Harpswell audiences journeyed back to the Wild West in early August for three live performances filled with plottin’, schemin’, singin’, dancin’ and heaps of cowboy humor.
And in a first for the 21-year-old Harpswell Community Theater, this summer’s Western comedy with musical acts, “Saga of Wagon Wheel Saloon,” featured young’uns in major speaking and singing roles. The show ran Aug. 4-6 at Centennial Hall on Harpswell Neck Road.
“Wagon Wheel” tells the story of Bad Bart Boyd (Levi Robinson) and his Bad Boys, Shooter (Michael Millett) and the Arizona Kid (Dr. Michael Brumet, the show’s producer), who, in a comical twist, hails from Maine. The Bad Boys have robbed a stagecoach and plan to use the loot in a slightly Goldbergian scheme to take ownership of the local saloon.
But saloon owner Kitty Delite (Sarah Cavarra) isn’t having it. She’s recently lost her in-house entertainment and is trying to lasso a replacement. Some talented acts show up.
They include Annie Way (Shirley Bernier), an entertainer from back East who delights the saloon’s patrons with two sassy serenades. But there’s just as much action at the card table, as Slick, the card dealer (Robert Lewis), thwarts a cheater with an assist from local sheriff Sam Right (Tom Vurgason, who also wrote and directed the play).
Other fixtures in the saloon include Buddy the bartender (Linda Despres) and Sister June, the temperance movement leader (Joanne Rogers). And there’s even a pair of dancers (Claudia Hagg and Joe Goldman) who stop by for a tango on their way through town.
Then there are the daughters of Tough Sledding (Mose Price), the stagecoach driver, and his wife (Jean Calderwood), who is listed in the playbill only as “Frazzled Mother.” The five daughters are Cady (Acadia Coombs), Emma (Ava Aronne), JoJo (Ada Samuels), Jessica (Charlotte Despres), and Pinky (Cora Despres).
Calderwood explains in a brief interview how the family Sledding mistakenly ends up trying out as a saloon act. “(My character is) not extremely smart,” she says. “I don’t know what an audition is, and I think a saloon is a salon.”
It all works out in the end, as eldest daughter Cady realizes she was born to be a saloon singing star. “I end up staying in the saloon and working there because I want to be famous,” the 10-year-old Coombs says in a pre-show interview.
And as for Bad Bart and his Bad Boys, there might just be some justice comin’.
Not all of the talent was onstage for the company’s performances. Harpswell Historical Society President David Hackett warmed up the crowd with stories and jokes before the show, while Luke Aronne handled many of the technical aspects.
The Historical Society owns the venue, Centennial Hall, and has been a longtime partner in Harpswell Community Theater productions, which have ranged from one to three per year since its first show in 2003. The organization was founded by Betty Erswell in fall 2002.
“When Betty decided to have a theater group, I was the first one she called, because she wanted to use the building,” Hackett says in an interview during the show’s dress rehearsal. “I said, ‘Sign me up. I’ll be a part of it, but I’m not going to act.'”
Vurgason, the writer and director, says the addition of major parts for young kids this year was its own sort of gamble, and one that paid off. He says the five child actors, ranging in age from 4 to 10, came a long way from the start of rehearsals and really nailed their parts.
“We’ve had one or two kids (in nonspeaking roles) before, but this is the first time we’ve had children with lines and action,” Vurgason says. “The kids are already asking, ‘When can we do the next one?'”
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