BWW Reviews: Santa Fe Playhouse's FIESTA MELODRAMA Delivers Old-Fashioned Fun


The Santa Fe Playhouse is the oldest, continuously running community theater west of the Mississippim and summer would not be complete without its production of the FIESTA MELODRAMA. Reinvented each year by an anonymous committee of local writers (whose identity wisely remains a well-guarded secret) the melodrama has established itself as a good-natured, satirical send-up of some of the most noteworthy personalities, eccentricities and scandalous happenings in the City Different during the previous 12 months.

Based on the standard elements of traditional melodrama, good and evil are embodied in stock characters, who operate within a simplified moral universe - a clearly identifiable bearded or mustached villain; a hero or heroine, who either escapes or is rescued from his evil clutches; various ‘good’ or ‘bad’ back-up characters and the inevitable happy ending.

In keeping with classic custom, the audience is urged to actively participate in the action by hissing, booing, cheering and shouting, as the spirit moves them.  And just in case spectators miss the verbal instructions, delivered this year by the Director, Catherine Donavon, the ‘House Rules’ are clearly laid out in the program itself, which specifically states, ‘Encouragement to the actors, in the form of cheering, applauding, hissing, booing, stamping of feet, whistling, sobbing, gasping and absurdly clever heckling, will be enthusiastically tolerated by the Management.’

The setting for this year’s FIESTA MELODRAMA is 1912, the year New Mexico became the 47th state in the union. Historically wide of the mark and with a cast of characters definitely belonging to today rather than yesterday, the 2012 melodrama could well be subtitled, ‘Back to the Present.’

The cast ranges widely in age and background, from professionals with many years of stage experience, to high school students and retirees. They all come together as a team, changing costumes and roles quite effortlessly during the two acts and ten short scenes. And the enjoyment they clearly derive from being part of this production, is infectious. 

The well known and much loved local pianist, Charles Tichenor, provides a lively and rousing musical accompaniment to the chorus of voices on stage. Original songs were written especially for the show by local musicians, Johnny Broomdust (Born Here All My Life) and Joe West (New Mexico) as well as several by director, Catherine Donavon.

The verbal interaction works both ways in a melodrama and the cast has the fun of breaking the fourth wall and interacting directly with the audience. Spontaneous ad-libbing gives each show its own, distinct personality and keeps it fresh every time.

So, for an evening of good, old-fashioned fun and laughter, head over to the Santa Fe Playhouse before the show ends on September 9th. Laughter is a much-needed commodity these days.

Photo courtesy of the Santa Fe Playhouse ( Tel: 505.988.4262


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