THOSE MUSCLEBOUND COWBOYS FROM SNAKE PIT GULCH – Reviewed by Stephen Radosh

The Desert Rose Playhouse is presenting the world premiere of THOSE MUSCLEBOUND COWBOYS FROM SNAKE PIT GULCH, a very gay, very silly, and VERY entertaining musical. The music is by Frank Schiro, Lyrics by CJ Critt, and the book is by Andy Halliday.  Robbie Wayne provided the playful direction and choreography which set the perfect tone for this new musical.

It’s set back in the days of the Gold Rush where men were men and that was all these guys needed.  It seems the sheriff of Snake Pit Gulch has been murdered while looking into a series of claims that were jumped.  Stanley Whimple, a not too successful member of the Pinkereton Detective Agency, decides that the best way to get the lowdown on what really happened is to get close to a few of the residents of Snake Pit Gulch.  And what better way to get close to a cowboy or two than by disguising himself as the glamorous and talented Daisy LaFleur?  So he hops the next stagecoach west in hopes of cracking the case, despite his boss’ sincere doubts about his ability to do just about anything.   

But upon Daisy’s arrival, she discovers that no other woman has dared to step even just one dainty foot into this seemingly lawless and dangerous town. But what’s even more unusual is that the men don’t seem to care.  With the total lack of females, they have discovered that loving another man is so much simpler, feels totally natural, and supplies everything that they need..

This all happens in a matter of moments at the top of the show.  What follows is approximately 90 more really funny minutes.  For the most part, the characters are ones that you have seen before, except that they happen to be gay.  There is the villain, Big Jack Slade (Michael Pacas) who runs the town and wants to keep it that way.  The saloon-hall singer, a Western must, but in this case is a very hunky guy named Topeka (Rob Rota).  There is a pair of not-all-that-smart brothers, Sam Cantrell (Kai Brithers) who yearns to leave their little town to see the world and Evan Cantrell (Clay Sales) who feels that everything a man needs is right there at home.  There is a second undercover Pinkerton agent, Scully Jones (Mark Fearnow) who frequently shows up most unexpectedly.  Lastly, there’s the whiskered and somewhat nutty old codger, Wheezy (Tom Warrick), a character found in almost every Western, though not quite as festive as this! 

On the critical side, I feel the book needs a bit more work.  The set-ups of characters and situations are sketchy at times such as when Stanley decides to go out West as Daisy. His motivation for such an extreme trip done entirely in drag is barely covered and doesn’t make much sense.  The same holds true for several other moments which are introduced without much motivation or resolution. And speaking of resolution, the whole plot manages to tie itself up with a pretty bow in the blink of an eye….but you know what? It doesn’t matter in the least.  This show is just pure fun.  The cast, while not all the best singers I have ever heard assembled on a stage, delivered the comedy and garnered roars of laughter from the audience. Plus, as suggested by the show’s title, there was LOTS of eye candy (you’ll love the bathtub scene). However there was one performer who really lit up the stage for me and that was Anthony Nannini.  Reminding me in many ways of Charles Busch’s brilliant and hilarious portrayals of his classic characters, Mr. Nannini had it all going on.  Great comic timing and delivery as well as superb physical comedy (check out that series of pratfalls he takes) made for a killer performance.  On top of all that, he looked great in those period perfect gowns and ensembles designed by Matt Torres.

Kudos also go out to Matthew McLean for his wonderfully designed and executed set.  With a large variety of settings to represent, his basically one unit set conveyed each clearly and never really felt cramped for space.  And check out those wagon wheel lights over the booths in the lobby bar area and the flickering gaslights in the onstage saloon.  Great details which were the perfect finishing touches on this excellent design.

True, this play will most likely NOT find itself on the short list for a Pulitzer but it does one thing very well…It entertains! With a handful of fun songs, snappy dialogue and some killer jokes and sight gags (the stagecoach was my favorite) it made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. And after all, isn’t that what we want a Musical Comedy to do?

THOSE MUSCLEBOUND COWBOYS FROM SNAKE PIT GULCH runs through Feb. 9, 2020.  For tickets or further information go to DesertRosePlayhouse.org

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