Thar’s an old musical favorite at the Palace back in town, buckaroos! Dadgum, you’re going to love the new twists and turns you’ll see in the time-honored Fairbanks classic, “Golden Heart Revue.”
The Palace Theatre in Pioneer Park begins its season May 24 at 8:15 p.m. On May 25, the doors fly open for a ship-shape charity performance. All proceeds benefit the renovation of the S.S. Nenana. May 26 is Locals Night, and tickets sell for $10 with Fairbanks identification.
The musical rendition offered by managing director Julie Jones has the campy feel of an old-time melodrama. Jones mixed a lively medley of songs with hilarious punch lines and plenty of physical comedy. (There are some double entendre jokes and a campy can-can dance).
The musical revolves around the saga of Fairbanks founder E. T. Barnette, a lovable scalawag in the theatrical production but less so as a historic figure. Jones suggests that theater-goers read the late local historian Terrence Cole’s “The Con Man E.T. Barnette: The Strange Story of the Man Who Founded Fairbanks.”
Part rapscallion, part shyster and part savant, riverboat pilot Barnette sets foot on an undeveloped stretch of swampland along the swirling Chena River. He’s been booted out of Oregon for cheating a partner in a hoss-swapping scheme, and, like many a failed Old West pioneer, he’s a-fixing to reinvent himself.
Performances alternate between two sets of cast members and four rotating piano players.
In the rehearsal this reviewer attended, stick-thin, rubber-legged Nicholas (Nick) Nappo plays show host and emcee E. T. Barnette. He plays the Fairbanks legend as a conniving slippery fish. You can trust Barnette’s word, because he’ll break that word every time.
The show is episodic with vignettes tucked into song-and-dance numbers. The audience learns that Barnette had more luck than brains. He’s a fast talker and smooth operator who aspired to be the toast of the taiga, and in fact, became become the first mayor of Fairbanks.
The frozen denizen of Fairbanks ought to have collapsed into a ghost town as the gold rush winked out, but the residents wouldn’t let their beloved city die.
Barnette’s hilarious onstage patsy is bumbling cheechako Felix Pedro. Played by bearded, baby-faced Bryan Kramer, Pedro gullibly submits to the mayor’s shenanigans. The cheechako is a hoot to watch while submitting to a pseudo-initiation at a goofy local men’s club.
The show’s painted backdrops are colorful and add to the old-time feel of Fairbanks. The Palace Theatre’s walls are covered with Western kitsch that early theater-goers will enjoy reading before the performance.
Tall, striking, long-legged Adele States is perfectly cast as Isabella Ingenue. Onstage with her is rubber-faced comic Janeka Lache Horton in the role of naughty-but-nice saloon girl “Lady of the Line.”
For me, the best duet of the night is when each lady hovers over a washboard to do their laundry. Director Jones said to me in an interview there once was little stigma in historic Fairbanks to being a hooker. All souls were created and treated pretty much alike in Olde Fairbanks.
Most scenes are crisp. Punch lines sing and zing.
An exception is a long rift about mushing (iinspired by Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” baseball skit) that goes on painfully too long. Chances are it will be cut somewhat if a live audience displays restlessness.
Classical pianist Januelle Celaire doubles as a performer delivering faultless gag lines from her honky-tonk piano bench. Celaire brought her teenage daughter to watch the show, and so my wife Gosia and I were an audience of three.
By the way, we weren’t invited to review the show. We just showed up at an early May rehearsal.
What happened is that Gosia and I took our nightly stroll in deserted Pioneer Park to admire the transplanted pioneer cabins. All at once, Celaire’s honky-tonk piano beckoned us like Circe seducing Odysseus’ mariners. Stealthily, Gosia and I cracked open the door and gaped at the show-in-progress. We expected to be asked to scram. On the contrary, director Jones invited us to watch the show.
“The energy of the performers shot up when they suddenly had an audience,” Jones said later to Gosia and me.
Gosia and I hooted and hollered all through the musical just as you will, we bet.
We stayed long after the show to catch all the stage notes that Jones shared with performers. The director addressed every flub I noted in my notebook and dozens I missed.
Reminder: The popular Salmon Bake opens May 21 from noon through 8 p.m. From May 22 on, catch the Salmon Bake from 5-9 p.m. daily.
What could be better than a salmon dinner and a darned good show?
Contact Managing Editor Hank Nuwer at 907-459-7582 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.