Review: ‘Johnny Guitar: The Musical’ at Masquers Playhouse (**)

(Charles Kruger)

(Rating: **)

This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)
This reviewer is a voting associate member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (SFBATCC)

(“Johnny Guitar: The Musical” plays at Masquers Playhouse through April 26, 2014.)

The Bay Area premiere of “Johnny Guitar” should have some appeal for dedicated followers of musical theatre and fans of the classic film. This adaptation of the Joan Crawford western was a 2004 hit in New York and winner of an Outer Circle Critics Award.

The film on which it is based was described by Roger Ebert as “one of the boldest and most stylized films of its time, quirky, political, twisted”. It was admired by François Truffaut. It is nothing if not bizarre. While having some of the trappings of a conventional western, it features a strong woman (Vienna) who owns her own saloon, wears a man’s clothes, packs a pistol and loves a reformed gunslinger who carries only a guitar. She is loved, in turn, by the mysterious Dancin’ Kid who may or may not be a stage coach robber and killer. The Dancin’ Kid is loved by Emma, another very masculine woman, who, enraged by jealousy, forms a posse to go after the Kid and Vienna after her brother is killed in a robbery. The plot is so unbelievable and over-the-top as to be laughable, but is played by movie stars Joan Crawford, Mercedes McCambridge and others with an intense melodramatic conviction that is riveting. There is nothing quite like “Johnny Guitar” in the entire history of American cinema.

The musical adaptation wisely follows the original script, with most of its peculiar twists and turns, and the result is a stage play that is both entertaining and bizarre, lightweight and melodramatic at the same time.  It is easy to see how this unusual production could win acclaim in New York, despite its mediocre musical score.

A piece like this requires top notch singer actors and first rate production values to bring it to full life. The Masquers production, although it has some good moments, is not quite up to the task.

The best moments are the work of Michelle Pond as Emma. Ms. Pond has done a good job of capturing the eccentricities of Mercedes McCambridge’s film performance and knows how to balance the melodrama and comedy to good effect.

Michelle Pond as Emma sends up Mercedes McCambridge in "Johnny Guitar: The Musical" at Masquers Playhouse. Photo credit: Budinger & Scarpelli
Michelle Pond as Emma sends up Mercedes McCambridge in “Johnny Guitar: The Musical” at Masquers Playhouse. Photo credit: Budinger & Scarpelli

As Johnny Guitar, Craig Eychner is suitably laconic and pleases the audience very much with a showcase song that features a well-executed Elvis impression. Peter Budinger is a skilled musical performer and sings remarkably well as The Dancin’ Kid.

Masquers Playhouse is a community theatre with a long history, located in the charming hamlet of Point Richmond, just across the Richmond Bridge from San Rafael.

Theatregoing fans of the film who would enjoy a small town, community theatre experience, might find a trip to Point Richmond for this production to be a pleasant diversion.

For further information, click here.


“Johnny Guitar: The Musical”. Book by Nicholas van Hoogstraten. Music by Martin Silvestri and Joel Higgins. Lyrics by Joel Higgins. Director: Robert Love. Music Director: Pat King. Choreography: Susan Dodge. Costumes: Maria Graham. Lighting: Steve Hill. Properties: Robert Taylor. Set: Robert Love. Sound: Joe Ponder.

Vienna, Title Singer: Shay Oglesby-Smith. Johnny: Craig Eychner. Emma: MIchelle Pond. The Dancin’ Kid: Peter Budinger. McIvers: DC Scarpelli. Bart, Tom, Carl, Trio & Quarter: Mark Enea. Turky, Western Singer, Posse, Trio & Quartet: Coley Grundman. Sam, Ned, Trio & Quarter: Chaz Simonds. Eddie, Jenks, Bill, Hank, Trio & Quartet: J. Scott Stewart. 


Piano: Pat King. Drums, etc.: Barbara Kohler. Keyboard: Jo Lusk. Guitars: Kevin Williams.


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