PLAY REVIEW: Greenville celebrities let loose in ‘Westward Whoa’

By Lori Hansen • Last Updated 10:52 am on Thursday, February 02, 2012

Arizona Kid (Keith Hudson), Dallas (Susan Ayres) and Straight-Shooting Sam (Jim Hopkins) in the outlaw cabin discover why their coffee tastes like varnish. —Daily News/Lori Hansen

The classic story of the good guys versus the bad guys rings true in “Westward Whoa,” this year’s OUR 3 melodrama fundraiser.

It is also classic to see 19 local celebrities take the stage, singing, dancing and acting in completely different roles than the professionals they are.

The show opens Thursday by invitation only to sponsors and then is open to the public at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. A chuck wagon dinner will be served Friday night only.

“Doing the melodrama is a mid-year stress reliever for many of the cast who are involved in the school system,” Production Coordinator Cheryl Willard said “It is a chance for them to let their hair down, and they really enjoy themselves. They work well together and feed off each other.”

The melodrama has been an annual event for nearly 20 years with the last two sponsored by the Education Foundation of Greenville as a fundraising event for the OUR 3 campaign.

“Westward Whoa” is a fast-paced, 90-minute production that takes place near the small town of Vinegar Bottle, along the Santa Fe Trail. The opening number is led by Chuck Wagon, portrayed gallantly by Jeff Cook, and includes many of the cast onstage.

Chuck Wagon and his companions, Wild Bill Hiccup (Joel Van Houten), Candy Kane (Caroline Cook) and Dulcy (Leigh Acker), have joined others whose trains have also broken down and been looted at nearby Whistling Skull Rock.

Vinegar Bottle is in the midst of electing a mayor with two candidates. Sly saloon owner Smiling Slade (Mike Walsh) is one vying for the post.

“I know a bad penny when I see one, and he is a bad one,” says village citizen Cactus Kate, played with enthusiasm by Karen Hopkins.

Slade is running against bumbling Dusty, humorously played by Jeff Ayres. Dusty, however, is in the running only through encouragement of Clementine Splinters, portrayed matronly by Diane Brissette.

“There are only two ways to argue against a woman, and neither of them work,” mumbles Dusty after a campaign rally parade.

Chuck Wagon and Candy Kane sing a beautiful love song, “Anyone I Know,” working in local references into the lyrics.

The travelers and local citizens like Saloon Gal Sue Flay, played voluptuously Linda Van Houten, and her floozy cohorts Virginia Hamm (Gretchen Baarman) and Glazed Hamm (Judy Schmachtenberger). Travelers and locals alike are on the lookout for the infamous thief The Snake.

“We will never be civilized until that bandit is caught and put behind bars,” moans Mother Rogers, portrayed by Paula Aylsworth.

Working with The Snake are the Outlaws: Straight-Shooting Sam (Jim Hopkins), Arizona Kid (Keith Hudson) and Dallas (Susan Ayres). The trio take their share of mishaps and pratfalls, adding considerably to the humor of the show.

Evidence begins to surface when famous entertainer El Fandango, played regally by Katy McDonough, sees Sue Flay wearing her stolen diamond necklace. In a series of misunderstandings, Chuck Wagon is incriminated and taken to jail.

“The Ballad of the Hanging Tree,” with its unique lighting and Ghost Riders on stage, also is a well-done number, led by Jeff Cook and Joel Van Houten.

Lighting, blocking and choreography are also outstanding in the shoot-out scene and in one of the final numbers, “A New Broom Sweeps Clean.”

A comical, musical melodrama, “Westward Whoa” is a family-friendly show with all proceeds helping assure the performing arts can continue to flourish.

‘Westward Whoa’ If you go …
What: “Westward Whoa” OUR3 melodrama fundraiser
Where: Greenville High School Performing Arts Center
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 6:30 p.m. chuck wagon dinner (Friday only)
Tickets: $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students; $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and students (Friday dinner)

CAST: Dusty, Jeff Ayres; Mother Rogers, Paula Aylsworth; Cactus Kate, Karen Hopkins; Clementine Splinters, Diane Brissette; Minerva Springwell, Jan Wulf-Marvin; Juanita Fandango, Katy McDonough; Sue Flay, Linda Van Houten; Virginia Hamm, Gretchen Baarman; Glazed Hamm, Judy Schmachtenberger; Smiling Slade, Mike Walsh; Chuck Wagon, Jeff Cook; Wild Bill Hiccup, Joel Van Houten; Candy Kane, Caroline Cook; Dulcy, Leigh Acker; Lieutenant Ample Porridge, Jon Alysworth; Judge Oettigre, Nels Hansen; Straight-Shooting Sam, Jim Hopkins; Arizona Kid, Keith Hudson; and Dallas, Susan Ayres.

CREW: Ruth Hansen, director, Linda Van Houten, choreographer and vocal director; Joel Van Houten, assistant vocal director; Brittany Bassett and Kathryn Hagadus, stage managers; Samantha Horton, set design; Chris Chapman and Tim Schmidt, set build; Chris Chapman, light and sound design; Sam Moss, Mike Nielsen, Phil Rewaand Chris Stoutjesdyk, light crew;Andrew Geer and Scott Scripter, sound crew; Brittany Rhodes, fly; Aaron Fare, Kelsey Fonger, Elayna Huber, Devin Menzel, Mike Nielsen, Brittany Rhodes, Kelsea Silvernail, Anna Stanford, Dale Talmage and Matt Wilhelm, scenic; Kerri Bauer, Deserai Kent, Emily Mulder, Brittany Rhodes and Scott Scripter, floor; Kerri Bauer, Deserai Kent and emily Mulder, props; Jean Hudson and cast, costumes; Taylor Bergeron, Ella Byington, Jacky Hilliker and Theresa Moore, makeup; Cheryl Willard, production coordinator.

MUSIC: Bows, Bellows, and Good Lookin’ Fellows Band: Nels Hansen, piano; John Pellet, guitar; Jeff Cook, trumpet; Paul Pollock, bass; Kevin Christensen, percussion; Carol Sorenson, pianist.

Correspondent Lori Hansen is a Greenville area resident.

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