In the 1990s Horizon Theatre staged an off-Broadway hit called Cowgirls. It turned out to be a huge hit for the theater as well, playing to sold out shows and moving to the 14th Street Playhouse. For Horizon’s 30th anniversary season, the theater is staging a remount of the musical.
Cowgirls, with its campy humor and almost parody-like songs, may not be your cup of tea, but many have and will love it. Conceived by Mary Murfitt, the musical features a Book by Betsy Howie and Music and Lyrics by Mary Murfitt with original development by Kevin Murphy.
Set in Hiram Hall, a saloon in Kansas during the mid-1990s, the musical is about Jo Carlson (Christy Baggett), who is in deep financial trouble and desperately trying to bring the saloon back to its former glory. She hires the Cowgirl Trio to be the star performance that will save the day. Only the Cowgirl Trio isn’t a country band, but a classical musical group, who booked the saloon by mistake.
Written during a time when “Achy, Breaky Heart,” “Boot Scootin’ Boogie” and line dancing were at the peak of their popularity, the musical features a few toe-tapping numbers. Most of the songs, though, come across as a non-country music person’s view of country music as well as seem a bit patronizing.
The characters lack substance, and the plot is absurd. However, the show has heart along with an empowerment message that resonates with audiences. In addition, the cast is amazing. Not only do they sound great, but they also play their own instruments, several of them each at that.
As Jo, Baggett proves that she is a tour-de-force in Atlanta’s musical theater scene. When she sings ballads or even the high-energy numbers, she commands the audience’s attention with her strong presence and vocals.
The talented trio includes Katherine Anderson, Paige Mattox and Pearl Rhein. The ensemble also includes Ally Duncan and Christy Clark as the saloon’s staff members. Their roles are barely fleshed out, but the two ladies make them stand out and become memorable.
Cowgirls plays at Horizon Theatre through June 29, 2014. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is just under two hours with an intermission.
– Kenny Norton