A wacky, winning Western

Great American Melodrama’s "How the West Was Really Won" rewards audience participation

slinn@thetribunenews.comJuly 4, 2013 

When you attend the Great American Melodrama’s latest production, you might want to sit in the front row.

Audience participation is an integral part of “How the West Was Really Won,” a wacky Western spoof in the tradition of “Cat Ballou” and “Blazing Saddles.” Written by Arnie Carlos and directed and choreographed by Melodrama veteran Eric Hoit, this cheerful musical comedy runs through Sept. 21 in Oceano.

In the words of one character, it’s a “rip-roarin’, rootin’, tootin’ hullabaloo.”

“How the West Was Really Won” opens in 1910, as a journalist (Kat Endsley) interviews crusty ol’ cowpoke Phil “Snake” Willoughby (Jim Goza) about his experiences as the sheriff of a rough, tough California mining town called Deadwater.

As Snake spins his yarn, we journey back to the Wild West, circa 1855.

Outlaw Wild Bill (Alex Sheets), his girlfriend Mustang Sally (Hayley Galbraith) and Chester the Undertaker (Marty Craft) are gathered at Sally’s saloon for a game of “Go Fish.”

Wild Bill suspects Card Player #1 (Andy Pollock) of cheating at cards and plugs him full of lead.

“Bad things happen to unnamed characters,” we’re told.

Snake arrests Bill and drags him to jail, leading to a trial officiated by Judge Lima Bean (Pollock again) and a couple of escape attempts.

Meanwhile, the sheriff has his hands full dealing with his matrimony-crazed girlfriend, Ida (Bethany Rowe), who’s so determined to get hitched that she wears her wedding dress everywhere she goes.

The play’s second act centers on another one of Snake’s wild tales. This time, he faces off against multiple foes — including Johnson the railroad tycoon (Galbraith), Johnson the cattle baron (Pollock) and their conniving Henchman (Sheets)

We also meet assorted hired guns, from quick-fingered bandito Dastardly Diego to Fifi Le Fleur the French femme fatale.

More meta than your average Melodrama spoof, “How the West Was Really Won” pairs wordplay and physical comedy with song parodies of everything from Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” to The 5th Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues.”

The play is followed by the “Totally Awesome ’80s Vaudeville Revue” created by Melodrama producing artistic director Nova Cunningham, music director Sarah Wussow and Leah Kolb.

Flanked by video screens, the Melodrama cast walks audiences through a totally tubular tribute to the decade and its stars, including Boy George, Cyndi Lauper, Madonna and workout guru Richard Simmons.

There are nods to TV’s “Cheers,” “Golden Girls” and “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” as well as a “Back to the Future” sketch starring Pollock as Marty McFly and Goza as wild-haired Doc Brown.

Of course, the vaudeville revue’s best moments are when music takes center stage.

From Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” to Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” there are enough toe-tapping tunes to satisfy any listener. One highlight is Craft’s tap version of Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger,” a genuinely impressive feat. 

Starting July 20, performances of “How the West Was Really Won” will alternate with “Death at Devil’s Cave, or, No Mother to Guide Her,” an old-fashioned tale of romance, revenge and redemption set in 1905. It’s paired with the “Grand Ole Opry Vaudeville Revue.”

“Death at Devil’s Cave” runs through Sept. 22, when it will be replaced by another Western, “Drac in the Saddle.”

"How the West Was Really Won"
7 p.m. Fridays 3 and 7 p.m. Saturdays and 6 p.m. Sundays through Sept. 21
Great American Melodrama, 1863 Front St. (Highway 1), Oceano
$18 to $22
489-2499 or www.americanmelodrama.com.

Reach Sarah Linn at 781-7907. Stay updated by following @shelikestowatch on Twitter.

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