. this is well acted, well written.. its is not heavy handed with "theory" about trans

Don't see it if if you are not interested in innovative musicals.

Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Slow

See it if you want to learn about people coping with the complexities of gender identity. It helps if you like country music.

Don't see it if your tolerance for country music is limited.

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Resonant

See it if Thoughtful, intense, sad, music lively, very current

Don't see it if An old fashioned, critical religious narrow minded type.

Thoughtful explication of indignities of being transgender and movement infighting but not altogether convincing theatrically

See it if you enjoy clever use of backup country & western band as singers/characters in cast; lays bare visceral parent rejection

Don't see it if similar country & western songs bore you; production blunts impact by checking off too many transgender issues

Original, Miscast

See it if you have an interest in the trans community, as it is well done in that regard.

Don't see it if trans issues make you uncomfortable, you need to see people cast correctly.

Original, Ambitious, Great acting, Relevant, Resonant

See it if You are interested in a bluegrass musical about the transgender community.

Don't see it if You are looking for a really well-written/well-developed new musical or are averse to the transgendered or lgbt community.

Thought-provoking, Banal, Disappointing

See it if you're interested in a sensitive portrayal of transgendered issues and appreciate bluegrass music.

Don't see it if you were expecting a fully polished musical. The sentiment is there but too many of the moments feel roo static to engage the audience.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant

See it if you enjoy bluegrass music and like something that is not the tyhpical musical

Don't see it if you hate bluegrass music and have issues with the whole subject of transgender people.

Ambitious, Indulgent, Slow, Poorly written

See it if You wanna see another victim play. Although the performances rise above the lame ass writing and you find yourself touched by some moments.

Don't see it if Well, it closed today, so this is moot.

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Slow

See it if You're interested in stories about the human condition, civil liberties, gender politics. This show has a deep heart but a weak book & score

Don't see it if You don't like bluegrass or are more interested in touristy jukebox musicals.

Cast & Creatives (17)