62°F
weather icon Clear

Comedy musical ‘Idaho!’ debuts at Smith Center with an eye toward Broadway

If we were in “Oklahoma!” — the landmark 1943 musical that introduced the songwriting team of Rodgers and Hammerstein to Broadway, and the world — a big-voiced cowboy would be singing a heartfelt tribute to a particularly beautiful morning, where there’s a bright golden haze on the meadow and the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.

But we’re not in “Oklahoma!” anymore.

We’re in “Idaho!” — a place, according to the brawny baritone in the cowboy hat, “where the taters poke their heads from the ground, wipe the dirt from their eyes and say ‘Heck, it’s a helluva day!’ ”

Or, more precisely, we’re at The Smith Center — where the new musical “Idaho! The Comedy Musical” has staked its claim to a $1.2 million production that, if everyone has their druthers, will lead directly to Broadway.

“Idaho!” opens Wednesday in the center’s Reynolds Hall for three previews — each including an audience question-and-answer session that will help creators tweak the show prior to July 9’s gala opening; tickets to the latter include a post-show Symphony Park bash, dubbed the Ida-Ho-Down, where audiences can mingle with cast and creators.

The musical’s Smith Center run continues through July 17.

 

Although “Idaho!” has played other venues — from New York City’s New York Musical Festival to an upstate New York playhouse — the upcoming Smith Center run represents a chance “to see if the show can fill a Broadway-size” theater like Reynolds Hall, according to director Matt Lenz.

“It’s important for me to see it with a big audience,” adds Buddy Sheffield, the former “In Living Color” writer (remember “Men on Film”?) who came up with the show’s script and score — the latter in collaboration with “Idaho!” co-composer, musical director and friend Keith Thompson, who’s conducted Strip versions of musicals ranging from “Hairspray” and “Mamma Mia!” to “Jersey Boys,” now winding down its long run at Paris Las Vegas.

“It’s huge for us” to stage “Idaho!” at The Smith Center, Lenz says.

In previous productions, “there’s a lot of that ‘how clever can you be with very little,’ ” he notes.

This “Idaho!” incarnation won’t have such Broadway bells and whistles as automated sets, but it will be “a fully realized” production, Lenz explains. There’s a cast of 16; Thompson will lead the 16-member onstage orchestra.

And though the sets — designed by another Las Vegas resident, “American Idol” Emmy winner Andy Walmsley — aren’t automated, they do move. The chorus even sings about it.

During a recent rehearsal in The Smith Center’s Troesh Studio Theater, “Idaho!” cast members march across the stage — choreographer Michele Lynch leading the way — while delivering these recap-the-action lyrics: “The set’s rearranging and Doc is off changing and Cassie is feeling unwell. Since it’s only Act 1, can it still turn out fun? Or have things gone straight to hell?”

Set in the turn-of-the-20th-century Gem State (Idaho joined the union in 1890), “Idaho!” pokes affectionate fun at “Oklahoma!” — and several other musicals — as it follows the fortunes of, among others, mail-order bride Cassie Purdy (portrayed by Jessica Fontana, whose credits includes Broadway’s “Cinderella”).

Cassie arrives in Idaho to marry the wealthy Jed Strunk, played by “MADtv” veteran Paul Vogt. (Vogt succeeded Harvey Fierstein as Edna Turnblad in Luxor’s long-gone production of “Hairspray” — which was produced by Myron Martin, now president of The Smith Center.)

Strunk may have the money to buy every spud around, but he has little of their taste or appeal — as he reveals when chomping into a potato pancake he describes as “Perfection … like when a bug flies in your mouth while you’re riding. I mean in a good way.” No wonder Cassie instead falls for the stalwart Whip Masters (Nathaniel Hackmann, who’s also played his role’s inspiration: Curly in “Oklahoma!”).

Whip’s hardly the only “Idaho!” character modeled on an “Oklahoma!” original, however. Jed’s just a hop from “Oklahoma!” villain Jud Fry, while flirtatious Ado Annie’s obviously the inspiration for hot-to-trot Ida Dunham (Broadway veteran Alex Ellis). And homespun Aunt Eller becomes Aunt Pearlie, alias Jen Perry, who spent two years in Mandalay Bay’s “Mamma Mia!”

Perry’s taking a break from her current Broadway gig, the Tony-winning “Kinky Boots,” to reprise the role of Pearlie, which she originated.

“It’s a project near and dear to me,” Perry says of “Idaho!” (Good thing “Kinky Boots” director Jerry Mitchell gave his approval for her participating in this production; then again, he’s got his own Vegas ties, from Planet Hollywood’s “Peepshow” to the 2014 launch of “Kinky Boots’ ” national tour at The Smith Center.)

“This is the chance we’ve been waiting for,” Perry says of the new musical’s Smith Center run, “for people to see it on a large scale.”

In the beginning, “Idaho!” took root when Sheffield was en route to Los Angeles.

“I had always been a fan of ‘Dames at Sea’ and ‘Little Mary Sunshine’ — spoofs of other genres,” he explains, citing popular parodies of Busby Berkeley backstage musicals and Nelson Eddy-Jeannette McDonald operettas, respectively. “I always thought ‘Oklahoma!’ was very ripe for a spoof.”

Driving to Los Angeles “through miles and miles and miles of nothing,” Sheffield “was making up funny songs about Idaho,” Thompson says in a separate interview, “and it started incubating in his mind. It was 10 years before we started working on it.”

When they did, “Idaho!” emerged, with music “that sounds like Rodgers and Hammerstein,” Thompson observes, “and the script sounds like Mel Brooks.”

The show “wouldn’t be anywhere without” Thompson, Sheffield adds, because “I don’t know one note from another. … I make up the words and the melody and I sing it to Keith. And he goes from there.”

After initial Las Vegas readings, “Idaho!” hit the road to the 2008 New York Music Festival, where it won best show and Lenz won best director.

“In the beginning, it was just all about the comedy,” Sheffield says. “Now the show has a lot more heart.”

The creative team keeps “refining and refining,” Lenz adds. “The story gets stronger and stronger.”

But it’s the comedy that initially attracted Martin to the project.

After encountering “Idaho!” at a New York City reading two years ago, Martin “walked out … saying, ‘The Smith Center has to do this,’ ” he recalls, in part because “it was really funny — and funny is hard. This one was genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud funny.”

The “comedy musical,” as “Idaho!” is billed, also provides The Smith Center with another chance — following the 2014 world premiere of Teller’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” — to produce an original work with potential for a life beyond Las Vegas.

Martin is “very keen on this being as Vegas as possible,” notes Walmsley. “I think Vegas has a really bad reputation in New York, especially when it comes to shows. Wouldn’t it be awesome if it went there?”

To get “Idaho!” there, Martin explains, “the next step is getting a group of producers and investors to like it as much as I did” — to the tune of about $12 million, which is what he estimates a Broadway production would cost.

A few weeks ago, “before the cast arrived, my stomach was in knots,” Martin confesses. “This is a big undertaking. … But after a week, seeing these actors, I feel great — and relieved.”

Or, as Sheffield says, “Broadway has sent a lot of shows to Las Vegas. It’s time Las Vegas sent one the other way.”

Read more from Carol Cling at reviewjournal.com. Contact her at ccling@reviewjournal.com and follow @CarolSCling on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America Pops Up In Vegas
Tattoo'd America, a new pop-up attraction on the Linq Promenade, had their grand opening Friday. The attraction is dedicate to the culture of tattoos. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Jose Andres gets key to the Strip
Chef Jose Andres was presented with a Key to the Las Vegas Strip and a proclamation declaring April 26 Jose Andres Day in Clark County by County Commissioner Tick Segerblom on Friday. The ceremony took place at his restaurant Bazaar Meat in the SLS Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sadelle’s in Las Vegas makes a grilled cheese with an inverted bagel
Michael Vargas, executive sous chef at Sadelle’s at Bellagio in Las Vegas, inverts an everything bagel and grills it with Swiss, cheddar and Muenster cheeses to make the Inverted Bagel Grilled Cheese. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita
Learn how to make China Poblano's Salt Air Margarita (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures
Kassandra Lopez at Tattoo'd America invites you to have fun and take pictures. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prime rib is carved tableside at Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas
Dave Simmons, executive chef of Lawry’s The Prime in Las Vegas, which plans special cuts for National Prime Rib Day, demonstrates the restaurant’s service from rolling tableside carving carts. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Making gluten-free pizza at Good Pie in Las Vegas
Good Pie owner/pizzaiola Vincent Rotolo makes his gluten-free pizza.
Rockabilly fans enjoy Las Vegas weather poolside
Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekender runs Thursday, April 18th through Sunday, April 21st with a huge car show on Saturday featuring The Reverend Horton Heat, The Delta Bombers and The Coasters. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brownie sundae at VegeNation in Las Vegas is completely vegan
Donald Lemperle, chef/owner of VegeNation in Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, NV, makes his sundae with ice cream made with coconut and almond milks, a brownie made with coconut flour and oil and organic sugar and cacao, and fresh fruit. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
THE LATEST
Celine Dion’s lounge gig a boon to Las Vegas act

Celine Dion performed “Because You Loved Me,” “Ashes,” Beauty and the Beast” and “My Heart Will Go On.” Her arrival drew a roar from the 300 VIPs in attendance, who were not informed of the night’s entertainment.