Friday, July 15, 2016

New Musical IDAHO! Premieres At Las Vegas' Smith Center

Nate Hackmann (center) leads the cast of IDAHO!
(click pics to enlarge - all photos by Erik Kabik)

For those readers in Las Vegas this weekend, I heartily encourage you to run to The Smith Center where Idaho! The Comedy Musical is killing audiences with tons of laughs and titular tunes.

The new musical, lyrics and book by Buddy Sheffield with co-composer credit to Keith Thompson, is a mashed up/parody version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical canon with an emphasis on sending up their classic tuner, Oklahoma!. Think applying a healthy dose of double entendre Mel Brooks' The Producers humor, plus hysterical irreverence like that currently trodding the Broadway boards in hits like Book of Mormon and Something Rotten! and you get an idea of what's in store.

Sheffield and Thompson's score is clever and tuneful with plenty of musical inside jokes for the most learned of musical theater fans. Along the way you also get nods to Les Miserables, Fiddler on the Roof and many, many more.

The project got it's initial exposure at the New York Musical Theater Festival back in 2008 when it was honored with "Best of Fest." I mention that to note that this is how long it takes to develop a real, honest-to-goodness Broadway musical. Eight years later the show is finally getting a major production here in Las Vegas.

The fruit of that extended developmental period of time is on full display here. The book is tight, the lyrics smart, and the creative team seems open to honest reassessment. Sources report that between the first preview and opening night the second act was tightened by 5 minutes. This is a team that demonstrates a strong sense of clarity in what they want to deliver to an audience.

The official synopsis goes thusly:

Idaho! The Comedy Musical brings a hilarious new love story to life as Cassie Purdy, a mail-order bride from Ohio, arrives to Idaho to marry the notorious Jed Strunk, a real toad gagger who’s got the personality of a festered wart and enough money to buy every last spud in town. Upon her arrival, Cassie encounters the handsome Whip Masters, falling in love to Strunk’s dismay and setting in motion a whirlwind of events that end in three couples either discovering or re-discovering the loves of their lives.

The handsome "Whip Masters" is played to perfection by handsome, gorgeous voiced Nate Hackmann (recently seen in the Broadway revival of Les Miserables) who is worth the price of admission all on his own. A big, huge, golden voice, and comedy chops to match, Hackmann let's us know up front that, “Heck, it’s a helluva day!” because, after all, “I’m the leading man.”

Jessica Fontana (Broadway's Cinderella)is the object of his affection, and for good reason. Fontana plays "Cassie" with much sass and a winning soprano.

Also featured in the cast are Matt Loehr (Book of Mormon, The Producers) as "Slim Johnson" (careful of the double entendre there) and Alex Ellis (Catch Me If You Can, On A Clear Day) as "Ida Dunham" (another pun there). Think Oklahoma!'s "Will Parker" and "Ado Annie" but with a lot more good, clean sexual punning going on.

Carmen Ruby Floyd, Jen Perry and Jay Rogers all join in to farm the fun and frivolity.

Director Matt Lenz has a firm grasp of the very specific kind of humor he working with here, and he delivers keeping the pace turned up high and the humor constantly center stage.

Choreographer Michelle Lynch continually finds terpsichorean creativity throughout including heaping helpings of humor with her "Twister Ballet" and the "Everything's Up To Date In Kansas City" stand-in "Boise’s Jist as Noisy as Kin Be" led by Loehr.

The audience was clearly happy to take this hay ride as the laughs were constant throughout. This is spud-busting, tater-tickling, home-grown humor here, and the audience was definitely down for the fun.

Myron Martin, president and CEO of The Smith Center who spearheaded the development of the Center as a haven for touring Broadway shows to call home here in Las Vegas, is now taking the Center to the next level hoping to actually create musicals that Las Vegas can send to Broadway.

Idaho! makes for a worthy first effort. Stay tuned to see if the tuner tumbles all the way to the Great White Way.

But in the meantime, head down to the Center's Reynolds Hall and enjoy Idaho!'s fully baked fun with all the fixings.

Idaho! The Comedy Musical performs now through Sunday, July 17. For ticket info, call 702-749-2000 or click over to at The Smith Center.

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