Inspired by Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost, Boomerang Theatre Company’s Loveless Texas is a toe-tapping musical comedy set during the early years of the Great Depression. Although many of the characters hold the same names as in the Shakespeare play, the story begins with a twist: Berowne Loveless Navarre (the hugely talented Joe Joseph) and his buddies—Duke Dumaine (Colin Barkell) and Bubba Longaville (Brett Benowitz)—are playboys who travel from New York to Paris. Along the way they do all the things that upstanding young men shouldn’t be doing: chase women, drink liquor and spend the Navarre family money.
Will they ever grow up and settle down? This question irks King Navarre (the soulful Darren Ritchie), who has been writing checks left and right to help keep Berowne and his friends out of trouble. Their gallivanting is not only bad for the family reputation, but in America it’s Prohibition, and the boys can get into a heap of trouble for their wild behavior. And they do.
Beneath all this, director Cailin Heffernan, who also wrote the libretto, expertly teases out a tale of two brothers. King and Berowne couldn’t be more different: King is hard-working, and spends hours at his desk dealing with the family business. Berowne enjoys his footloose life, but after he and his buddies are arrested in Paris, they must come home. King offers them all jobs that come with conditions: no liquor and no women for three years. Berowne flatly refuses, but the others jump at the chance because the economy is terrible and they can’t find jobs in spite of being young and educated. Times are tough.
The standoff between Berowne and King hardens when Berowne decides not to honor the sale of a piece of land agreed upon in a handshake he had with LaReine Beausoleil’s (Trisha Jeffrey) father. King’s men have discovered oil on the land that would make them rich—or at least richer than they are. Now it’s greed vs. honor, which drives a deeper wedge between the two.
Henry Aronson’s country-western style music and lyrics do justice to the musical theater form. The songs heighten the mood of each scene, whether they be funny, pensive, or playful. The show features a live band which adds a wonderful touch to the toe-tapping, foot-stomping, make-you-get-up-and-dance hoedown that the show becomes at times. The cast are all exceptionally talented singers, but Amanda Lea LaVergne (Rosaline) and Ritchie (King) stand out, and their twangy singing is extra-special.
True to a Shakespearean comedy, love, like a spell, takes hold of each character, even those you’d least expect. It makes everyone happier and kinder, and even acts to soften the reserve between Berowne and King. But the two brothers are especially resistant to it. King has been alone, holding down the family business and being his brother’s keeper. He sings: “In the dead of night, when sleep is fleeting, I feel my confidence retreating (…) you’ve been won by a woman’s wooing.” As each one gives in to love, the mood, as does the music, turns celebratory, and uplifting. A perfect note to end the night on.
Loveless Texas plays through Sept. 24 at the Sheen Center (18 Bleecker St., Manhattan). Evening performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.; matinees are Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $32-$42 at www.sheencenter.org; they may also be purchased at the box office half an hour before the show.