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A CurtainUp Review

Urban Cowboy: The Musical

Matt Cavenaugh as Bud (Photo: Paul Kolnik )
This cowboy has had a rocky ride. Its co-author and original director died before the show got to New York. Preview attendance was dismal and the musicians' strike further emptied rather than filled the producers' pockets. After the decidedly less than ecstatic first night reviews. the show saddled up for a getaway after just four official performances.

Even when a show lives up to the mediocrity of its bad publicity, you can't help being glad for the hard-working performers to see it snatched from death's door. Only time will tell if the eleventh hour announcement that enough money had been found to keep the urban cowboys and gals strutting and twanging for at least a little while longer is a case of throwing good money after bad. That time may come as early as April 12th since the two-for-the- price of one offer in the ads that hit the papers after the dramatic March 30th announcement is good through that date only.

I won't speculate on the show's longevity, but having seen it just two days after its "reopening" it won't take much time to sum up its chief assets:
  • The band energetically led by Jason Robert Brown -- conducting, playing the keyboards and singing his own and the show's best number, "That's How Texas Was Born", at the top of the second act.
  • The energy and enthusiasm of the whole cast.
  • The show's second bananas, Leo Burmester and Sally Mayes. They are the only characters who don't gyrate their hips frantically, but as the leading man's aunt and uncle manage to convey real musical theater characters.
As for the story, I'm afraid the backstage drama is more heartwarming and interesting than what's on stage. Like Saturday Night Fever this musical is also inspired by a movie starring John Travolta. While Saturday Night Fever was music and dance driven and thus could have been the Class A musical it was not, Urban Cowboy has little cause for its meager and only slightly changed story (and, unfortunately, much less realistic and sympathetic characters) interrupted by breaking into songs (a melange of tunes from the movie soundtrack like "Lookin' for Love", plus additional numbers by Brown, Jeff Blumenkrantz and Bob Stillman). I use the word "interrupted" purposely since that's exactly what these songs do -- interrupt, rather than carry the plot forward. The same is true of Melinda Roy's choreography which is high on sexual voltage but low on originality.

As the adaptation of Saturday Night Fever suffered from a star who simply didn't convey the charisma of John Travolta, so Urban Cowboy falls doubly short. Matt Cavanaugh is attractive and sings well, he lacks that special something once known as " oomph." Another Broadway newcomer, Jenn Colella, also has the looks and pipes, but is hardly the discovery that Debra Winger was.

The band is deservedly positioned on a turntable at the center of the stage it (it also moves forward and backward as needed), this also tends to dwarf the rest of the action and set, which only emphasizes the best of the show status. The set overall, by the usually better than capable James Noone is not especially attractive and his projections don't do much to compensate for the authentic location shorts that gave the movie its slice of life bite.

Finally, there's the mechanical bull. Riding it turns out to be as mechanical and repetitive as the dialogue and the endless choreographic gyrations. This is a big musical but for a show big on imagination, you'd do better to see a little show like Zanna Don't!.

Based on the Paramount Picture
Book by Aaron Latham and Phillip Oesterman
Directed by Lonny Price
Musical direction, orchestrations and arrangements by Jason Robert Brown
New songs by Jason Robert Brown, Bob Stillman and Jeff Blumenkrantz
Choreography by Melinda Roy
Cast: Matt Cavenaugh (Bud), Jenn Colella (Sissy), Rozz Morehead (Jesse), Sally Mayes (Aunt Corene), Leo Burmester (Uncle Bob), Jodi Stevens (Pam) and Marcus Chait (Wes); also Michael Balderama (Travis "Trouble Williams"), Mark Bove (Marshall), Gerard Carter (Roadkill) , Justin Greer (J. D. Letterlaw), Brian Letendre (Baby Boy),Barrett Martin (Trent Williams),. Chad L. Schiro (Luke "Gator" Daniels),Nicole Foret ("Tuff" Love Levy), Lisa Gadja (Bambi Jo), Mitchell Kittrell (Bebe "Bubbles" Baker), Kimberly Dawn Neuman ( Barbie McQueen),Terra-Lee Polin (Candi Cane),Kelleia Sheerin (Bille "Verika" Wynette), Paula Wise (Sam)
Set and Projection Design: a James Noone
Costume Design: Ellis Tillman
Lighting Design: Natasha Katz
Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald
Musicians: Conductor/keyboards, Jason Robert Brown; Keyboards: Dave Keyes; Drums: Brian Brake; Guitar: Gary Sieger; Bass: Kermit Driscoll: Fiddle: Antoine Silverman; Pedal Steel Guitar, electric and acoustic Guitars: Gordon Titcomb
Fight director: Rick Sordelet
Music coordinator:John Miller
Associate choreographer:,Chad L. Schiro
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes including one 15 minute intermission.
Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St. (Broadway/8th Av), 239-6200
From 2/27/03; Opened 3/27/03. Closed March 30th. Mon-Sat 8PM, Wed & Sat @2PM -- then repopened and on 5/12/03 announced final closing for May 15th..

Musical Numbers
Act One
  • Long Hard Day/Jesse, All
  • Long Hard Day(reprise)/Jesse, All
  • I'm Gonna Like It Here/Bud
  • All Because of You/Aunt Corene
  • Another Guy/Sissy
  • Boot Scootin' Boogie/Hardhats, Bud, Sissy, All
  • Dancin' The Slow Ones With You/Pam
  • Cowboy Take Me Away/Sissy
  • Could I Have This Dance?/Bud
  • Could I Have This Dance? (cont'd)/All
  • My Back's Up Against the Wall./Wes, Cowboys
  • If You Mess With the Bull/Jesse, All
  • I Used to Like It Here (reprise)/Bud
  • Honey, I'm Home/Sissy, Jesse, Cowgirls
  • That's How She Rides/Wes
  • I Take It Back/Bud
Act Two
  • That's How Texas Was Born/Band
  • Take You for a Ride.Pam, Wes
  • My Hopalong Heartbreak/Sissy
  • Dances Turn Into Dreams/Jesse
  • The Hard Way/Sissy, Bud
  • Dancin' the Slow Ones With You (reprise.Pam
  • Git It/Jesse, Ensemble
  • Something That We Do/Aunt Corene, Uncle Bob
  • Something That We Do (cont'd)/All
  • Better Days/Jesse
  • The Devil Went Down to Georgia/Marshall, All
  • Lookin' for Love/Bud, Sissy, All

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