Theatre Review: Asparagus strikes gold with silly western fable

What’s a gal gotta do to get a drink around here? That’s the thinking upon entering the Rowdy River Saloon, located smack dab in a 1850’s Colorado mining camp.

It’s easy to be transported to that time, when townsfolk aimed their chewing tobacco into spittoons and carried guns ready for a quick draw, when you watch the musical Gold Dust, currently being staged by Armstrong’s Asparagus Community Theatre.

The fun and very silly production, with songs such as First Beer of the Day and When I Get Down to Business (sung with va-va-voom by the local madam) is sure to make any cow-poke smile.

The dreariness of Wednesday’s rainy opening night was dismissed as soon as Asparagus co-founder and veteran actor George Young broke through the saloon doors.

Playing prospector and miser of all misers Jebediah Harp, Young’s facial expressions are worth their weight in gold alone.

Based loosely on 17th century French writer Molière’s comedy The Miser, Young’s character puts the cheap in cheapskate.

Like Harpagon from Molière’s fable, Harp is obsessed with wealth and even faints, holding his heart, when he hears the words rich, money or gold. Meanwhile, he’s hiding the fact that he’s actually hit a claim, having stashed away some gold dust in a whiskey jug.

Jebediah tries to hide the inheritance from his children, telling them he’s had to sell his horse and candlestick, “times are so hard.” However, his kids, Suzanne and Cliff (played by the lovely Madison Reynolds and just as sweet Nathan Domarchuk-White), are wise to their dad’s wily ways, but they’re too busy singing love songs with their respective paramours to fight him.

That is until wedding bells start ringing.

Suzanne wants to get married to lanky drifter Jim Don (played with wit and wisdom by Phelan Gotto), while Cliff is head over heels with smart cookie Mary Ann (Kaila Sinclair; what a voice this girl has!)

Both want their father’s blessing, but Jebediah’s got other plans.

The old man gets the hair-brained idea that he’d be better off marrying Mary Ann, while Suzanne should marry Mexican Don Juan, Senor Alvarez (a moustachioed Paul Kirkwood-Hackett), who is 40 years her senior and will marry her without a dowry. (Cue the song No Dowry.)

Harp, as you can well imagine, is most pleased with that tidbit of news, so he gets in the way of true love. The guy really is a scoundrel, but a likeable one.

Other characters who enter the saloon include the town’s madam, Diamond Lil (played with sass and class by Laurisa DeFehr), who is more popular than a turnip in a pig-pen. She gives us all the business  in the aforementioned cheeky number and shares advice to anyone who will listen, at one point saying, “Out here in lonely ol’ Colorado, a good lookin’ woman can melt snow and make stones whistle Yankee Doodle.”

Joining the ensemble is the narrator/barkeep/cook and chief bottle washer, played by the charismatic Mark Trussell with three different accents at that, although it’s unclear what his French character, LaFleche, is doing in this dusty mining town but stirring up trouble.

Spending most of her time in a stupor is the hilarious Jeunesse Pearson, who plays the town drunk, then briefly a saloon girl, and also as the self-wound inflicting sheriff,  who needs a pen really badly. (Seriously, go see this play just for that scenario.)

Besides all the tunes, sung along to the tinkling of upright piano player Julie Dorsey (who gets her own scene stealer) and guitar wielding Kim Sinclair, the show has a barroom brawl to rival that of the boxing match between Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson (although no ears were chewed off that I could see.)

There’s also a gun draw to the detriment of poor Silver Billy the Kid (a very short cameo by the aptly named Brodie Muskett).

Add a twist ending and the authentic set, complete with an English bar (thanks to set designer Maryke Simmonds and the show’s director Mandy Penner, who sought the help of Armstrong antiques dealer Allen Bensmiller with that find), and you have yourself one heckuva rowdy time in the Ol’ West.

Asparagus’ presentation of Gold Dust continues at the Centennial Theatre in Armstrong, Wednesday to Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at The Guy Next Door, located at 3450A Okanagan St. in Armstrong, or reserve by phone at (250) 546-0950.

Kristin Froneman is the arts and entertainment editor at The Morning Star.

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