Life is a rodeo
Theatre on the Ridge premieres locally written musical
Rodeo, the new musical comedy written by local playwright Lynn Elliott and given its world premiere by Theatre on the Ridge last weekend (July 27-30), begins with a rousing opening song, “Everyone’s Welcome at the Rodeo,” performed by the full nine-member cast. It suggests the audience is in for an updated, post-Brokeback Mountain celebration of cowboy life:
Color of your skin, gay or straight/ Bull and bronc don’t discriminate/ Pull on your boots, get ready to go/ Gonna run for your life at the rodeo….
Remember, folks, enjoy the show/Everything in life is a rodeo.
It’s a terrific intro that’s nicely choreographed (by Emily Merkley) against the backdrop of a set of colorful panels on which typical rodeo events—cowboy poker, barrel racing, bronc busting, bull riding—are illustrated. And it’s the first of several songs that portray the rodeo as a kind of crucible in which liberal values win out in the end, even in Wyoming.
It’s also a love story of sorts—several love stories, in fact. I’m not giving anything away when I say that it’s like most romantic comedies in its desire to tie up all the romantic threads that run through it. As the last song, “Everything in Life Is a Rodeo,” goes, “This is our story, pretty and neat/ Lots of lovin’, ain’t that sweet?”
That story goes like this: A wealthy widowed New York socialite, Mrs. Worthmore (Sharon DeMeyer), has come to Wyoming with her pastor, The Rev. J.J. Busy (Oscar Magaña Jr.), and his nephew Harrison (Addison Turner) in search of her runaway daughter, Harper (Samantha Lucas).
As this small group of “city slickers” tries to insinuate itself into local society, its members encounter the McGraw family—Uncle Jimmy (Nicholas Meier), a rodeo clown and general mischief maker who serves the play as a kind of narrator; Doyle (Christopher Scott), a widowed rancher and brother to Jimmy; Cody (Greg Schofield), Doyle’s son who is in love with Harper; and Charlene (Eva Hilsee), Cody’s sister, who sometimes dresses like a man and goes by Charley.
There’s one other character who adds a lot of spark to the show—Bullwhip Betty, who is described as a “lusty rodeo act, looking for a man—any man.” Karen Fox nearly steals the show with her lively performance.
As you might expect, each of these characters ends up with a romantic partner. Also, Mrs. Wentworth and Harper reconcile, Charley/Charlene sows confusion before it all sorts itself out, and the pompous “preacher man,” The Rev. Busy, gets his comeuppance.
It’s a complex script made more so by the inclusion of 15 songs, all written by Elliott, with music by Marcelle Daguerre, Joshua Hegg and Michael Bone. The best among the tunes feature the entire cast and have a vibrant Americana sound to them. Unfortunately, the solos and duets call for singers who can carry a tune, and they are in short supply here.
Elliott and director Jerry Miller both suggest that this is a workshop production, a “preview” of what the play may become, presumably when and if it is given a bigger staging with experienced performers who can sing well. Elliott’s script and lyrics are quite clever and certainly would benefit from something more than a workshop staging.