From: Norm Johnson
Went to the Smith Center for the Performing Arts to watch and listen to the world premiere of a brand new musical, thought up over a great many years, and a few hundred miles of highway driving, by its creator, Buddy Sheffield. The title is “Idaho.” And why did he select that sorta forgotten state up north to write a musical about? I’ll tell ya the secret later in the column.
But as I sat there in the unbelievable, fantastic Reynolds Hall awaiting the overture, I thought of a few men who probably would’ve enjoyed being on that stage, that night. Some of the great singers from our past who had graced some of the most majestic stages in the world, men like John Raitt, Howard Keel, Alfred Drake, Gordon MacRae, and my wonderful friend Robert Goulet.
Just want to take a minute to tell you about a man and his dream: In 1982 I hired to do publicity for Robert Goulet, who had just signed a contract to perform at the Dunes Hotel for four weeks. Well, gang, he stayed a year, returning the following year and the next). As a resident of our little village, Goulet would always bring up one subject near and dear to him: The one thing Las Vegas needed was a real Broadway type theater which could seat about 3,000, with a great stage where some of the wonderful touring musicals could perform. Every chance he got he would make a call to a city councilmen or county commissioner (even a Governor or two) prodding them about his dream. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see his dream come true. That’s why, as I sat in my seat, watching a new, young man sing some fabulous songs, I thought of my friend Robert. I also remember when I was a kid growing up in California how much I enjoyed listening to John Raitt on the radio, and seeing Gordon in the movie, “Oklahoma” and others. And, Howard Keel who was an unbelievable singer, actor and was definitely as “robust” as any singer in those great musical movies. Gosh I miss those great voices!
But, thank God, we have creators like Sheffield and his partner in this endeavor, Keith Thompson, who worked long and hard to come up with a finished project, ‘Idaho.” Of course it took a man in charge of the complex, who sat down and listened to their presentation, and approved the show for production, Myron Martin.
“Idaho” is an original Las Vegas produced musical comedy that just very well could be our very first production to make it to the great “White Way,” Broadway. It’s honestly sorta a spoof on one of the greatest Broadway Golden-age musicals ever, “Oklahoma,” by the great team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein in 1943, in which Alfred Drake starred. “Idaho ‘was previewed over the years-out-of-town, and even picked up a few awards. What makes it work is that the actors understand the jokes, and of course the audience gets the idea of the show. It’s definitely a big spoof of a wonderful era of musicals.
Nathaniel Hackman is the man with the big voice. He sorta reminded me of Robert in that he can not only belt out some great songs, but can equally carry the comedy needed for this musical. He plays the part of spudbuster Whip Masters (you may want to think of Curly in Oklahoma), who falls in love with a gal, Cassie Purdy (played beautifully by Jessica Fontana), who is a mail-order bride for one of Whip’s arch foes, Jed Strunk (performed by Paul Vogt who reminded be of the great Berle Ives). Need I tell you more? Nope, that’s the plot and it works its way from her arrival on the train to the small potato town, to the land Whip owns and the spuds he grows, to a big gamble by the town folks, who seem to not like Strunk, but who sorta owns the town. That pretty much is it!
There’s some damn good acting and singing throughout the two-hour production. One song I personally enjoyed was “Double Standard Blues,” sung by a marvelous lady, Carmen Ruby Floyd, who played Mavis White Eagle (born as a Black female, but was raised by Strunk as an Indian—I think I got that right?). Anyhow that song sorta stuck with me, as did the title song, “Idaho,” performed absolutely to perfection by Whip and Cassie.
There are a ton of great one-liners throughout the play, which brought up the audience with lots of laughter. I enjoyed the entire evening, and I think you will too! The cast is full of some great singers, actors, and dancers: Matt Loehr (he’s a hoot), Alex Ellis (smart-alecky like,) Jennifer Perry (an absolute joy), Jay Rogers (the poor dumb sheriff), and the dancers, wow, are they fantastic. Sheffield and Thompson had some great help in bringing the musical to the Smith Center Stage: Director Matt Lenz did a magnificent job of getting the timing down so the jokes could fall on an anticipating audience, and Michele Lynch’s choreography was perfection personified! Now don’t expect any million-dollar sets for this production, but what Las Vegas-based Andy Walmsley did with the dollars he had was well spent. It has the honky-tonk feel of those early farm days, during the-turn-of- the-20th- century when this supposedly takes place.
Now the answer to “Why Idaho?” In his own words, Sheffield explains: The joke answer has always been, “did you every try rhyming something with Wyoming?” The truth is I have long felt that the classical musicals of the Golden Era, Oklahoma! being the gold standard, were fertile ground for satire. So it was on a road trip from the Deep South to California many years ago I began making up songs about Idaho to entertain myself. For years I sang them at parties, playing all of the parts myself, until my wife Nina made me get serious about it and write the rest of the show. I shared it with my long-time friend, Keith Thompson, who’d had a brilliant career on Broadway and had recently moved to Las Vegas, which was becoming a kind of “second Broadway.” Keith set up a reading at UNLV and IDAHO was off and running.
Now do yourself a favor and don’t miss out seeing “ Idaho” at the Smith Center. Show time is 7:30 p.m. with a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. The show runs through Sunday, July 17. Tickets range from $39.00 to $129.00. Call 702-749-2000 or go to www.thesmithcenter.com for further information.
THIS AND THAT QUICKLY:
Tommy Savitt had his red carpet opening at the Laugh Factory Monday night, inside the New Tropicana Resort, before a near capacity filled room. Tommy is without question an unusual style of a comedian. Savitt sets himself up as this magical person, Tommy Lama, who has the audience believing for a second or two that he can actually read their minds, and that he is going to cure all their ills and those of the world. One of his funny lines is “Dr. Oz says not to drink while your pregnant, well I ask you how else are you going to get pregnant?” During one section of his 60 minute show he tells everyone he’s reading a lot of minds…He asks very seriously if anyone owns a dog…of course almost everyone raises his or her arm…that night he picked a lady near the front of the audience and he asks her what’s the dog’s name…she replies with a name…then he tells her you had a dog that died? She says yes…he asks what was the dog’s name, she answers, “Lucky.” Well the audience is on the floor with laughter. And it was not a set up either. That’s what’s making Savitt the talk of the town. He’s here through September, with show times at 5:00 p.m. and a couple of 7:00 p.m. shows when fellow resident, Rich Little i takes a night off. Call the box office for more information 1-800-829-9034 or 702-739-2411.
Well, gang, that’s it for this week. Hope you get down to the Smith Center to see “Idaho.” I’m outa here!