Cast of “Cowboy Poet, a C&W Musical Photo by Minesh Bacrania .
By Bonnie Gordon
What happens when a Cowboy Poet, an impoverished socialite and an ex-con throw a Gala to benefit Adult Literacy in New Mexico?
What happens when a man must choose between keeping his word and saving face? You’ll find out at the world premiere of Cowboy Poet, a C&W Musical, an original country-western musical written, composed, and directed by Deborah Magid at Los Alamos Little Theatre.
The production features a band headed up by Musical Director Gretchen Amstutz on keyboards, along with guitar, banjo, fiddle and bass fiddle.
Cowboy Poet opens May 4 and runs Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. through May 19. There is a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m. May 13. Tickets are $20 for adults and $12 for students and seniors and can be purchased at the door or at CB Fox.
Cowboy Poet is set in Pojoaque and Santa Fe, and is all about New Mexico. Wyatt Rugosa (Bruce Lamartine) is the Cowboy Poet of New Mexico.
Wyatt as a poet was inspired by Henry Read Bird, former Poet Laureate of Montana, Magid said. Magid took a workshop with Real Bird at the Elko Cowboy Poetry Gathering in 2010. “One of Wyatt’s songs, “The Cloud-colored Ghost,” comes from a sonnet that I began in the workshop,” Magid said. “I’ve always found the lexicon of the West to be poetic.”
There’s a bit of Thomas McGuane in Wyatt as well, Magid said.
“Wyatt the man sort of figured himself out, fueled by my ever-present desire to write a love story that works out in the end,” Magid said. “His language is poetic—many of the lines in this show are iambic pentameter. He’s a cowboy through-and through and a poet because he has to be.”
Magid has worked with Bruce Lamartine a number of times. “I think he was born to play Wyatt,” she said. “Not that he’s a poet with a writer’s block, but he is an inventor, so he fully understands Wyatt’s creative process. He has a beautiful voice with a very large, flexible range, which is necessary for the role.
“Christina Martos is utterly brilliant as Grace Hundertmark, Wyatt’s elusive muse,” Magid said. “Christian’s opera career has taken her all over the world, not to mention that she trained at Yale, so she’s also an amazing actress. And she has taken to C&W music like a duck to water. My songs have never sounded so good.”
Linda Taylor plays Aileen Hundertmark Johnson, Grace’s sister-in law and nemesis. “She is one of the best, funniest, most directable actors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” Magid said. “This is her first musical, the first time she’s sung a solo or danced on a stage, and she’s totally kicking it.”
Laurie Tomlinson, Carolyn Connor, and Roxanne Tapia round out the cast. “They surprise and delight me at every rehearsal,” Magid said.
The production features sets designed by Los Alamos artist Fran Stovall. Stovall conceived the use of puppets for a couple of characters. Ryszard Wasilewski did a great deal of the set painting, including amazingly realistic-looking adobe walls and pine flooring, Magid said. Something like 30 people helped produce the sets, including master carpenter Allen Brown, Pam Justice on costumes and Ken Milder on lights and sound. Magid praised the work of producer John Gustafson and Clare Davis, production assistant.
Magid chose LALT to premiere the play because, “LALT is one of the most wonderful theater groups I’ve ever been involved with, and I knew that if they accepted my musical for their season, I’d have dedicated folks on all sides—onstage, designers, tech crew, producers, house staff—everyone. Having directed here over the years I know that there’s a great pool of talent to draw on and I’ve been massively fortunate in the folks who turned out to work with me. Theater is the ultimate team sport, and as on any really good team, LALT folks each contribute their strengths so that the team can put out the finest show possible.”
Magid’s career has spanned most areas of theatrical experience. She has sung and acted on Broadway, with the Santa Fe Opera and in venues worldwide. She began playwriting in 2008 and has won numerous grants for her plays and musicals. Cowboy Poet is her third musical. “Cowboy Poet, a C&W Musical was developed at Cleveland Public Theatre’s Big Box series.
“Every piece I’ve written comes out of me differently,” Magid said. “Once you start, once your characters take hold, you sort of hang on and see where they lead you, which includes how the music is formed.”
“I hope Los Alamos comes out to tap their toes—even the prompter was humming along by the end of the first rehearsal,” Magid said. “There’s comedy, there are pathos, and the age range of characters, 21-65, gives just about every audience member someone to identify with. The tunes are catchy and the story is both simple and complex, dealing with adult literacy, human frailties, and love and romance.”
Bruce Lamartine as Wyatt Rugosa, the Cowboy Poet of New Mexico. Photo by Minesh Bacrania