Cowboys (a gay musical)

Book and Lyrics by Clint Jefferies
Music by Paul L. Johnson
Directed by Jeffery Corrick
Wings Theatre
154 Christopher St. (627-2961)
Non-union production (closes May 6)
Review by Doug DeVita

Well, who would have thought it? Clint Jefferies's new musical, Cowboys, at Wings Theatre is one of the smartest, gayest shows of the season (and I mean gayest in every sense of the word). The cheerfully inane new work, with a tuneful, topnotch country/western score by the gifted Paul Johnson, is lighthearted spoof of those old "Singin' Cowboy Westerns" from the 1940s, with a plot right off a Republic Pictures sound stage.

Con-artist Boston Bart Black schemes to steal Aunt Rosie's "Straight Arrow Ranch" because of the oil that is flowing underneath. Rosie's collection of stray gay ranchhands plan a Wild West Show to raise the $300 needed to save the place, aided by their star cowpoke, Ranger Rick Rowdy of the Texas Rangers, and hindered by the evil chanteuse, Lilly Luscious. All ends happily as Ranger Rick proves he always gets his man - in the end.

The stock story, the stereotype characters, and the racy double entendres are not new, of course. In fact, there were moments when the corn was higher than the proverbial elephant's eye. What lifted this production out of the typical gay sex farce arena was the charming and tasteful way everything was put together. Clint Jefferies's book is a witty, tightly focused spoof that shows a real knowledge of and affection for the genre, his genuinely funny lyrics nicely abetted by the aforementioned Paul Johnson's superior score. (Anyone bemoaning the lack of good musical comedy composers should just stop whining and hire Johnson - he is the real thing.) Jeffery Corrick directed with a sure sense of the energy and style required for this type of show, supported by Kate Dowe's snappily inventive choreography.

John Lavin, as Ranger Rick, had just the right mix of innocence and swarthy sex appeal; Daniel Carlton, as the scheming Bart, was a neurotic delight; and Jim Gaddis as the mysterious Injun Bob was inspired, his Charleston to a war dance beat one of the funniest moments in the show. As Lilly Luscious, Kirsten Witsman carried herself with the assurance of a young Merman, making her torch song a true showstopper. The sweetly goofy Stephen Cabral also stopped the show with his number, "The Girl from Texarkana," another riotous highlight. Judy K., at times a trifle loud, was nevertheless a winning Aunt Rosie, and Steven Baker, Steve Hasley, and Andrew Phelps, as "The Croonin' Caballeros" added immeasurably to the fun, Hasley in particular throwing himself into the proceedings with infectious glee.

Sam Sommer's sets, Tom Claypool's costumes, and Aaron Spivey's lighting were breathtakingly lovely, effortlessly evoking a nostalgic, wide-open west, particularly the scenes under the starry night sky.

Before the evening was five minutes old the affection with which Cowboys was created was working its magic on the audience, who responded with such unadulterated delight that before long everything exploded in a giddy burst of musical-comedy euphoria. With any luck, Cowboys will be held past its scheduled closing date. Do try and see it-you won't be sorry.
Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 2
Costumes: 2
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2000 Doug DeVita