by Cheryl King · August 16, 2014
The musicians, the music director and the composer are the standout talents in this new musical about hard times in the Dust Bowl. Elliah Heifetz gets the credit for the music and lyrics and Mac Gordon did a superb job on orchestration, music direction and arrangement. It's a fine ensemble of stringed instruments that starts the show, and they carry the biggest punch. Sometimes plaintive, sometimes toe tapping, and occasionally rousing, the music is satisfying and definitely got the most response from the nearly full house at the 9:45 performance on August 14.
I was surprised to see so many people for a 2 ½ hour show that started in that late time slot. But they were eager and responsive as the cast rolled out the story. Paul Hinkes, a tall drink of water, with a marvelous voice and an easy way with the audience, sets it up for us with a narrative and a song. He then introduces the other characters one by one. There are two sisters, Alyssa Miller as Lily, and Lily Shoretz as Angelina. Their voices are well blended, and the two of them, justifiably, want to find a way out of their barren lands. Angelina is NOT barren. As a matter of fact, she's pregnant, and unmarried, so for their sakes and the sake of her unborn child, escape from their poverty is worth any sacrifice. Next come the brothers, Chris Camp as Abraham and Nathaniel Janis as Birch. These two love to cut up (don't all Western brothers?) and their harmonies are sweet and fine. Michael Ruocco, as the Prophet, provides some direction to the group when he tells them of a place, the Larkspur Inn, where they can escape their hunger. He's oddly decked out in pristine white, not a smudge on him. I was suspicious from the get-go, and they should have been, but when you're starving, with no prospects, even an unlikely offer seems better than nothing. So they go where he suggests they go – and they announce their intentions in an odd little song, a call-and-refrain type number with dance and harmonies, and a strange lack of caution. Next they meet Wesley, played by Jamie Bogyo, another engaging young man, who joins the merry troupe, encouraging them to have faith and keep going.
The group sings beautifully together, and the song "Oh, Raphael", that follows their group decision to press on, is moving and a real crowd-pleaser.
It's at about this point that the story, already struggling, starts to break down. One can't help wishing that Abigail had done a few more revisions and developed her characters more fully. The actors did their best with the material they were given, and used their personalities to sell various moments throughout the show. But a more complete and believable story would provide them a chance to really shine.
In the end, as I said before, it's the music that carries this show, and it sustained us the rest of the way through the second act.