Fringe 2019 – Gunfight at the Not-So-OK Saloon
This year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival saw many musicals gracing the small theaters of Hollywood – from a DnD tribute to a sassy Disney sendup to a 1960s Batman blowout. So, why not add a Western opera to the mix with Gunfight at the Not-So-OK Saloon?
Gunfight at the Not-So-OK Saloon, written by Brooke deRosa and directed by Jennifer Clymer, takes place in the old west, in a saloon-slash-brothel. The clientele take liberal advantage of the opportunities to sate both thirst and lust, but it’s clear they crave something more. Something different. Something new. As if on cue, the saloon’s doors swing open and new arrival Chance enters, looking for his long-lost love, Hope. But what saloon owner Floyd and madam Netty don’t want to tell Chance is that Hope is now a lady of the night – and under the thumb of Sheriff Sunday.
Gunfight is a snappy, and fun production that would do very well on a larger stage with a bigger cast. I can imagine the saloon girls taking full advantage of a bigger stage, throwing their layered petticoat skirts around and toying with the male customers. However, Clymer and choreographer Julie Bermel have been quite clever in how they take advantage of the MacCadden Theater’s two-story stage. By separating the lower floor into the saloon’s bar and the upper into Hope’s den of love, they allow for quick and efficient scene changes while creating more play space for the actors. The chorus numbers, and even a ballad or two, have some sensual, tongue-in-cheek choreography, which is quite amusing and funny.
The cast of Gunfight is full of exceptional performers, especially vocally. The songs tend toward an operatic rather than Broadway style, which is an unexpected (but not unpleasant) choice for a Western setting. This also plays to the leads’ strengths, allowing Jonathan Matthews’ (Chance) bold tenor and Jade Bates’ (Hope) lilting soprano to shine. Nandani Sinha (Netty), Jason Chacon (Abe) and Spencer Frankeberger (Gabe) are especially strong musical theater vocalists, while Christopher Anderson-West (Floyd), Anthony Moresi (Wyatt) and Phil Meyer (Sheriff Sunday) are phenomenal character actors. The saloon girls – Monica Allan, Jessie Massoudi, and Rosa Evangelina (who is super funny as a bitchy dancer) – portray fun characters as well, but I would have liked to have seen tighter choreography.
The suggestiveness of the lyrics and staging provides a nice contrasting dynamic for the more traditional opera score, and all of the actors pull it off beautifully. Occasionally, however, it was difficult to understand what is being said due to the music/voice balance, the pronounced Southern (or in Matthews’ case British) accents, as well as the lack of enunciation in the given style. That being said, the actors’ facial expressions and body language works wonders in helping fill in the gaps from lost lyrics.
Gunfight is a very cute musical-comedy, but it feels a bit rushed toward the end. The revelations in the third act come rapid-fire in order to tidy up the plot happily. But the conclusion also raises some questions that maybe one would rather not think about – Chance and Hope are bound to have very awkward family dinners. All in all, though, Gunfight at the Not-So-OK Saloon is an engaging and charming musical that has so much potential – especially if expanded into a bigger production in the future. I found myself wanting to join the cast in their boot-stomping shenanigans on more than one occasion!