One of the most retold stories of the old west is the account of the events that occurred at the O.K. Corral. It has been the subject of dozens of films, books and documentaries – some historically accurate, while others are unadulterated romantic fantasy. Generally this story is told from the Earp brothers’ perspective, but a new musical gives audiences a glimpse of the harshness of the west from a feminine point of view. I Married Wyatt Earp is based on a book of the same name penned by Glenn G. Boyer and tells the story of Josie Earp (Wyatt’s third wife and widow), Allie Earp (Virgil’s widow), Bess Earp (James’ wife), Mattie Blaylock (Wyatt’s ill-fated second spouse) as well as the events that led up to the famous gunfight.
Life in the west was hard and love was even harder. Josie Marcus is weary of her restrictive life in San Francisco. Refusing to live the existence of an upper-class Jewish woman, the naive young girl finagles her way into becoming a member of a traveling troupe of actors in search of adventure. The troupe travels to Tombstone, where Josie meets a whole horde of personalities and falls in love with Wyatt Earp. Her affair with the married lawman comes off the heels of her break up with Sheriff John Behan and also adds fuel to a rivalry between Behan and Earp. The feud also enlists Wyatt’s brothers and Doc Holiday on Wyatt’s side and the Clanton-McLaury gang on Behan’s. The bad blood felt between these men would spill over in a 30-second gunfight on October 26, 1881. Subsequently, Wyatt and Josie’s affair also rippled into the discentagration of Doc Holliday’s relationship with Kate, his traveling companion, and the ruination of Mattie and Wyatt’s relationship, which also led to Mattie’s descent into addiction and her death from an overdose of laudanum. The production deals with these themes as well as Josie’s guilt over her decisions as an older Josie and Allie recall the past and how that fateful day affected their lives.
I Married Wyatt Earp is being touted as a “creative nonfiction” musical. To retell a story that has been told countless times is a definitely a daunting endeavor. The narration of this famous legend from the wives and girlfriend’s viewpoint is definitely creative, but the creators of I Married Wyatt Earp relied too much on this concept to try to sell the production. It appears the rest of the production had not been fleshed out, so its innovative concept became reduced to a ploy to pull in the audience. While the musical does have some southern fried charm, it lacks the grit that is associated with the old west. It is sort of like Gunfight at the O.K. Corral light, similar to a decaf cup of coffee it has flavor but is deficient of a kick. The cast delivers with the material, but the material could have been more polished. The choreography is mediocre; however the music and lyrics are memorable. “Don’t Blame Me For That,” “Pins and Needles,” “Did Ya Hear” and “Stand Our Ground” are songs that will remain in your head long after the show closes at 59 East 59 Theatres on June 12.
While I do believe this story may have to go back to the proverbial “drawing board” if it wants to take the O.K. Corral to Broadway, I also feel there is enough there to keep an audience with a proclivity for American folklore interested.
Photos: Gerry Goodstein