BWW Reviews: Crank Collective's Original Musical BOOMTOWN Doesn't Boom
In the 1920s, Texas saw a phenomenon caused by the growing oil industry. Boomtowns were founded in oil-rich areas, but given how quickly the towns were developed, they often lacked effective infrastructure. Boomtowns often became dens of lawlessness, robbery, gambling, and prostitution.
The town of Borger, Texas is the perfect example of the rough-and-tumble Boomtowns of the 1920s. The lawlessness of Borger was so out of hand that the Texas Rangers were deployed to the town to keep the peace in 1927, just one year after the town was officially founded, but the violence and anarchy continued, culminating in the murder of the town's founder, Ace Borger.
The true story of Borger, Texas begs to be dramatized, so it's no surprise that Crank Collective's new musical, Boomtown focuses on the notorious city. What is surprising is the number of missed opportunities in the production.
The biggest issue with the musical is that it doesn't know what type of show it is. Is it a comedy? A drama? A political satire? A parody of American musicals? A political satire/musical parody a la Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson? An hour-long musical history lesson that you'd easily find at a theme park, state fair, or museum? The unanswered question of what type of musical Boomtown is prevents it from being effective or memorable. As it is now, it's a jumbled mess that has the bones of a story and characters but not much else.
And then there's the question of musical style. About half of the songs (the writer or writers of which are not credited in the program) have a country and bluegrass sound while the other half sound like 1950s/1960s pop tunes that you'd hear in a Beach Party movie musical starring Annette Funicello.
The choreography by Yelena Konetchy is problematic as well. All of the dance numbers involve a quartet of dance hall girls, and Konetchy has them all dancing by themselves rather than with customers. I doubt that dance hall girls in Boomtowns of the 1920s were paid to dance by themselves. I also doubt that they'd dance stone-faced. A flirtatious smile to the customer would be good for business, wouldn't it?
Still, there are some strong points to the production, particularly its cast. Phil Rodriquez is wonderfully sleazy as the town's founder and developer, Ace Borger. Dara Palmer is hilarious as the wife of Arthur Huey, the town good guy. Palmer knocks her comical character number out of the park, though the show keeps her offstage for the following 40 minutes which proves to be another problem. Unless your show is titled Les Miserables, any character who gets a big number should not be absent for 40 minutes. And Dan Dalbout is a scene-stealer as Green Bean, a somewhat dim-witted roughneck who falls in love with Helen, one of the dance hall girls. You can't help but care for Green Bean's dreams of quaint domestic life. In large part due to Dalbout's performance, the secondary plotline is far more interesting than the primary plot.
For more information on The Crank Collective, please visit www.texshows.com