Gilbert and Sullivan were the premiere purveyors of comic opera in the second half of the Nineteenth Century. (Jacques Offenbach was really their only rival). Despite, or perhaps because of their famous personal animosity, they brought out the very best in each other.
Composer/Creator Brooke DeRosa has an obvious affection for, and understanding of, the mix of catchy melody and clever lyrics that made Gilbert & Sullivan’s works audience favorites for well over a century. But rather than contenting herself with placing PIRATES OF PENZANCE on the next SpaceX shuttle, DeRosa has created her own homage to G & S, with GUNFIGHT AT THE NOT-SO-OK SALOON. And a very fun evening it is.
Opening with the ubiquitous G & S male chorus welcoming us to the titular saloon, which also happens to house a handy bordello, Coby Rogers, Spencer Frankenberger, and Andrew Hebert (at the performance I attended) are all Western-type guys who obviously spend a good deal of time in the saloon. Cowboys? Miners? Does it really matter?
Floyd (Christopher Anderson-West) is the tenor bartender and Netty (Nandani Sinha) is the saloon’s Manager/Madame. They discuss an important and deliberately clumsy backstory featuring the scary sheriff who runs the town and his relationship with Netty’s prize lady of the evening, Hope. Audience members of a certain age will chuckle as the boys in the bar insist, “We wants the redhead.”
Hope, who DeRosa plays herself, is introduced in a showy number that is a sly nod to a non-G & S comic opera, Bernstein’s CANDIDE. Trying on the jewels the sheriff has given her, Hope certainly glitters and she’s almost gay. But she’s just too bored with life in this small town.
A stranger enters with a dream in his heart and a clarion tenor designed to sing about it. We discover that his name is Chance (Jonathan Matthews) when he sings the “Oh, is there not one Maiden Breast” inspired’ “My Name is Chance.”
Chance has been looking for his childhood friend, Hope, who grew up with him in a Catholic orphanage. They made a vow to find each other as adults and wed. They also promised to remain pure until their marriage. Netty can immediately see some uncomfortable complications.
Complications arrive quickly as the jealous Sheriff Sunday (Phil Meyer) makes his entrance and shoots one of the Cowboy/Miner guys. Luckily, in true G & S fashion, silliness triumphs over evil, and a birthmark reveal will solve all the seemingly insurmountable problems, leaving everyone happy and singing. Even the dead guy.
GUNFIGHT requires more legit singing than is normal in a Fringe show, and the cast does deliver. Matthews handles the high notes with grace and is a master of the wide-eyed and vacant tenor stare. DeRosa is feisty and hilarious as she tosses off her coloratura stylings with ease. Meyer’s strong and sturdy baritone brings an exciting darker energy to the second half of the show. Sinha adds a robust mezzo to the mix, and Anderson-West impresses with his country-western yodeling.
GUNFIGHT’s delightful absurdity will amuse audiences regardless of whether they’re familiar with Gilbert & Sullivan’s work.
McCadden Theatre June 3 – June 17, 2023 http://hf19.org/5852