Conceived by John L. Haber
Music and Lyrics by Jack Herrick
Book by Robert Horn & John L. Haber
Directed and Choreographed by Randy Skinner
Starring Randy Quaid
The Fifth Avenue Musical Theatre Company
1308 5th Avenue, Seattle, WA 98101/ (206) 292-ARTS

Reviewed by Jerry Kraft

"Lone Star Love" is a musical that's just gosh-darn eager to please, as likeable as a pretty girl's wink, and a bit gawky, a bit over-dressed in ill-fitting uptown clothes. There is a good deal that's genuinely delightful in this Texas-style musical that borrows its storyline from "The Merry Wives of Winsor," not least of all the first-rate bluegrass music of the Red Clay Ramblers. A solid cast, good dance numbers and some sweet romance set a tone that's endearing and sweet. The comedy is unassuming and pretty entertaining, but the show seems to wander into some relatively weak numbers, and the dramatic focus is unbalanced between minor characters with major impact and more major characters who seem musically and dramatically less distinct. This show has had a very long journey from its off-Broadway origin to this big scale production but, sadly, the show still doesn't feel ready.

What is ready is Randy Quaid in the central role of the lowdown cattle and wife rustler, Colonel John Falstaff. He's a big, lovable scoundrel whose appetites run to most anything previously claimed or currently frowned on by proper society. Quaid has an easy charm and presence that makes him simultaneously big and approachable. He feels very close to us at the same time that he's clearly not to be trusted, and he gets tangible pleasure from his misconduct. I was also pleasantly surprised by the strength of Quaid's singing, which may not be a beautiful sound, but certainly carries a theatrical identity.

Perhaps the sweetest pair on stage was a yodeling cowboy, Fenton (Clarke Thorell) and his newfound eternal love, the perfectly adorable MissAnn (Kara Lindsay). Their silly, winking from the wings romance had the best songs of the show, "Prairie Moon" and "Count on My Love" and really felt closest to the simple and unabashed tenderness of a romantic comedy. Similarly, Ramona Keeler was terrific as a feisty and self-assured housekeeper with a ton of attitude and more insight than anyone else on stage.

Unfortunately, the larger roles of the wealthy rancher, Frank Ford (Robert Cuccioli) and his wife, Agnes (Lauren Kennedy), and George Page (Dan Sharkey) and his wife, Margaret Ann (Dee Hoty) are all well-played but not well-written. The big numbers that should keep the focus clearly on them are simply not strong enough, and that makes the central conflict of the show a bit feeble. We have to have a real appreciation of what havoc the stranger coming to town causes, and here it’s too diffuse and anemic.

Similarly, the show simply wanders too much, and at times in the second act allows itself to cross the line between ribald and vulgar, spending much too long with Mr. Quaid's shirt off and doing one bit with a phallic long-necked beer bottle that is simply crude, and not in a funny way.

"Lone Star Love" is certainly attractively built, with handsome and impressive scenery by Derek McLane, vivid costumes by Jane Greenwood and elegant lighting by Ken Billington and Paul Miller. The choreography by Randy Skinner (who also directed) is fun and very much in tune with the overall tone of the show. The onstage musicians of the Red Clay Ramblers are wonderful.

There is so much talent on this stage, and so much good work in the writing and production that it just seems sad that it doesn't all amount to a really good show. Maybe this book can all be tightened by about a third, some of the dramatic emphasis re-balanced and some ruthless cutting done to whole musical numbers so that the show is tighter and more focused. I hope so. "Lone Star Love" could be a winning attraction on Broadway, but not as it now stands.

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