Seven Angels Theatre, Waterbury
There is still time to see the irresistible “Johnny Guitar” at the Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury. Writers, composers, directors, and performers have joined hands to offer a marvelous little musical, a spoof of the old Wild West movies, based on the 1954 Joan Crawford film.
The show had its off-Broadway debut two years ago, to cheers and awards at that time. And now the Seven Angels offers a most worthy revival, under the astute direction of Semina De Laurentis, the company’s founder-artistic director.
“Johnny Guitar” shows off with all the usual accoutrements of an oater—the shoot-out, the almost lynching, the one-time prostitute turned saloonkeeper, the stranger quick on the trigger, the saloon, the bad guys, the good guys. Nicholas Van Hoogstraten has written the book unerringly, tongue in check, hand on the heart.
De Laurentis gives every moment of the show just the right timing—the sudden freeze, the madcap pace, the story that rolls along. Johnny Guitar has arrived in town, hired to entertain at Vienna’s, the saloon owned by the woman of the same name. Clearly, there was once something between Vienna and Guitar. Meanwhile, the cattle people, and particularly Emma, want Vienna run out of town—or worse. Both Emma and Vienna have claims on one hombre--The Dancin’ Kid--which explain their hostilities.
Threats, confrontations, hangings, escapes all mix with the delicious ballads of Martin Silvestri and Joel Higgins. De Laurentis is blessed with a company of fine singers, who are also first-rate performers. Bridget Beirne, in particular, brings the show to soaring heights. Her Vienna is vivid, whether she is singing, facing off with Emma, or making love to Johnny Guitar. She meets her match in Christian Whelan as Guitar, and Mark Aldrich, with a good sense of comic timing, also stands out as The Dancin’ Kid. But the entire ensemble is impeccable, performing with never a false note or false move.
A word of praise, too, for the design team (Patrick Laffin, set; Bryan Rosengrant, lighting; Emery Roth, sound, and Renee Purdy, costumes), as well as the muscians’ excellent back-up.
In all, this is a not-to-be-missed show, a warming experience in this crisp autumn season.
-- Irene Backalenick
October 16, 2006