The Medicine Show (A Play With Music)
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
August 14, 2007
This is the story is of a traveling medicine show in the Midwestern American Plains in the 1930s. It is run by flimflam man Elmer Boggs (played with wonderful conviction by Rico Rosseti). Weaving across the plains and hitting every town they can, Boggs and his troupe try to make a buck with music, stories, and so-called miraculous potions. He is accompanied by his beautiful daughter Hannah (a luminous Jessica McKee), and a Native American gentleman who was called Sunshine Speaking as a child, and who now goes by Dark Cloud (a somber Joe Cross) Also along are group of roadie/musicians who call themselves "The Lonesome Prairie Boys."
Hannah was born with a red birthmark that covers half of her face. During the medicine show, after revealing her "devil's mark" to the gathered audiences, she drinks from her father's potion, then retreats into the covered wagon where moments away from the sun are proclaimed necessary for the potion to work. When she emerges from the wagon unmarked (after some quick covering with makeup) it is not hard for Mr. Boggs to sell his wares. Hannah is attracted to the guitar player in the band, Nate Rogers (wonderfully and sensitively performed by Ryan O'Nan). Rogers is a ladies man who has no trouble finding companionship in their travels, but he is drawn to the upbeat and honest Hannah, who refuses to think less of herself because of her physical challenge. He finds himself falling deeply for her. The other men are all protective of Hannah, while still relegating her in their minds to a limited life by their standards. Hannah finds herself falling for Rogers as the one man who can see her real potential as a person.
Meanwhile, Boggs faces the reality that his wife left them when she could not face the affliction of their child, and struggles to create a "real" healing potion that will genuinely help those in need and gain the true respect of his daughter. There is a period of elation when this seems to have been accomplished, but some tragic results.
Both Christopher Halladay as the focused but fair-minded Sheriff and Keith Longo as Eustice, his simple but dedicated deputy, do subtle and wonderful work, and special mention must go to Raphael Biran as Earl (fiddle), Joe Choina as Joe (upright bass), Alan Cross as Delmar, (guitar/mandolin/harmonica), Alex Fanuele as Drumboy Billy (percussion), and G. Doug Pierson as Lester (button accordion, guitar). Not only do they bring down the house with their singing and playing, they each bring a unique character to the stage.
The piece is very well directed by Kevin Kittle, who keeps a real down-home feel throughout. David Dannenfelser (book, lyrics and music) and Patrick Gallagher (composer, musical director, and sound designer) both do top-notch work. The dialogue is charming and the music, which is lively and diverse enough to stand on its own, flows organically through the piece. The lovely choreography by Beth Criscuolo and rustic costumes by Lauren Noyes add immeasurably to the show.
I was really taken with The Medicine Show. In less skilled hands it could come off as out dated or hokey, but the talent, commitment, and sincerity of the creators and cast make it a charming and touching experience. Regional theatres should snatch this one up!