So you've been to the Gaslight Theatre a few times and you think you've seen it all. But, nay, I say. And that would be the kind of whinny-like "neigh-eh-eh-eh" you would hear from an excited horse.
"The Ballad of Two-Gun McGraw" is the cowboy show struttin' its stuff on their stage now. Oh, sure, there's the usual predictable storyline with good guys and bad guys and pretty girls and sweet and innocent love, and groan-producing puns (and even musical ones) and very well done songs. But this one has horses! You heard me: horses!
All kinds of horses. There's the one on wheels, sneakily bucking and jerking (but not really twerking) across the stage, hidden (sorta) behind a piece of scenery—he can be soothed into a gentle beast by Two-Gun's (Mike Yarema) sweet talk. And there are the beautiful, statuesque specimens ridden by good guy Two-Gun and the bad guy Laredo (Todd Thompson), (alternately called "Alfredo" or "Lardo.").And yet another sort of—well, let's call these "horsies"—ridden by the two goof-pot sidemen (Jacob Brown and David Orley) of the mastermind of all the evil doings, Jack Dagger (Armen Dirtadian.) He wants—oh, you know, a herd of cattle and Miss Melody's (Katy Bulkley) ranch and stuff. These horsies can be "mounted" through convenient doors in their sides. A-maaaa-zing!
One thing you gotta love about the Gaslight: their shows may recycle the same storyline and they may feature stock characters, but there is always on display a genuine sense of inventiveness and originality. An actor may discover a new way to make evil, well, evil-er, or funnier or unexpected. And there seems to be no end to the designers'—Tom Benson, David Darland and Brian Gawne—ability to conceive and execute whimsical contraptions which delight.
Peter Van Slyke writes and directs, and I suppose he has to do quite a bit of corralling of free-spirited actors (although there's still plenty of free spirit witnessed in ad libs and such.) And believe it or not, there is a hand, that has exercised editing and restraint.
All of this silliness, no matter how skillfully executed, would be sure to fall flatter than a fritter were it not for the musical component of the evening. That includes not only the songs delivered with gusto by the actors, but Linda Ackermann's musical direction, her mad skills on the piano and the small band which drives the story forward and gives it life. Even though we've seen the story in one form or another a bazillion times, the music is immediate and energizing and is absolutely critical to every show.
Sure, we'd like to see some shows that feature heroic leading female characters instead of some fine actresses in strong but secondary roles. But that's just sort of what happens because the stories the Gaslight parodies feature the traditional importance of the leading man. Still, in this show, Bulkley, Heather Stricker, and Erin Thompson all give strong performances.
The women actually get a chance to shine in the post-show olio, which is a sort of variety show with a theme. This time it's the "Beverly Hillbillies," and there's plenty to enjoy.
So, yeah, we've seen versions of "The Ballad of Two-Gun McGraw" before, but that doesn't mean that the crew performs like it's recycled. The audience—composed of young and old—plays along with boo's for the bad guys and cheers for the good guys, and sometimes they even get inspired to sing along with the band. And those horses—well, they seal the deal.