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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Lone Star Love at the 5th Avenue Theatre

Also see David's reviews of Andrea Marcovicci and Million Dollar Quartet

Lone Star Love
Ramona Keller and
Randy Quaid

A modestly charming country western musical variation on Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, Lone Star Love (or as it is more aptly subtitled in small case print: The Merry Wives of Windsor, Texas) has roamed various theaters over a period of years, most recently in a well-liked Off-Broadway incarnation. The production of the show currently at Seattle's 5th Avenue Theatre, headlined by top-billed film star Randy Quaid, had been gussied up and expanded for a planned Broadway premiere in December, but that engagement has apparently been tabled per a press announcement on September 24. As seen at the press opening Sept. 19th, the show seemed like a 50/50 bet for a decent Broadway run, with necessary nips, tucks and tweaks.

Lone Star Love, conceived by John L. Haber, with a book by Haber and Robert Horn, and music and lyrics by Jack Herrick of the Red Clay Ramblers group (who provide the onstage musical accompaniment), hues pretty closely to the Bard's tale of the scoundrel Falstaff (here a conniving cattle rustler), who attempts to seduce a pair of Windsor's more respected wives, Mrs. Page and Mrs. Ford. The wise and wily women turn the tables on him, and their own marriages are reinforced in the process. A sub-plot involves the Page's efforts to marry off their comely daughter MissAnne Page to one of two erstwhile suitors, while she pines away for a yodeling cowboy named Fenton. A wry and sassy observer to all the scheming and romancing is the Page's housekeeper, Miss Quickly, who also has a more than passing interest in Falstaff.

Director/Choreographer Randy Skinner creates a nice feeling of time and place (1870 Texas) but moves his action too slowly, and he provides lively yet unremarkable and repetitive dance sequences. Composer/lyricist Herrick's score is pleasant yet rarely yields any big laughs, even in Quaid's potentially hilarious "A Man for the Age." His "Prairie Moon" ballad for MissAnne and Fenton is lilting to the ear, but doesn't linger in the memory. A case could be made for the rousing "Quail Bagging" as the standout song in the score, but it is very much indebted to the show-stealing Ramona Keller as Miss Quickly. Keller provides the show with the sort of high energy and comic timing that seems a bit lacking elsewhere. Randy Quaid is in his element playing the vain-arrogant buffoonery of Falstaff, and shows real promise in his vocals as a musical comic. As the merry wives, Broadway vets Dee Hoty as Mrs. Page and Lauren Kennedy as Mrs. Ford deliver committed and spirited performances; both are worthy of better musical numbers to showcase their skills (anyone who saw Hoty in The Will Rogers Follies or Kennedy in her recent stint as The Lady in the Lake in Spamalot knows what I mean). Dan Sharkey as Mr. Ford and Robert Cuccioli as Mr. Page have less to do than the ladies, but Cuccioli reveals his vocal chops are still in vintage Jekyll & Hyde form on his "Vaquero" solo and in the plaintive "Texas Wind" duet with Kennedy.

The sweet voices and subtle comic timing of Clarke Thorell as yodeling cowboy Fenton and Kara Lindsay as MissAnne Page are welcome pluses in the cast. Drew McVety is a riot as ze French MD Dr. Caius, while the shows most valuable supporting player may well be Brandon Williams as Abraham Slender, a cowboy best described as "light" in his boots.

Derek McLane's multi-level unit set is well utilized but seems to owe a more than passing debt to the original Broadway set for The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Jane Greenwood's costume designs are tasteful, attractive and capture the era of the show. The Red Clay Ramblers provide lively onstage accompaniment under Jack Herrick's solid musical direction.

It is always a loss when a musical shutters on the road. For whatever reasons, Broadway audiences won't see the show - and gossip runs to conflicts between Quaid and his missus and the show's producers - we'll never know now if this version of Lone Star Love could have corralled appreciative crowds in NYC.

Lone Star Love, runs through Sept. 30th at the 5th Avenue Theatre 1308 5th Avenue in downtown Seattle. Visit the 5th Avenue's website at www.5thavenuetheatre.org for further details.


Photo: Michael Powers



- David Edward Hughes



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