In “Gunslinger: The Legend of Billy the Kid,” at the Butte Opera House in Cripple Creek, don’t expect to see the “real” history of Billy the Kid. It’s better to think of Walter Woods’ circa 1906 Victorian melodrama as an “alternate history” where Billy gets to have a happy ending.
Despite its lack of reality or perhaps because of it, this Thin Air Theatre Group production is a rousing good time with loads of laughs and plenty of action. As in all melodramas, this one has a dastardly villain, a sympathetic hero and his lovely heroine.
The villain, Boyd Denver, played with evil glee by Ryan Simpson, is as bad a man as ever there was — definitely worth booing and hissing. Simpson has such range that it’s difficult to believe this is the same actor who plays the charmingly innocent lead in “You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown,” which plays in repertory with the melodrama through the summer.
Billy, as played by Joel Pellini, is as innocent as Denver is villainous. His childhood sweetheart and heroine Nell Bradley, played by Rebecca Meyers, is true blue as any melodrama character who has ever trod the stage.
Con Hanley, wonderfully played by Mel Moser, is Billy’s best and most loyal friend. Moser is at his best playing the witty Irishman with the heart of gold.
Three actors play two characters each in this melodrama. Paige Herschell plays Billy’s mother, Mary, and the good-hearted Jennie. Ali Schondel, who is great as Snoopy in “Charlie Brown,” plays Mrs. Evelyn Bradley, the heroine’s aunt, and the murderous harlot Molly. Geoff Karnish plays both Billy’s father Stephen Wright and Peanut, a ner-do-well barkeep.
Finally, none-too-bright Bud is played to a T by Brett Warnke.
There were a few first-day accidents — a gun that jumped its cue and a flubbed line — but these also were played for laughs.
Melodramas at the Butte rely on audience participation and there are plenty of opportunities for the audience to join in the fun. If fact, participation makes this melodrama even more fun than it already is.
As good as the melodrama is, the olio is possibly even better. It offers cast members opportunities to showcase all their talents — singing, dancing and acting — along with a lot fun-loving tom-foolery.
While the acting and singing abilities of the cast thrilled the audience, what took place behind the scenes had as much to do with the melodrama’s success. After the production and olio, Moser makes sure the audience knows who is responsible for making the melodrama happen — Director Mickey Burdick, Stage Manager Gentry Garrett Smith, Musical Director Katie Holmes, Choreographer Stacy Smith, stage and set designer Nancy Hankin and costume designer Brandie Larsen.
If you go, be sure to read the souvenir newspaper and bring your laugh track because “Gunslinger” is sure to please. For ticket information, visit www.butteoperahouse.com.