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Loveless Texas

High-powered country western score makes this an energized update of the romantic comedy “Love’s Labor’s Lost” with a top-notch cast.

Bligh Voth, Amanda Lea LaVergne, Joe Joseph and Trisha Jeffrey in a scene from “Loveless Texas” (Photo credit: Yadin Photography)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Shakespeare’s plays have been a rich source for American musicals, successes like The Boys from Syracuse, Kiss Me, Kate and West Side Story and flops like Oh, Brother!, Babes in the Woods and Rockabye Hamlet. His early comedy, Love’s Labor’s Lost has been musicalized several times: a 1973 opera had a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman to music by Nicolas Nabokov; in 2000, director Kenneth Branagh released a film musical reset in 1939 to songs by Berlin, Gershwin, Kern and Cole Porter, and in the summer of 2013, Shakespeare in the Park presented a new musical to the story by composer Michael Friedman and director Alex Timbers which turned the tale into a college romp.

Now as Loveless Texas by Henry Aronson (music and lyrics) and Cailín Heffernan (libretto and direction) it has become a delightful country-western musical set in the Lone Star State during the Great Depression. Faithful to the original story, it has a high-powered cast made up mainly of Broadway and National Tour veterans and contains a foot-tapping score. Its only flaw is that at two hours and 40 minutes, it is overly long considering not a lot happens. This might be caused by the fact that the entertaining songs do not forward the plot or that the unit set is basically used as the same stage picture all evening. Nevertheless, this Off Broadway premiere presented by Boomerang Theatre Company is a vastly enjoyable musical entertainment and should have legs to future productions.

Although the plot has been reset in Loveless, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana, circa 1929, it is an improvement over the original story as a romantic comedy: Shakespeare’s version ends with a death and four pairs of lovers departing and agreeing to meet in a year’s time. Loveless, Texas puts the funeral at the end of the first act, and brings all four couples, plus two more, together by the final curtain, which is much more satisfying. (No spoiler this as it is obvious what will happen – just not so obvious how they will get there.)

Colin Barkell, Brett Benowitz and Joe Joseph in a scene from “Loveless Texas” (Photo credit: Yadin Photography)

Divorced and lonely King Loveless Ferdinand Navarre is a cattle baron and oil prospector on his ranch in Loveless, Texas. Troubled by his younger brother Berowne’s profligate ways with his frat buddies, Boyet Duke Dumaine and Kyle Bubba Longaville, since they finished college, he is able to call the shots when he has them bailed them out of prison in Paris after a shocking affair and brought home. Neither Duke, trained as an accountant, nor Bubba, a licensed lawyer, can find jobs due to the Depression, while Berowne expects to continue as a high living playboy on his trust fund. Threatening to cut off Berowne’s funds, he makes the three buddies a deal: he will give them all jobs if they agree to no drinking, swearing, gambling or womanizing for three years. Almost immediately, they are confronted by Gwen Soileau, business manager for the Cajun businessman LeRoi Beausoleil, the father of LaReine (pronounced Larraine), over a previous hand shake deal to sell an oil claim, which has since turned into a major strike that King no longer wants to sell.

The other problem is that LaReine has traveled to Texas with her three sorority sisters, Rosaline Aucoin, Kathy Bridge and Maria Broussard who are sweet on Berowne, Duke and Bubba, who they have met before, and when King becomes sweet on LaReine, there is trouble over the pact. Add in Pastor Joe Don Armado, an itinerant preacher who goes to work for King, Jacquenetta, Duke’s highly sexed younger sister living with her Aunt Gwen, and Randy Costard, King’s assistant, a former Texas A&M football star, and you have the making of a complex romantic sex comedy. Let the games begin.

Colin Barkell and Chase Kamata in a scene from “Loveless Texas” (Photo credit: Yadin Photography)

Though the possibly too rich score includes Texas swing, bluegrass, blues, Cajun waltz, the two-step, and cowboy yodels, the dominant style is country-western, often suggesting classic songs of Woody Guthrie. With the savvy six person band led by the composer, the score is given a glorious reading. Among the rollicking and clever songs are the three college buddies in their salad days in “This Party Will Never End,” and “If Ladies Were Friendly (Like Horses).” The sorority sisters have their say in “I’ll Catch Him Till He Catches Me.” All the men get in on “Thank You Kindly, No” which eventually leads to their pact of abstinence. The first act ends with the fast-paced “Draw the Line” sung by two ardent but angry couples, King and LaReine, and Berowne and Rosaline. Randy and Joe Don raise the roof in “This Time,” while King and Berowne have a moving duet in “Home to Your Own.” Berowne and Rosaline have the final say in the powerful, “You Can’t Rob A Man Who Has Nothin’.”

Heffernan solves the problem of the French characters in the original play by making them Louisiana Cajuns and Cajun is amply sprinkled throughout the dialogue. Plot points that are not made entirely clear include the fact that King and Berowne’s parents died in an oil rig explosion, and the guys and girls have been friends since their college days. The fact that King’s former wife has left him is used to explain his seriousness and celibacy. While some of the characters are less well drawn than others, the talented, accomplished cast gives all of them colorful personalities, making the couples very distinct.

The entire cast has impressive singing voice and makes the most of all of their musical numbers. As Berowne, the most partying of them all, Joe Joseph is a regular Texas ol’ boy who finally sees the light, and wraps his powerful tenor around his songs. As his more mature and responsible brother, Darren Ritchie is a strong presence as the sober King who has put love on a back burner while he got on with the business of running the ranch. John Herrera (The Mystery of Edwin Drood, In the Heights, 1776, Evita,) brings authority and his powerful baritone to the traveling preacher Joe Don Armado. With his athletic physique Colin Barkell as the fun-loving Duke Dumaine makes a clear contrast with Brett Benowitz’s Bubba Longaville clad in glasses, characters who in Shakespeare are often mistaken for each other.

The cast of “Loveless Texas” (Photo credit: Yadin Photography)

Amanda Lea LaVergne is a feisty Rosaline, giving as good as she gets, suggesting she will make an excellent Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing or an adaptation someday. Chase Kamata is a fiery vixen as Jacquetta Dumaine, while Trisha Jeffrey has a lovely presence as the refined, clear-headed and self-possessed LaReine. Through they aren’t given a great deal to do as the other two sorority sisters, Annette Navarro makes Kathy more of a good-time girl bewitched by Duke’s good looks, while Bligh Voth’s Maria is a more serious minded young woman liking Bubba for his humor. As Gwen, business manager to the Beausoleil family, Kimberly JaJuan brings a cool presence to a woman holding her own in a man’s game.

Evan Hill’s serviceable unit set is enhanced by David J. Palmer’s slide projections which make the individual locations more distinct. The costumes by Cheryl McCarron are faithful to the time and period, though Rosaline and Maria’s dresses are a bit too similar in some scenes to keep them apart. Along with the slide projections, Michael O’Connor’s lighting adds atmosphere to the different locales and times of day. Although Loveless Texas can use some tightening, even in its present form it is a hugely engaging and entertaining romantic musical comedy which has more going for it than many recent stage shows.

Loveless Texas (through September 24, 2017)

Boomerang Theatre Company

The Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker Street, between Lafayette Street and the Bowery, in Manhattan

For tickets, visit http://www.boomerangtheatre.org/lovelesstexas/

Running time: two hours and 40 minutes with one intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (415 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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