"I Married Wyatt Earp": The Story of the Gunslinger's Wife
"I MARRIED WYATT EARP."
Book by Thomas Edward West and Sheilah Rae. Lyrics by Sheilah Rae. Music by Michele Brourman.
Directed by Cara Reichel and choreographed by Joe Barros.
Produced by Prospect Theater Company at 59E59 Theatres, NYC.
May 20- June 12, Tues.-Thurs. at 7:15. Friday and Saturday at 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). Tickets can be purchased at 212-279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.
Reviwed by Glenda Frank.
There are half a dozen good reasons for buying tickets to “I Married Wyatt Earp,” a new musical by Sheila Rae, Thomas Edward West and Michele Brourman at 59E59 Theatres. The music is terrific and so are the lyrics and performances. The story -- about love and the wild west -- is full of surprises, both dramatic and historical. (My limited fact-checking indicated solid historical research.) And the perspective is long overdue -- about the independent women who settled the west, struggling to make an honest living and to keep their gun slinging men.
The memory play follows Josie Marcus (the charismatic Mishaela Faucher as the younger Josie), a Jewish girl from San Francisco, as she invents an acting resume to join a Gilbert and Sullivan travelling troupe. She is determined to continue her romance with the dissolute Johnny Behan, a handsome cowboy she met in California. In Tombstone, AZ, the troupe almost fails to secure the promised venue, but they prevail and Josie finds her man. The Wild West is wilder than she thinks and it tosses her some sharp curves. She manages to rebalance, thanks mostly to a new friendship with Wyatt Earp, a taciturn, married lawman with a past. They live together for 47 years so it must have been bersheit (destiny), which is her word for their passion, a passion that made at first her a town outcast but secured her fame.
The tale is told from multiple perspectives, a rewarding technique that lets us understand the choices Josie was forced to make, her courage, and the women who become her extended family. We are guided by the older Josie (Carolyn Mignini), who is a consultant on “My Darling Clementine,” John Ford’s 1946 Earp-inspired film, and Allie Earp, her sister-in-law (Heather MacRae), Virgil Earp’s widow. They are not so much the before-and-after pictures or even narrators, but gadflies who challenge each other’s version and relive the traumas and celebrations of their younger selves.
Although the musical is set at the turn of the last century, it doesn’t feel like a dated story. Before sexting, there were private photographs: souvenirs of good nights, love notes. Josie sends one to Behan, the beau she defied her family to follow. And they were right about him. Not only does she catch him in bed with another woman (Ariela Morgenstern as the dark-haired beauty), but he sells this loving photo all over Tombstone. It’s a blockbuster, and before Josie can perform that night in H. M. S. Pinafore, she discovers his betrayal and the town’s mockery as the audience display their copies.
This is her first crisis -- a dramatic and moving moment. The younger Josie bolts from the stage. The older Josie, watching the scene, tells her to return and finish the show. And Wyatt Earp, an unseen face in the audience, has come to court her. As the town pariah, Josie has nothing to lose so she takes what she wants: she and Earp set up house. Earp’s drug-addled wife (Anastasia Barzee) has the support of the town’s women and her laudanum overdose confirms their condemnation, but when the men are falsely accused of murder, Josie’s loyalty and sleuthing win them over.
We meet the men only once, before the notorious fight at the OK Corral. They are a welcome addition, especially since they are played by the actresses in drag. They add dimension -- in a minor key -- to this story about the women who won the west. A little economics adds even more depth: once chambermaids and hookers before they became common law wives, in Tombstone the women open the saloon and sew tents to support their families.
The best number in the show is “Pins and Needles,” a choral piece, but all the music is appealing, especially with its varied orchestration. Ballads, duets, overlapping songs (sometimes with different words and tunes), company numbers, and solos tell the women’s story. Even the titles have a dramatic arc: “I Ain’t Goin’ Back,” Allie and Josie sing. “They Got Snakes out Here.” “Didya Hear?” “The Dust.” “It’s Different This Time.” “Stand Our Ground.” “I’d Do It All Again.”
The women move together and in confrontation in a simple but effective choreography. I loved the square dance when they carp at Josie the husband stealer. The clever two level staging by Cara Reichel creates its own dramatic tensions and movement and ensures that the present and the past rule their own domains of experience.
“I Married Wyatt Earp” is a rare and welcome treat. Much Americana has a wide sentimental or folksy streak, but this musical never loses the bitter in the sweet, the hardships and risks in the victories. It brings us tough, beautiful women fighting to survive and to love.
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