Mary Murfitt and Betsy Howie’s obscure, country-fueled Cowgirls surprises because it’s much more than it appears to be. And so are the six women who make up the colorful cast of mismatched characters.
Continuing its inaugural season, Napa’s new Lucky Penny Productions plucked the 19-year-old Cowgirls out of thin air, and it turns out to be a shrewd choice for the Penny’s cozy, 99-seat venue. Neatly transformed into a Midwest honky-tonk, the theater even has a working bar onstage—early arrivals can step up and order a brew from the fully in-character cast members.
Jo (a magnificent turn by Daniela Innocenti Beem) is the owner of Hiram Hall, once a thriving country-music spot now facing foreclosure. After the death of her dad, Jo plans to save the joint with a concert featuring the Cowgirl Trio.
Not too happy are Jo’s employees, Mo (Staci Arriaga, adorably goofy) and Mickey (Taylor Bartolucci, effectively playing against type), who’d hoped Jo would have given them their own shot at stardom. Particularly peeved is Mickey, who, with less talent than she thinks she’s got, unleashes her inner-bitch-diva upon the Trio.
Unfortunately, Jo messed up there, accidentally booking the Coghill Trio, a classical group desperate for a successful gig while out on a disastrous reunion tour. As the frazzled Mary Lou, Rita and Lee, the powerhouse threesome of Dyan McBride, Heather Buck and Danielle DeBow are pitch-perfect. With the future of Hiram Hall hanging in the balance, Jo reluctantly gives the Coghills a crash course in country singing, gradually revealing her own singing chops, which she’s dead set on keeping under wraps.
Directed by Barry Martin with a keen sense for silly but sensitive comedy-drama, the slight story springs to life in the performances of the marvelous cast. Each character has her own dramatic arc, with all six women having something to prove, hide or learn. What might have descended into a mostly plotless showcase for Murfitt’s catchy songs becomes something much more.
Ultimately, Cowgirls is a show about the power of transcending expectations, somehow managing, with loads of heart and heaps of charm, to do the very same thing.
Rating (out of 5):
‘Cowgirls’ runs June 4–21 at the
Lucky Penny Community Arts Center, 1758 Industrial Way, Napa. Thursday at 7pm; Friday–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2pm. $35. 707.266.6305