MURRAY — Desert Star Playhouse is a theater known for its tongue-in-cheek, slapstick-style, Utah-catered humor. As a result, I knew going into The Lone Stranger to be prepared for a night of light-hearted humor, but unfortunately due to a sometimes sloppy script and consistently unintelligible lines and lyrics, the show didn’t “tickle my funny bone” as much as I had hoped.
The Lone Stranger, written by Peter Van Slyke and adapted into a musical for Desert Star by Mary Parker Williams, Dan Larrinaga, and Scott Holman, is a parody of the adventures of the famous Lone Ranger. In the Desert Star’s spoof, Buck Sidesaddle is saved from an untimely demise by his Native American friend, Pronto. Sidesaddle, wearing a mask, becomes the Lone Stranger and with sidekick Pronto fights against the devious Finius Thermador. The plot line is nothing new—bank robberies, train holdups, and the typical good versus evil standoffs, and damsels in distress.
Obviously, this material is not meant to be substantial or even all that original. But all the same, I found the script lacking, particularly in the first act of the show. This piece is written in the style of a Western melodrama, making it even more over-the-top than a typical Desert Star production. However, that’s not what bothered me. I was underwhelmed by the comedy in the first act overall—it just wasn’t that funny. Worse yet, moments that were meant to be funny simply became awkward, such as the (over)running joke in which saloon showgirl Flossie (Carli Christoffersen) belts out modern-day songs that mimic phrases Finius (Matt Kohler) says. Christoffersen’s singing sounded great, but the joke fell flat from over- and misuse.
Directors Mary Parker Williams and Scott Holman did a good job of making sure the actors all acted on the same melodramatic level. This is a must for a melodramatic show because one person’s under-acting can make every other actor seem overly false and makes the whole production seem uncomfortable. The actors certainly had energy and they seemed to work well with what they had to start with—which at times, script-wise, was sloppy and overreaching for jokes as far as I could tell.
I have to admit that perhaps the script was funnier than I have given it credit for being, because sadly I felt like missed at least a third of the lines and more than half of the song lyrics due to poor diction and microphones. The actors use Western accents, which are appropriate for the play’s setting, but too often words became jumbled together so I could only catch the general drift of what was being said. (And it wasn’t just me—my niece, who accompanied me to the show, complained of not being able to understand the lines.) The microphones didn’t seem too quiet, but perhaps for this show, in which heavy and almost mocking accents are used, they needed to be turned up higher. Certainly the actors needed to make a greater effort to enunciate, particularly in the musical numbers.
As far as performances go, other than the high percentage of lost lines, the performers had consistently vibrant energy and stayed committed to the material, no matter how silly. Corey Brandenburger was a fun, bright-eyed, and slightly geeky Buck Sidesaddle—a hilarious good-old-boy contrast to his deep-voiced and gallant Lone Stranger. Brandenburger was a hero worth rooting for and his comedy played well off his sidekick, Pronto, played by Matt Mullaney. Mullaney’s Pronto earns top honors for being the most consistently funny and intelligible character of the night. (The two compliments for Mullaney are probably related). Pronto had the best one-liners, often dancing along the lines of political correctness with jokes referencing “Indian burns,” “Indian givers,” and the like. Mullaney played up all the jokes well so they need never be taken too seriously or as offensive, just as ironic and self-aware in a light way.
My favorite singer of the night was Alexis Owen, who played the sweet and innocent Miss Ellie Greening—Sidesaddle’s love interest. Owen’s lovely voice was strong without being overbearing, clear, warm, and a pleasure to listen to, particularly during her solo, “Somewhere That’s Clean” (a spoof off “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors). Owen also worked well with Brandenburger and was a lovable damsel in distress.
Henchmen Spud (Tyrus J. Williams) and Beans (Mary Parker Williams) filled the role of the hilariously over-stupid bad guys. They worked great together and got funnier as the script progressed. The costumes and makeup (designed by Lynn Funk) for Spud and Beans were perfectly matched to the characters. Wearing dirty-looking, even smelly-looking clothes and smeared faces, both actors might have stepped right out of an Old Western comic book (if such a thing exists). Beans’s fake buck teeth completed the ensemble and though they must have been uncomfortable to wear, the chops certainly played up the character’s clueless hick persona well.
Kohler’s Finius Thermador was a typical, though believable villain and his showgirl girlfriend Flossie, played by Christoffersen, had a strong singing voice and added some entertaining spice to the mix of things. Kerstin Davis’s Ma Roper rounded out the show representing the townspeople in general, and Davis added fun spunk to Ma.
The set design (uncredited in the program) was straightforward and felt right in-line with the Old West setting. Particularly stunning was a train set piece that had working headlights and even moved, creating greater sense of urgency in the scene for the damsel in peril (tied on the tracks, of course).
Desert Star’s The Lone Stranger was entertaining some of the time in the first act and most of the time in the second act. Overall, I wasn’t thrilled with the show, though it wasn’t completely terrible either. If this play had subtitles I may have had a more consistently positive experience, but sadly I can only judge the comedy that is communicated to me. I hope in future performances, more of the jokes land as actors enunciate whether talking or singing and as the microphones are turned up appropriately.