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A CurtainUp Review
Lone Star Love A New Musical (Also Known As The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Texas)

Howdy, folks! My name's George Page and I wanna welcome all o' you Windsor folk to my ranch for our annual Texas Barbeque and Bean Festival. As is our custom, we're gonna provide you with a little homespun entertainment. And this year, seein' it is the 398th anniversary of Billy Bob Shakespeare's 'The Merry Wives of Windsor'--England, that is-well, we've taken that tale and given it some Texas beef. So sit back and enjoy how that big 'ole tub o' lard John Falstaff rode into Windsor town and tried to take our local wives for a ride, how he got his comeuppance--and a whole lot more.
Jay O. Sanders
Jay O. Sanders
(Photo: Joan Marcus)
The show starts at the usual curtain time, but get there in time for the Texas style barbecue and bean festival hosted by the 23-member cast -- including this latest Shakespeare adaptation's Falstaff mingling with the audience in his present-day guise of a fellow named Rufus. The barbecue fixings include chili, potato salad, corn muffins, hot dogs, plus beer, cookies and lemonade (which are trotted out again at intermission). I'll leave it to Zagat's to rate the food, but the festivities do seem to put everyone in the mood to enjoy the show.

I wish I could tell you that the show the Amas Musical Theatre has rustled up adds up to a not-to-be-missed musical theater experience. Lone Star Love's creators have certainly worked long and hard to bring off this big budget Off-Broadway run -- with trial runs at the Alley Theatre in Houston in 1988, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis in 1989, the Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park in 1994 and Cleveland's Great Lakes Theatre Festival in 2001). The show is a lively and fun entertainment, but even a cast that includes much topnotch talent and the always welcome Red Clay Ramblers can't transform this foot-stomping Civil War era Merry Wives of Windsor adaptation into more than a one star musical.

The main problem is the source material. The Merry Wives of Windsor ranks among Shakespeare's silliest and least sturdy comedies. Shakespeare lore has it that this was a hastily written response to Queen Elizabeth's request for a play in which Falstaff falls in love. While John L. Haber has faithfully transported all the English Windsor characters to a Texas ranch. What we get is not a clever spoof but plain down-home silliness. Jack Herrick's music has a catchy Western beat but the songs tend to interrupt rather than move the farcical doings forward, and the lyrics, like the story reach elephant ear high corniness.

Jay O. Sanders, a major asset as a fat-suited, bumbling Falstaff, is a dishonorably discharged Confederate Sergeant who with his pals Bardolph, Pistol and Nym (played by three of the versatile Red Clay Ramblers, Chris Frank, Jack Herrick, Clay Buckner) wander into the Texas town that's home to two rich like cattle ranchers, Frank Ford (Gary Sandy) and George Page (Dan Sharkey) and their comely wives (Beth Leavel/ Aggie Ford; Stacia Fernandez/ Margaret Anne Page). True to Falstaff s prediliction for getting into trouble, he proceeds to set his cap for not one but both ladies. The wives being smarter than Falstaff (or for that matter their husbands) see to it that the fat man gets his inevitable comeuppance.

Besides leading to Falstaff's downfall, the many ridiculous disguises and mishaps also end up resolving the Ford and Page family squabbless. Frank Ford learns to trust his Aggie and the Pages realize that their daughter is better off married to Fenton (Clarke Thorelle), the handsome yodeling cowboy she loves than to Papa Page's choice (the Sheriff's dim-witted nephew (the former played by Nick Sullivan, the latter by Brandon Williams) or to the foppish French Physician (Drew McVey) her mother prefers. There's also the amorous doctor's maid and go-between, Miss Quickley (the engagingly animated and high-stepping Harriett D. Foy).

Happily the lame comedy is often interrupted by the well sung tunes and ballads and choreographer Randy Skinner's colorful dances. Derek McLane's two-tiered set and Jane Greenwood's as always handsome costumes further help to make Lone Star Love easy on the ears and eyes. In short, this isn't a disaster. It's just that when George Page's welcoming speech promises that they've taken Billy Bob Shakespeare's tale "and given it some Texas beef" it turns out that the beef isn't top grade.

Lone Star Love A New Musical (Also Known As The Merry Wives Of Windsor, Texas)
Conceived And Adapted by John L. Haber from Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor
Music And Lyrics By Jack Herrick, with contributions from Michael Bogdanov, Bland Simpson And Tommy Thompson.
Directed by Michael Bogdanov
Choreography by Randy Skinner.
Cast: Jay O. Sanders (Sgt. John Falstaff), Gary Sandy (Frank Ford), Beth Leavel (Aggie Ford), Dan Sharkey (George Page and Col. Joseph E. Johnson), Stacia Fernandez (Margaret Anne Page), Julie Tolivar (Miss Anne Page), Nick Sullivan (Sheriff Bob Shallow), Brandon Williams (Abraham Slender), Drew McVety (Dr. Caius), Harriett D. Foy (Miss Quickly), Clarke Thorell (Fenton). The Band:Jack Herrick (Captain Pistol), Clay Buckner (Corporal Nym), Chris Frank (Private Bardolph), Emily Mikesell (Miss Libby). Gary Bristol (Host of the Garter Saloon), David Longworth (Sticks)
Set Design: Derek Mclane
Costume Design: Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Matt Kraus
Fight Director: Malcolm Ranson
Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
Amas Musical Theatre at John Houseman Theater, 450 West 42nd Street (9th & 10th Avenues) (212) 239-6200
From 11/21 to 1/09/05--extended to 2/06/05; opening 12/08/04.
Tickets are $50,
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on December 7th press performance
Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Carry Me Home/Mourners (Women of the Company)
  • Cold Cash/ Falstaff, Colonel Johnson & Women
  • Texas Cattlemen/The Men of Windsor
  • Prairie Moon/ Miss Anne & Fenton
  • Caius's Theme/ Doctor Caius
  • Throwdown in Windsor/The Company
  • Reprise:Prairie Moon.Miss Anne & Fenton
  • Hard Times/ Bardolph, Pistol & Nym
  • The Cowboy's Dream/ Fenton & Miss Quickly
  • World of Men/Mrs. Page & Mrs. Ford
  • By Way of Frank Ford/ Mr. Ford & The Band
  • Finale: Lone Star Love/The Company
Act Two
  • A Man for the Age/Falstaff
  • Count on My Love/ Fenton & Miss Anne
  • Code of the West/The Company
  • Quail Bagging/ The Company
  • Texas Wind/ Mrs. Ford
  • The Wild Cat Moan/Pistol & Miss Libby
  • The Ballad of Falstaff/Falstaff & Company
  • Act Two Finale: Lone Star Love/ The Company
  • Postlude, Sugarfoot Rag/ The Band
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