Arts & Culture

Cross-Dressin' West: The Melodrama's new gender-swapping musical 'Gunsmokin''

Molly Laurel in disguise as Slim Jim Coltrane.
Molly Laurel in disguise as Slim Jim Coltrane. CALVIN MORRIS

As the saying goes, behind every great man is a woman.

That phrase is particularly true in the Great American Melodrama’s gender-swapping spoof, “Gunsmokin,’ or, All’s Riot on the Western Front.” A rootin,’ tootin’ musical set in the Wild West, “Gunsmokin’ ” explores what happens when a tough cowgirl saddles up as a male sheriff to save her beloved town.

The musical, written by Scott Holman, adapted by Jordan Richardson and directed and choreographed by Adrian Balbontin, runs through Sept. 15 in Oceano. (Starting July 14, performances of “Gunsmokin’ ” will alternate with “From Rags to Riches, or, I Will Not Pay the Price You Ask,” a classic melodrama set during the turn of the 19th century in New York City.)

Like “Blazing Saddles” and “Cat Ballou” before it, “Gunsmokin’” offers a clever twist on the traditional Western format.

“There were brave men who set out to tame the wild frontier,” we’re told in the introduction, but this isn’t their story. “This is the story of namby-pamby men, and the women who made them strong.”

The town of Rooster Punch has its share of fearless females, including strong-willed storekeeper Kit (Molly Laurel), her spunky gal pal, Patty Poundcake (Crystal Davidson), and sinister saloon owner Perky LaPett (Kat Endsley).

Kit suspects that Perky and her cowardly bartender/sidekick, Jimmy (Alex Sheets), are behind the gang of bandits currently terrorizing Rooster Punch. Why else would she offer to purchase the residents’ land for 10 cents on the dollar — just as the railroad is slated to come through town?

Unfortunately, Kit gets little help from easily duped Mayor Maynot (Kraig Kelsey) or her crush, dim-witted cowpoke Laverl Kimball (Von Cleve Lewis). She decides to take matters into her own hands.

When newspaper reporter Nathaniel J. Wilson (Steven Freitas) and outlaw Owen Caldwell (Philip David Black) ride into Rooster Punch, they’re greeted by new sheriff Slim Jim Coltrane.

Can this bearded badass keep the streets safe while concealing her secret identity?

An engagingly goofy musical that puts the pasta in “spaghetti Western,” “Gunsmokin’ ” gets a big boost from its energetic, fresh-faced cast, many of whom are making their Great American Melodrama debuts. Between Patty’s malapropisms, Laverl’s cornpone sayings and Mayor Maynot’s non sequiturs, there are plenty of opportunities for laughs.

Kat Endsley steals the show with a saucy song about lassoing unsuspecting men. Meanwhile, Molly Laurel has two strong musical numbers: a cute duet with Von Cleve Lewis inspired by Frank Sinatra’s “Somethin’ Stupid” and a fun version of Peggy Lee’s “I’m a Woman” with Crystal Davidson.

Performances of “Gunsmokin’ ” are followed by the vaudeville revue “TGAM Wide World of Sports,” which takes its comedy cues from the long-running television show.

Sportscasters Philip David Black and Steven Freitas recreate the classic Bud Abbott-Lou Costello routine “Who’s On First” and report on “T-E-A-M (The Baseball Game)” from the musical “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

There’s also a performance of Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” and an appearance by those crazed Chicago sports fanatics from the “Saturday Night Live” Superfans skits.

The show closes with the ultimate crowd-pleaser, Queen’s “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions.”