BWW Review: Desert Rose's THOSE MUSCLEBOUND COWBOYS FROM SNAKE PIT GULCH is a Rip-Roaring Yee-Haw!
Desert Rose Playhouse has another winner in its laugh-filled world premiere campy musical, THOSE MUSCLEBOUND COWBOYS FROM SNAKE PIT GULCH, with book by Andy Halliday, music by Frank Schiro, and lyrics by CJ Critt. The zaniness and terrific acting in this show, which I'd call a souped-up version of Disneyland's Golden Horseshoe programs, provide a rollicking good time, even though no one will ever mistake the show for a work by Shakespeare or Sondheim.
On opening night, the scene was set by the presence of the beautiful horse, Tougie, courtesy of the Palm Springs Gay Rodeo chapter. How can theatergoers not think of Westerns when they're posing for photos with a horse, albeit in a theater parking lot? Also contributing to the atmosphere is the complex set (designed by managing director Matthew McLean, who also designed the props), well worth the effort it must have required to create - the only thing missing from the bar, where much of the action takes place, is a sawdust floor. Flickering candles and lamps (undoubtedly electric) also help set the mood; Phil Murphy designed the fabulous lighting. The small stage makes use of every square inch, and requires moving scenery during the show, which happens seamlessly. The stage also contains a jail cell, curtained off except when in use. A farm scene takes place in front of another makeshift curtain. Hay bales and farm implements sit far stage left and right.
The story is convoluted, to say the least. The gold rush town of Snake Pit Gulch is wild and wanton, with no female residents. The men spend their free time trying to prevent claim-jumping and watching the handsome Topeka (Ben Affleck look-alike Rob Rota) perform in the bar. Crooked Big Jack Slade (Michael Pacas), who owns the bar, hotel, and just about everything else except the local sheriff, cheats at cards, cons miners out of their claims, and keeps Topeka for himself. Did I mention that the town residents make do without women by discovering that two men can have an awful lot of fun together? When the sheriff is murdered, Pinkerton detective Scully Jones (Mark Fearnow, who also plays the sheriff) sends the beautiful and hapless Daisy LaFleur (Anthony Nannini) to investigate the murder and claim-jumping. Daisy hopes to use being female to get information that the men cannot - although Daisy is a man in disguise. The story only gets more wild from there.
The seven-man cast consists of both Desert Rose veterans and newcomers, but all are experienced performers, and it shows. They're obviously having a good time on stage, and their enthusiasm is infectious. Director and choreographer Robbie Wayne has added a bunch of sight gags that I found hilarious. I especially enjoyed his way of making the six-foot something Michael Pacas, in a second role as a dying farmer, appear to be short, and a bit with Big Jack Slade and a comb. Some of the sight gags involve the clever scenery, such as a tin bathtub, but I don't want to give anything away by saying more.
Frank Schiro's music and Jaci Davis's music direction well fit the cowboy theme. I couldn't be sure if any of the music was live, but whether live or on tracks, the tinny piano sound was perfect. I absolutely adored the cheerful overture, and was thrilled to see a recently written musical that includes one.
This production is well-done in every way. I do note that the singing - mostly belting - is a bit off-key in some of the group numbers, but I got the feeling that this was a conscious choice to help with the Western saloon atmosphere. In any event, the ballads were beautifully sung; how can Mr. Nannini be so convincing as a woman even when he is singing? The rest of the cast, Kai Brothers and Clay Sales (who play two brothers who head west after they find out they're mine owners) and Tom Warrick (who plays Big Jack's hand-picked, drunk replacement sheriff) are just as terrific as the other four actors.
This show will undoubtedly appeal to many more people than Desert Rose's core LGBT+ clientele, both because it is so funny and because there are only one or two jokes that might confuse straight, cis people. There is a small amount of nudity, but none of it is frontal.
The rest of the production staff consists of Duke Core (lighting technician), Adrian Niculescu (sound technician), and Matt Torres (costume design).
THOSE MUSCLEBOUND COWBOYS FROM SNAKE PIT GULCH will play through February 20th, at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets cost between $34 and $37, and are available on the Web site, www.DesertRosePlayhouse.org, or by calling 760-202-3000. Several performance dates have already sold out . At press time, Desert Rose is considering adding performances. Please check with the box office for further information.
The Desert Rose Playhouse is located just north of Frank Sinatra Boulevard, near the Emperor Buffet, at 69-620 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270. The box office opens at 4 p.m. before evening performances and at noon on Sundays. A bar in the lobby sells libations before the show and during intermission for the Friday and Saturday performances.
The rest of the season's offerings include:
- BEAUTIFUL THING, by Jonathan Harvey (March 6-March 29, 2020). Shy Jamie and athletic Ste are teen boys who live in the London projects and think they could be gay; and
- NOOSE WOMEN, conceived by Lewis Lauder and adapted for the American stage by Judith Chapman (April 17-May 10, 2020). This play, which won Desert Rose's contest to discover new playwrights who author material that would appeal to LGBTQIA audiences, explores what people will do to get their fifteen minutes of fame.