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NED DURANGO, with a book by prolific Canadian playwright Norm Foster and music and lyrics by Leslie Arden, is closing out the season at the 1000 Islands Playhouse. Set in a small town down on its luck, it features a group of locals determined to get the town back on track by impressing the builders of a new theme park. The builders are invited to the annual Tomato Queen parade and one of the locals brings in aging TV cowboy Ned Durango to lead it.
NED DURANGO is what I call a “why” musical. In other words, why is it a musical? With the exception of “Durango Medley” in Act II that reprises songs Ned did on his TV show, the songs, although nice enough, seem to get in the way of the action. A perfect example is “Can You Turn Back the Clock.” The scene preceding it where Ned confesses his problem is both powerful and moving – one of the strongest in the play. His song covers the same ground and much less effectively. Another spot is Orson’s “Little White Lie.” For me the song made the character even more two-dimensional and would be more believable as a dialogue scene.
That said, there’s some good singing and acting up on the stage. Geoffrey Tyler is very good as Tom, an ex-hockey player who owns the local café. Diana Coatsworth is equally good as Catherine, a single mother and the town’s ambitious mayor. They’re both good singers and their scene together at the end of Act I is really nice.
David Rosser plays Orson, Tom’s employee and sidekick, almost as a caricature. He works much too hard at being a bumbling rube, especially in the Act II opening, and is just not believable. It’s difficult to tell if the problem’s the writing, the acting or the direction.
As Kay, Orson’s estranged daughter, Keely Hutton does a nice job and has a powerhouse voice. However her first solo is set up so that we expect country-western and instead we get an introspective musical theatre ballad, ‘Half a World Away.” I wrote down after, as I also did after “Somebody Sends You a Sign” - nice song, wrong show.
William Colgate gives a blustery performance as Ned, if a bit too blustery initially. He’s much stronger in Act II and also has a great line I certainly identify with, “Time gives you wisdom – it also makes you homely.”
The café set by Steve Lucas is good and works well for the show and his lighting is just fine. Vandy Simpson’s costumes are also good and I loved the tomato queen get-up. Kiri-Lyn Muir’s choreography is fine, especially in ”Ned Durango” and the Reprises, although the SOUND OF MUSIC rip-off in “Big Oak, Goodbye” is so out of the style of the show it’s not even funny.
As for Leslie Arden’s music, she’s written some really good songs and put together a fine three-piece band. The vocal blend in the Act I finale is terrific. I just feel that the play calls for a more country style of music.
As usual, I object to the use of body mics. With such strong singers they’re just not necessary. At intermission I had to move farther back, as I was getting blasted from the speakers.
David Nairn’s staging works well and the pacing is good. However he could have worked more with his cast to develop more three-dimensional characters. All in all, though, it’s a pleasant evening and improves in Act II.
On a scale of one to five the 1000 Islands Playhouse production of NED DURANGO gets three and three-fourths fish. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.