Opening night apparently caught them by surprise Friday at the Old Log.
Did someone not know how many tickets had been sold, or how many people would be coming for pre-show dinner? The food was excellent, according to two diners — one had barbequed pork chop, the other walleye — but the wait to be served was more than an hour. New owner Greg Frankenfield worked behind the bar, and artistic director Kent Knutson was ushering people to their seats.
These are smart, successful people, and we assume they will learn from their rocky shakedown cruise. Maybe someday we can all laugh about it.
Frankenfield and his wife, Marissa, purchased the Excelsior theater from Don Stolz last spring. Knutson has christened the place with “Cowgirls,” a mere whiff of a musical.
Because the show started late, we had lots of time to admire Jon Stolz’s set design – a country/western smalltown bar, decked out even with a gallon jar of pickles on the bar (details you notice when given 30 minutes to wait for the curtain). Honestly, though, “Cowgirls” demands no urgency.
This is a one-joke trick stretched to two hours: A classically trained trio is booked to play Hiram Hall, a roadhouse in Kansas. The owner thought she was getting the “Cowgirl Trio,” but no, it was the “Coghill Trio, a classical ensemble. Hey, we’ve all been there before, right?
Well, it seems the owner will lose the bar if she doesn’t have a really big show, so she decides to whip these city folk into country-twanging haystackers. Do they pull it off? I don’t want to ruin the surprise.
Knutson’s cast works hard but neither he nor the actors have a handle on this disjointed and meager script by a committee of Mary Murfitt, Betsy Howie and Kevin Murphy. Do you spoof the whole thing? Do you play straight into the banality and hope for the best? Knutson takes a middle path, stoking the jokes like a vaudevillian and trying to coax pathos from the hackneyed scenario.
Actor Summer Hagen was fortunate enough to play a character worth lampooning — a new-age spirit who trades her cello for a guitar. She has charm and humor. Seri Johnson, a terrific singer, gets to show off her pipes in a couple of second-act numbers, one a melancholy lament and another a scorching stomper. Quinn Shadko and Andrea Wollenberg deserve to be mentioned for the skill they bring to playing their instruments — violin and piano respectively.
These are talented actors who have done good work in the past and will again do memorable work. Honest. This production, though, and this musical does them no favors. Murfitt wrote songs that range from light classical to show tune to country rockers. Perhaps four or five of the 24 listed titles land with authenticity.
For this show to have any chance, it needs to be a performance piece that blows down the doors. We’re still waiting.