One hour and 40 minutes. That's how much time had lapsed in the Wings Theater Company's production of Cowboys! before a cast member made a reference to the movie Brokeback Mountain. The joke drew groans from the audience and a disapproving snort from a giant costumed horse. Certainly a musical comedy about a ranch that nurtures young, gay cowboys is bound to inspire some comparisons to the recent hit movie. However, the similarities end with "gay cowboys." This production is lighthearted and jolly, full of talented performers, cheeky songs, and silly jokes.
The plot is simple and classic: Aunt Rosie, owner of the Straight Arrow ranch, might lose her home if Rick the Texas Ranger and her cowboys can't do something to raise some money. Unfortunately, the boys—who are as sweet as can be—are terrible at all of the normal ranch-hand duties. Instead, they decide to put on a Wild West show to make enough money to save the ranch. But the "black hats" arrive to foil their plans. Knowing that the property contains untapped oil resources, Boston Bart Black and Lovely Lily Luscious want Aunt Rosie to turn over the land to them.
Their solution? Have Bart seduce honest Ranger Rick to gain control of the situation. But soon Bart realizes that his flirtatious charade is starting to turn into something more. High jinks ensue, the Wild West show goes on, and in the end everyone lives (and loves) happily ever after.
The comedy is drawn in broad strokes, and every character is a caricature of an Old West archetype. In fact, every stereotype is covered, and the show is nowhere close to being politically correct. Bart and Lily are city slickers from the East (Bart looks like John Travolta as Tony Manero in a shiny suit). Injun' Bob shows up in braided pigtails and a loincloth and speaks in broken English. Even Aunt Rosie's cowboys—known as the Croonin' Caballeros—aren't safe. Their biggest talents are fashion design, interior decorating, and "ropin' and ridin'." Innuendos abound.
Speaking of innuendos, the show is full of saucy jokes and some racy references; the songs have titles like "Everything's Bigger in Texas" and "Make the Switch." But the jokes never get raunchy, and it's all in good fun. Of course, there's a little bit of beefcake on display: all of the men are incredibly good-looking, and no opportunity is wasted to remove shirts or otherwise expose some skin (see: Injun Bob in a loincloth).
Cowboys! opens with Ranger Rick Rowdy (Brian Ogilvie) strumming on his guitar: he's our protagonist. The main plot revolves around his character, and as a Texas Ranger, he's the one everyone turns to for answers. Cute and blond, with an easy smile and a sweet voice, Ogilvie is clearly the glue that holds the production together. But David Tacheny, as Boston Bart Black, quickly becomes the show's star. Maybe this is because his character has the biggest emotional arc. Tacheny is confident and comfortable onstage, whether singing, dancing, or mugging as a cartoon version of a gangster-turned-cowboy trying to seduce a man.
The show's subplot follows Colt, Ranger Rick's sweetheart, as he discovers his attraction to Injun' Bob, the other mysterious stranger in town. Colt is aptly named: he's a young, energetic guy, though none too bright. Jeff Sheets plays him with a sweet, gangly dopiness that's completely endearing. James Bullard, though obscured by a wig and black mask for most of the show, makes the most of his role as Injun' Bob. Bullard gets many of the show's funniest lines by playing the straight man, but he's able to cut loose in a wacky war dance.
The set deserves an enthusiastic mention. Most of the action was set on the ranch, complete with porch and corral. It was deceptively flexible and would have been perfect for any respectable professional production of Oklahoma! Behind it was a simple, hand-painted backdrop of the big blue sky and the open range. It reminded me of the kind of mural that might be found in the bedroom of a little boy, against which he could play "cowboys and Indians" for hours.
The set truly invoked the intentions of this production: Cowboys! is an evening of goofy sincerity where everyone just wants to have a good time. The feelings are contagious: the whole audience seemed to be smiling as it left.