Red River By J.L. Curtin

"The sets, designed by Sinead Thibault, David A. Cox and J.P. Luckenbach and dressed by Eileen Dietz-Albany are quite impressive in materials and concept, as there are many shifts in locale."

Red River
by J.L. Curtin
I highly recommend the new family country musical Red River - from the pen of multi-talented Sally Wills who wrote music, lyrics and book, as well as directed this enjoyable entertainment at The American Renegade Theatre.

The story begins in Dallas where self-important politician Doug (loosely based on former President Lyndon B. Johnson), played by David Schulz, is winning state political offices with the help of gorgeous campaign manager Katie, powerfully portrayed by real-life wife Heather Schulz.
We soon see their romantic relationship revealed to Doug’s wife Bobbie Jean, a remarkably winning Keira O’Keiff, a petite and vulnerable heroine who immediately steals our hearts as she discovers her husband’s perfidy. She enlists best friend Ethel, loyal powerhouse Kayrin J.B. Nichole, and they sweep up Bobbie Jean’s two children, played by young charmers Kyre Wilcox and Kelsey Lewis, and are off to rural Red River, New Mexico, bravely trying to eke out a living from a mysterious bar-cafe.

Bobbie Jean encounters good guy Carter (accomplished actor, singer and dancer Qyn Hughes) and his jealous sidekick Maggie (the endearing Monica Revel) who send our dauntless crew into the back-country bar where they meet scary bad guys Cass (meany Harrison Ray) and not-so-meany Sam (Timothy Starks) and the intriguingly quiet, steadfast Eagle (played by Mark Luna, who reveals a complex musical and acting persona).

The evening is full of high romance and near melodramatic intrigue (I mean this in a good way as the audience was highly responsive, exploding with spontaneous applause, laughter and tears throughout) which are played and sung out with some spectacular dancing, choreographed and executed by Qyn Hughes and featuring Elizabeth Lambert and other cast members.

Musical Director Bill Schneider and versatile onstage country players Luke Halpin, Mack Dougherty and Harvey Newmark, adeptly playing multiple instruments, are in fine tune and well worth listening to in a splendid overture and rousing transitional music.

The sets, designed by Sinead Thibault, David A. Cox and J.P. Luckenbach and dressed by Eileen
Dietz-Albany are quite impressive in materials and concept, as there are many shifts in locale. Unfortunately, this complexity, which would be easily handled in a large theatre space with a big budget and all kinds of mechanical and electronic scene shift apparatus, creates some slow and awkward scene changes which, unfortunately, slows the story telling. Also, if I may be a little nitpicky, a light gray poncho is set at the top of the stairway of this impressive set with a strong spotlight focused on it which quite unnecessarily distracted my eye. Lighting design by Luke Moyer was otherwise a brave attempt to cover a huge two-story playing space with too small a budget and too few instruments, operators and electronic enhancements.

Costumes by Zale Morris tend to be colorful, fun, amusing and well planned, with the single exception of a murky brownish top which detracts from an otherwise lovely tan buckskin ensemble worn by Billie Jean near the end of the show.

The rest of the enthusiastic ensemble, Danielle Kovacs, Fred Russell, Devin Reeves, Lucian Casselman, Larry Dean and Kathleen Kaufman, do a fine job in their various roles and guises.

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