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“Cowboys! A Musical Vaudeville and Medicine Show”

By Sarah Liebowitz; A&E Editor
On March 31, 2017

 

Jacob Tilton as Alfred (left) and Myles Parson as Rusty (right)
in the origional musical "Cowboys!"

Grab a saddle and get ready for PSU’s original musical “Cowboys! A Musical Vaudeville and Medicine Show.” 

“Cowboys!” will play April 6 – 9, in the Silver Center’s Studio Theatre. Written and directed by PSU faculty John Briggs and Paul Mroczka, the musical is a spoof on old cowboy movies. It has a “Blazing Saddles” feel, poking fun at the type of singing cowboy films featuring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.

“When I was a little boy, I loved all of that,” Briggs said. “It made perfect sense to me in my own childness. As I got older, I thought, these things are almost bordering on absurdism. But I still enjoyed them.”

“Cowboys!” has a show-within- a-show aspect, taking place within Phinnius Phalstaff ’s medicine show. In Phinnius’s show, brothers Rusty (Myles Parsons) and Alfred (Jacob Tilton) fight over whether to keep or sell their Wyoming ranch. Meanwhile, Mean Boss Lynch III (Samantha Leone) has his eye on land and power. Hilarity ensues.

The musical features silly lyrics, romping square dances, and a cast of colorful characters. It all gets tied up in a happy, cowboy ending.

Samantha Leone, playing Mean Boss Lynch III, dances during "Cowboys!"

Briggs has written a number of musicals, including “Play Me a Country Song,” which premiered on Broadway in 1982.

Before writing musicals, Briggs’ training was mostly in choral music.

He started writing musicals, because “it was a necessary thing to do, so I just did it.”

He started writing “Cowboys!” in 1975, then called “The Great American Musical.” At first, it was based off of “As You Like It.”

Briggs met Paul Mroczka while they were both working at Merrimack Repertory Theatre in Lowell, MA. Paul Mroczka wrote the book for the musical, eventually abandoning “As You Like It.”

“Cowboys!” had its world premiere during the fall of 1881 at Cumberland County Playhouse, located in Crossville, TN. It was rewritten and performed again in 2012.

It returns to the stage next month, with some rewrites, and an all-new cast of PSU students.

Original musicals offer their own rewards and challenges. “Everybody involved has to have a different kind of creativity,” said book writer and co-director Paul Mroczca.

“You can’t base your character based on anything that has been done before,” said B. Christopher Williams, who plays Phinnius Phalstaff and Colonel Lynch. “You can have pop culture references and things like that, but it’s not like your everyday musical where you can go home and listen to the cast album.”

Myles Parsons, who plays Rusty, said that having the writers on set is both a challenge and an asset. “You have to be very flexible and adaptive to any changes that are thrown out at you,” he said. “Nothing is set in stone.”

Parsons said he is looking forward to playing guitar on stage, and being challenged musically. He said that the show has a little bit of everything. “There’s a lot of stuff in here that’s going to catch you off guard in a good way.”

In the future, the writers hope to see more productions of “Cowboys!” and eventually get it published. Until then, audiences can pull up their cowboy boots, ride over to the Silver Center, and enjoy the show right on campus.

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