Love and hope in the Rockies

Love and hope in the Rockies

October 11, 2023
by Abby Remer, The MV Times

“Billy Baloo,” the new fun musical onstage at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, is an act of love … or, in this case, multiple acts.

From the moment the actors walk   onstage, you know they are having a marvelous time and love what they’re doing. It all starts with three truly humorous prospectors-turned-miners — played by Phil Lee, Jonathan Lipnick, and Paul Munafo — introducing us to the importance of rocks with a song and dance by that name amid an evocative set of the sleepy town of Solderville, way up high in the Colorado Rockies in 1879. Soon, Ada (lovingly played by Lexie Roth), whose flamboyant mother has passed away, arrives to restart the family business — the Perfection General Store.

The challenge is how to get the supplies up the mountain. Enter Billy Baloo, played by Willy Mason, son of the playwright, and perfectly cast as the appealing protagonist. We are told that he is a “floater,” which turns out to be a drifter who, as it happens, doesn’t like to drift. Ada requests Billy’s assistance, who reluctantly responds that he is happy to help her out — “now and then … sometimes.” How Billy is to haul the goods up the mountain is quite the predicament, and beavers are part of the scheme, but to say more would be a spoiler. One of my favorite rousing songs in the show reveals the plan, and a dream is born.

Until it isn’t. The solution ends up changing the face of Solderville, as it once again turns into a boomtown. However, with this comes outside, exploitive companies that threaten the lives of those folks we’ve grown so fond of. But as the website description for the show says, “Fortunately, Billy’s boat is sturdy, and the beavers are on his side.”

Jessie Pinnick, who plays Ada’s assistant, Laura Lindsay, performs an impressively memorable dance number, and Ty McDonald as Kevin Kelly, her winsome beau, round out the cast. The Playhouse’s artistic and executive director, MJ Bruder Munafo, has done an excellent job directing, encouraging the best from each actor and keeping a lively pace inflected with humor and poignant moments. Musical director Bill Peek, the organist and musical director for the West Tisbury Congregational Church and director of the Island Community Chorus, and fellow musicians Eric Johnson playing bass and guitar and Geordie Gude on harmonica, as well as the excellent costumes by Cynthia Bermudes, superb scenic design and construction by Mac Young, and captivating projections by Sam Mason, all contribute to making the show a success.

But getting back to the musical being an act of love. So, too, was bringing “Billy Baloo” to the stage. Mike Mason began writing it in 1973, inspired by the songs of his wife Jemima James, working on it intermittently until his death in February of this year. A recent article in this paper, “’Billy Baloo’ is born,” (Oct. 2) details the path and impressive collaborative effort by Jemima and her and Mike’s sons, Willy and Sam, along with Bruder Munafo, to bring this newly adapted script to our doorstep.

As the hours of daylight get shorter, and winter is right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to enjoy this delightful tale of strife, danger, and, of course … love.