The Great American Melodrama, smack dab on Highway 1 in the heart of Oceano, always plays to its strengths. The melodramatic style has typically been reserved for intimate halls filled to the brim with audiences that are always encouraged to engage in the story with various cheers, hoots, hollers, and hisses. The current production, Song of the Canyon Kid, offers a classic story told with some contemporary flair, using the structure that has crowds cheering the hero and booing the villain.
Song of the Canyon Kid is quite the musical, though in a peripheral way. The Canyon Kid, portrayed by Andy Pollock, is a guitar-strumming do-gooder who has finally returned to the town he grew up in. Pollock exudes a Roy Rogers-ish charm along with everyman bravado.
He immediately meets up with an old pal, who is now the chief blacksmith in town: Charlene Atlas, who is played by Hayley Galbraith. Charlene lets the Canyon Kid in on the troubling changes that have descended over the sleepy town in the form of Judge Basil Kadaver and his posse of undesirables. The pale-faced, black-hearted Judge hangs just about anybody who doesn’t adhere to his daily tax hikes and property confiscations, holding the provincial town under his thumb.
Galbraith—who has been with the Great American Melodrama for a run of several productions—is quite at home on the stage with her comedic acting style. Her character is playfully dimwitted, which makes for plenty of laughs with slapstick and puns aplenty.
The not-so-good Judge Kadaver is given malicious life by Philip David Black, who channels every corrupt Southern judge, with a bit of Christopher Lloyd’s Judge Doom villain from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Kadaver’s evil is complemented by his dastardly Sheriff Dalton Doolin (played by Noah Kaplan) and the hypnotic gypsy Nastassia Kinky (Emily Christine Smith), who runs the saloon, and her incredibly dense brother Boris (Chase Byrd).
Each of these actors is an equally important and hilarious part of the villainous patchwork of antagonists making things hard not just for Canyon Kid and Charlene, but also for the Kid’s long-lost love Darla Darling, played by Christine Arnold, and her father, Mayor Darling, played by Joel White. Not only is the mayor being blackmailed by Kadaver, but Sheriff Doolin, who was known as the outlaw “The Bushwacker,” is engaged to marry Darla after hiding his outlaw past and evil heart.
Luckily, the Canyon Kid is a hero with skills beyond strumming and singing, including fighting, shooting, and having reliable friends. Kadaver and his cohorts are hilariously funny, all while enjoying the cries of “boo” their actions elicit.
The play is followed by the Melodrama’s usual cap to an evening: a vaudeville review. This vaudeville takes the form of a late-night show, Oceano Tonight, complete with an illuminated “Applause” sign, musical guests, standup comedy, and celebrity guests.
Each of the Melodrama’s skilled actors has a chance to shine in the vaudeville review, but once again, when they all come together with concerted talents, the result is a fantastic spectacle.
Arts Editor Joe Payne always tips the Melodrama actors in the snack bar. Contact him at [email protected].