If you think opera is too highbrow for the average audience, then you’ll be very sorry to have missed yesterday’s encore performance of the one-act Gunfight at the Not-So-Ok Saloon. The Gilbert-&-Sullivan-style slapstick musical comedy, a player in this summer’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, was extended after multiple sold-out performances at the 60-seat McCadden Place Theater – and it’s no wonder, as Sunday’s audience whooped and hollered in delight from beginning to end.
On a stage set in an old West saloon, barkeep “Floyd” (Christopher Anderson-West) and “Gabe” (composer Brooke DeRosa and stand-in for an absent cast member Spencer Frankeberger) warmed up the crowd with rules of decorum, lest an errant audience member be shot by the sheriff for leaving during the 50-minute performance to relieve him/herself.
A quartet, comprised of Floyd and three rough cowpokes (Anthony Moresi, Jason Chacon and Brooke DeRosa), opens the show in song with much drunken rabble-rousing. A curvaceous and commanding “Madame Netty” (Nandani Sinha) snaps the wild bunch into behaving before she will invite the “girls” (Rosa Evangelina, Monica Allan and Jessie Massoudi) downstairs to entertain them. Enter confused cowpoke from Tarzana, “Chance” (Jonathan Matthews) – a stark contrast to the locals in his crisp white shirt and British accent – who has been wandering the desert desperate to find his beloved and chaste future bride, “Hope” (Jade Bates). As Chance sings a tender tenor aria of his undying devotion for Hope, Netty and Floyd worry and plot over the conundrum – Chance has been saving himself for Hope, who in reality is a saloon employee, a “lady of the evening, and sometimes the daytime”. In order to preserve Hope’s secret, Netty goes through a series of comical near-misses until she can get the news to Hope and reunite the lovers without spilling the beans about Hope’s line of work. The lovers eventually unite in Hope’s upstairs chamber and confess their love in song– as the chiseled “Sheriff Sunday”, Phil Meyer, enters the saloon in search of quality time with “his” girl, Hope. Furious that his favorite paramour is denied him because she belongs to another, the sheriff confronts the lovers and challenges the clueless Chance to a gunfight. Just in the nick of time, Madame Netty interrupts the deadly duel and saves the day, revealing that Chance is actually the love-child of Sheriff Sunday and herself, and the identifying heart-shaped birthmark upon his chest proves it.
This show is a true homage to Gilbert & Sullivan, most evident in costume and song. The hero and heroine are decked in white, the cowpokes and saloon girls stereotypically masculine and feminine, respectively; the villain (Sheriff Sunday) decked in his tall, dark cowboy best. The lovers’ duet, “Two Become One” expresses each lovers desire to become united – with obvious differences in agenda; the virginal Chance eager to marry Hope before doing “the thing” while Hope virtually exhausts herself with overt attempts to seduce Chance only to be repeatedly and comically rebuffed. The audience roars at the song’s ending when it seems that Hope has won her passionate kiss – only to have Chance land it on her forehead. Of course, there are patter songs, comically delivered by the Sheriff, “I Am the Sheriff of This Town” and Netty “You’re a Pig”, respectively. And the show-stopping ensemble finale “Fortune and Glee” is a tapestry of contrapuntal lines woven together to end the show with a bang.
At times, the quality of the singing was compromised, either by the recorded music volume or when the choreography became frantic due to escalating circumstances on the tiny stage. Still, the actor-singers were clearly all deeply committed to their characters and there wasn’t a loose link in the chain. Of all of the performers, it was Nandani Sinha (pictured with Mr. Anderson-West) who, in spite of the chaos around her, managed to be consistently grounded in fine singing, strong acting and believable interactions with her fellow actors.