Put on your boots, grab your hat, strap on your holsters and get ready to go to the Wild West in Georgia Ensemble Theatre’s production of Panhandle Slim and the Oklahoma Kid. Written by Jeff Daniels, the musical comedy about a singing cowboy also showcases original songs written by Daniels. Boasting a talented cast, the production features Ryan Richardson as Panhandle Slim, Rob Lawhon as the Oklahoma Kid, Laura Floyd as Annabelle/Slim’s Mama, and Geoff McKnight as Tuttle/Horse Face Johnson.
Once in the theater, the audience is ushered back in time by Scenic Designer Jonathan Rollins’ extensive prairie. Complete with brush, prairie dust, and large rock formations, the set is accented by Mike Post’s lighting design. To add to the realism, Sound Designer Thom Jenkins has devised a wonderful collection of prairie sounds, featuring buzzards and coyotes.
The musical comedy takes the audience on a journey to discover the deeper meanings of life along with the idea of what makes us good and evil. Daniels’ script, while in many ways homage to Roy Rogers by including a singing cowboy with a horse named Buttermilk, is thin at times. The actors, however, take what they have been given and create remarkable performances under the direction of Robert J. Farley.
Plenty of humorous moments are sprinkled throughout the show. As the singing cowboy, Lawhon provides strong comic timing and Gomer Pyle mannerisms, which give the show its charm and heart. His singing voice, however, melts even the most callous audience member. Lawhon’s vocals soar, but when added with Floyd’s serene voice, the music becomes inspiring.
Unfortunately, Floyd doesn’t have enough stage time to dazzle the audience with her exquisite voice. Nonetheless, she mesmerizes the audience with her few selections. Her shining moment, though, comes when she is playing Slim’s mother as she sings a traditional hymn.
As Slim, Richardson’s gruff portrayal of the dying cowboy delivers a strong performance as the straight man to Lawhon’s comic lines. His performances, taken on their own, show considerable talent from the moment he is dragged on stage and left to die in the barren prairie.
Those who enjoy westerns, particularly Roy Rogers, will find this production enjoyable. Panhandle Slim and the Oklahoma kid is not a night of deep, dramatic theater, but it will spur discussion and is a chance to be transported to the Wild West and hear beautiful songs sung by beautiful voices. For tickets or more information about Panhandle Slim and the Oklahoma Kid, please visit http://www.get.org/.
– Kenny Norton