The Holy Cows of Credence, South Dakota (billed as “a new moo-sical”) is a charming, if simple, tale of a group of friends struggling with loss of faith as they cheer on their church baseball team which has never won a game. This new musical has heart and the cast does well with the given material, but it offers little more than a funny look at churchgoers in small town America.
The shows’ lead character is Marlys (performed with incredible nuance by Stephanie Krikman), a middle-aged mother struggling with her faith in the face of a terrible family tragedy. She is the glue that holds the town together, but lately can’t even seem to communicate with her teenage daughter (played by Julia Menn with emotional warmth and accuracy). As Marlys and her three friends watch the game and cheer on the team, they simultaneously confront life’s challenges. Soon, their desire for the “Holy Cows” to break their losing streak becomes all important as they equate winning the game to success in their own lives (“Baseball is life” sings Kirkman in the ballad “Where Are You?”). If only the Holy Cows could win, Nancy (played by strong-voiced Alanna Gwynn Shaffer) will finally have the courage to talk to her husband, and Marlys will finally have a sign that God exists, and so on.
I found it unfortunate that the towns-people who populate Credence are very much stock characters with over-simplified objectives. Little is being done here to push past the skin-deep assumptions we make about them at first sight (the goth teenager really wants her mother’s love, the seemingly-happy housewife bakes all day to avoid her loveless marriage). This choice limits the musical to a more common, face-value story despite the fact that there is great potential for emotional impact. I found myself viewing the story as an outsider, and not feeling truly connected with the characters’ plights. Of course at times this doesn’t matter at all - the audience found glee in Lisa Dennett’s fast talking, loud mouthed Grandma Fette; while at other times certain devices are so over-used that they seem recycled and unimaginative (the town whore really wants to find “Mr. Right”). These formulaic choices made for a viewing experience where I often knew exactly what was going to happen long before it actually did.
The set and lighting for the musical are effective yet simple. There is simply a bench, some chairs, and a few props used to tell the story. Under the able direction of Rodrigo E. Bolaños, the cast works wonderfully to create the atmosphere of a live baseball game. Featuring sports on stage is a difficult task, but the straightforward, imaginative staging of this production nails it perfectly.
The book by Mark-Eugene Garcia and music and lyrics by Paul and David Rigano fit in the world of the show. The songs rely heavily on familiar musical phrasing and abundant lyrical puns to incite laughter, and don’t offer enough revealing information about the characters. For the most part the songs do not elevate the material, and at times they contribute to its elementary nature. Lyrics such as “I’m their Kathy, their Hoda, their personal Yoda,” make for hysterical quips, but provide very little plot development or insight into these characters’ lives. While I understand that this musical is meant as a light-hearted experience, I felt slighted by the dumbed down material, especially considering the high ratio of ballads in the show.
In the end, this musical makes for an entertaining 90 minutes and elicits quite a few laughs, but despite the potential to offer a deeper look at the universal themes of faith, questioning God’s existence, and family, the creators opt for a lighter, more polished tale that fails to elevate itself beyond a simple Sunday-school story.