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The Wild West Gets Wilder In Gold Dust Orphans' Musical 'Brokelahomo!'

Julee Antonellis as Emma Smalls with Jack Ferdman as The Naked Kid in Gold Dust Orphans' musical "Brokelahomo!" (Courtesy Michael von Redlich)
Julee Antonellis as Emma Smalls with Jack Ferdman as The Naked Kid in Gold Dust Orphans' musical "Brokelahomo!" (Courtesy Michael von Redlich)
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Ryan Landry tosses a crazy sagebrush salad in “Brokelahomo!” jamming in classic Westerns like clowns into a Volkswagen. The title of this latest mash-up from the Gold Dust Orphans (at Machine nightclub through May 27) pays tribute to “Oklahoma!” and “Brokeback Mountain.” But the plot more closely resembles “Johnny Guitar” doing the nasty with “Destry Rides Again.” Set in the gun-smoking town of the title, full of lawless, feuding gay hombres sporting fringed chaps and color-coordinated holsters, the show serves up dancing bulls, coyotes in tutus, cowboy Muppets and an homage to Cher, all while advocating gun control and other peaceable causes.

Ryan Landry as Vienna Walsh in Gold Dust Orphans' musical "Brokelahomo!" (Courtesy Michael von Redlich)
Ryan Landry as Vienna Walsh in Gold Dust Orphans' musical "Brokelahomo!" (Courtesy Michael von Redlich)

Once again Landry himself channels Joan Crawford, as he did in “Mildred Fierce” and “What Ever Happened to Baby Jesus?” Here, he’s mannish saloon owner Vienna Walsh, whose archenemy is not Bette Davis but Emma Smalls, a pint-sized, black-clad, mean-cackling evildoer who controls those pillars of the community, the bank, the bakery and the bathhouse. Orphans newcomer Julee Antonellis plays Emma with a villainous gusto that would give Margaret Hamilton a run for her money. Among her “gang” is Vienna’s son, Sundance, a big, blond mama’s boy torn between mamas.

There are as many schemes as tumbleweeds rolling through Brokelahomo in the cactus-clad production helmed by first-time Orphans director Robin JaVonne Smith, who is also in the show. Emma and her brother, ultimate rhinestone cowboy Ringo Pink (costumier extraordinaire Scott Martino poured into rose-colored rodeo duds), prepare to set up a tollbooth to charge hetero rustlers (“filthy breeders”) for herding their heifers through town while Vienna is out to make a secret deal with the railroad. Robbery, kidnapping, ransom and romance ensue.

Tim Lawton as Chubbs Henry and Jeff Blanchette as Dusty Rhodes in Gold Dust Orphans' musical "Brokelahomo!" (Courtesy Michael von Redlich)
Tim Lawton as Chubbs Henry and Jeff Blanchette as Dusty Rhodes in Gold Dust Orphans' musical "Brokelahomo!" (Courtesy Michael von Redlich)

Gunfire is omnipresent, but when the town starts to sound like a popcorn popper and the sheriff is among the corpses, Vienna sends all the way to Boston for “Lilliputian lawman” Dusty Rhodes (amiable straight man Jeff Blanchette), who turns up, like Dorothy in Oz, with a cute little dog (unflappable Orphans vet Rhoda) and no gun. Moreover, he rides into town on the same stagecoach as Sundance’s old flame Buck Wilde, now engaged to an antebellum airhead named Lily White (Taryn Lane, excellent as a Death Valley girl with an arid sex life).

As angry sparks fly between Buck and Sundance, Dusty falls hard for sexy barroom singer Frenchie Pissoir (Qya Cristál, dripping trashy hauteur and innuendo). “I know a beautiful woman when I see one,” the starry-eyed sheriff exclaims. “Wrong again,” Frenchie replies with a roll of her smoky eyes.

Act 1 of “Brokelahomo!” is amusing in the manner of all Orphans shows: it’s full of resplendent costumes, mugging actors, dirty jokes and glittery production numbers staged on a shoestring. Act 2, on the other hand, is close to inspired. I’m not sure I will ever again warm to a musical that does not include a saccharine love duet to “Up Where We Belong,” backed up by stern-faced dancing bald eagles.

Sam Thornhill as Sundance and Sam Terry as Buck Wilde in Gold Dust Orphans' musical "Brokelahomo!" (Courtesy Michael von Redlich)
Sam Thornhill as Sundance and Sam Terry as Buck Wilde in Gold Dust Orphans' musical "Brokelahomo!" (Courtesy Michael von Redlich)

Moreover, Landry, though he shamelessly repeats some shtick in show after show, has a gift for mixing the incongruous with the unexpected and making them work. Here, a hoot-worthy montage of projected Western images morphs from a photo of John Wayne to one of beloved Orphans actor and director Larry Coen, who died unexpectedly in January. It’s a poignant moment that smoothly slides out of the raucous, raunchy chaos of a show that’s dedicated to the late Boston theater mainstay’s memory.

Then, knowing full well that “Oklahoma!” is way too wholesome to have figured much in “Brokelahomo!” beyond getting its name co-opted for the title but also sensing that we need to hear its hearty title tune, Landry sends out mega-voiced musical director Tim Lawton to sing it. We mount our figurative steeds and head out of Dodge with Coen’s image in our hearts and Rodgers and Hammerstein ringing in our ears.


The Gold Dust Orphans musical “Brokelahomo!” continues through May 27.

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Carolyn Clay Theater Critic
Carolyn Clay, a theater critic for The ARTery, was for many years theater editor and chief drama critic for the Boston Phoenix.

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