BWW Review: BROKELAHOMO! Gold Dust Orphans Go Western
A Musical Best Western by Ryan Landry, In Loving Memory of Our Own Larry Coen; Directed by Robin JaVonne Smith, Music Direction by Tim Lawton, Lighting by Michael Clark Wonson, Costumes by Scott Martino, Sound by Roger Moore, Scenics by Windsor Newton, Choreography by Matt Kyle & Taryn Lane, Spot Operation by Anzel Lee Miller, Board Operation by William York
CAST (in order of appearance): Vanessa Calantropo, Calamity; Ryan Landry, Vienna Walsh; Sarah Jones, Moonpie O'Neill/Mr. H. White; Sam Thornhill, Sundance; Jack Ferdman, The Naked Kid; Ruthie Fontanella, Nava Ho/Mrs. White; Tim Lawton, Chubbs Henry; Matt Kyle, Cher-onimo; Robin JaVonne Smith, Chastity; Qya Cristál, Frenchie Pissoir; Scott Martino, Ringo Pink; Julee Antonellis, Emma Smalls; Sam Terry, Buck Wilde; William York, The Driver; Taryn Lane, Lily White; Jeff Blanchette, Dusty Rhodes; Penny Champayne, Tidd Bitts; Adele Marie, Cher-yl/Ensemble; Victoria Dowd, Ensemble; Michael Poulin, Ensemble; Rhoda the Dog, Maybelline
Performances through May 27th by the Gold Dust Orphans at the Ramrod Center for the Performing Arts, Machine Nightclub, 1254 Boylston Street, Boston, MA; Tickets www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3220136
Ryan Landry mines the Old West - and Old Hollywood - for his new Gold Dust Orphans springtime musical, Brokelahomo! Based on Destry Rides Again (1939) and Johnny Guitar (1954), with a few borrowed lines from Brokeback Mountain (2005) and its obvious connection to Oklahoma! (1943), Brokelahomo! is a fast ride on a runaway train with more kicks than a buckin' bronco. Many of your favorite Orphans don chaps, six-shooters, and ten-gallon hats, but there's a new villain, as well as a new sheriff in town, and, stepping into the big boots of the dear, departed Larry Coen to direct, Robin JaVonne Smith skillfully hits the bullseye.
Landry's storyline takes characters and threads from both films and weaves them together with clever placement of songs and dances. Without knowing too much about the original plots, it can be challenging to keep everyone straight (although not many are straight), but it doesn't really matter in the end. Landry channels his inner Joan Crawford as Vienna Walsh, proprietor of the saloon, giving a strong and steady performance, while rocking a red wig that looks like it was borrowed from Little Orphan Annie. New Orphan Julee Antonellis (Emma Smalls) is Vienna's arch enemy, a hard-hearted, nasty woman in black who revels in her own evil, stopping just short of chortling "bwa-ha-ha" to prove it.
Emma's gang of gay bullies, made up of The Naked Kid (Jack Ferdman, in a little bit of black leather), Ringo Pink (Scott Martino), and Sam Thornhill (Sundance), cheats at cards and terrorizes the law-abiding citizens. The town drunk Chubbs Henry (Tim Lawton) reluctantly pins on a badge until Dusty Rhodes (Jeff Blanchette), a stranger from Boston, arrives armed only with his little dog, Maybelline (Rhoda the Dog). The new sheriff eschews wearing a gun, drinks milk, and has a very sunny attitude, but proves his mettle and his manhood, falling for saloon singer Frenchie Pissoir (Qya Cristál). Fellow passengers on the stagecoach into town are Buck Wilde (newcomer Sam Terry) and Lily White (Taryn Lane), a wildly mismatched couple. Buck and Sundance have a past, but what will the future hold for them? And who rides off into the sunset with Lily?
But enough about the libretto, because the real gems in Brokelahomo! are the musical numbers and the incredible voices in this cast. From the top, Vanessa Calantropo (Calamity) kicks things off with a kick line of dancing cattle and cowboy puppets as her backup singers. Cristál burns down the saloon with "I'll Take You One at a Time" (to the tune of "Nobody Does it Like Me"), and later blends beautifully with Blanchette (very smooth) in a duet of "Up Where We Belong." Lane smolders on her torch song ("Thank God He Isn't Gay"), and Smith and her fellow Native Americans honor the diva with "Cher-okee Nation." Lawton's booming voice rings out about the wonders of Dusty Rhodes, and he leads the ensemble in the title song as the finale.
Lane and Matt Kyle handle the choreography duties, and the ensemble dancers include Adele Marie, Victoria Dowd, and Michael Poulin. The highlight of the musical numbers, set to "We Both Reached for the Gun" (Chicago), showcases the sheriff's philosophy of trying to make the town go gunless. It is one of the most political moments of the show, but also a great song and dance number. Crowd favorite Penny Champayne (Tidd Bitts) makes a cameo appearance and entertains with a lip-synched, dance hall rendition of "See What the Boys in the Back Room Will Have." Sarah Jones shows her range in dual roles (Moonpie O'Neill/Mr. H. White), and Ruthie Fontanella doubles as Nava Ho and Mrs. White, encountering a very unpleasant ending as the latter. William York plays the stagecoach driver, and is also the board operator.
Windsor Newton's scenic design turns Machine into the old west with rustic set pieces for the saloon, and a fabric drop painted with cactus and brush. Michael Clark Wonson's lighting effects vary for the saloon, Emma's hideout, and to spotlight (spot operation by Anzel Lee Miller) the vocalists, all amplified with hand mics to be heard over the recorded music. It should also be mentioned that all of the sound effects were in perfect synch - every gun shot heard at the moment the victim fell (Roger Moore, sound). Once again, Scott Martino's costumes threaten to steal the show. He uses lots of leather and fur for the cowboy outfits, designs spectacular gowns for Frenchie, and evokes the flavor of the original movies with Landry's attire.
Closing with a snippet of cinema tribute, the black and white visage of John Wayne appears on the upstage wall before giving way to a screenshot of Larry "Kitty" Coen. In that moment, it is clear that he hasn't really left the theater. Brokelahomo! has his footprints all over it and the Gold Dust Orphans hold him within their hearts.
Photo credit: Michael von Redlich (The cast of Brokelahomo!)