“Hey look me over, / Lend me an ear – / Fresh out of clover, / Mortgage up to here.”
Wildcat Jackson, aka Wildy, has just arrived in Centavo City, Texas, with big dreams of striking it rich. The Texas oil boom — the “gusher age” — is in full force in 1912, and Wildy is determined to get her piece of the action. What she lacks in cash, she makes up for in bravado, figuring that “whenever you’re down and out, the only way is up.”
Beginning Thursday, Wildy Jackson, oodles of oil prospectors, a countess, a sheriff and other Centavo City denizens will be on stage in Adamant as QuarryWorks at the Phillips Experimental Theater presents “Wildcat.” The 1960 musical by Cy Coleman, Carolyn Leigh and N. Richard Nash features a multi-generational community theater cast.
Continuing QuarryWorks’ longstanding vision and tradition, tickets are free. Audience members should reserve in advance, as performances “sell out.” Theater-goers are welcome to arrive early to picnic on the lovely quarry-side grounds.
This year’s QuarryWorks season features six productions: “Wildcat,” children’s show “The Reluctant Dragon,” original mystery “Dress Rehearsal for Murder,” G. Richard Ames’ solo autobiographical “Sent Him Mental,” Elizabeth Wilcox as Virginia Woolf in “A Room of One’s Own,” and “The Case of the Curious Corpse” in October.
For over 20 years, QuarryWorks opens its season with a musical. Always a show with strong music, most had a run on Broadway, but most are not well known today. QuarryWorks founder and director Michael Suchomel diligently seeks out productions that offer casts and audiences a fresh experience.
“One thing about shows here — people should be really open to experiencing musicals that are new to them. If you don’t know the story, you’re going to be surprised. You’re going in blind most of the time, but that’s the fun of it. That’s part of the QuarryWorks experience,” explained Kit Slicer, who will perform in her second QuarryWorks production and is among the young members of the cast who drive more than an hour and a half each way to be in the company.
“Wildcat” will be a surprise to most audience members. It had a relatively short run on Broadway 1960-61 with Lucille Ball in the lead role. Her only Broadway production, it was staged not long after the end of “I Love Lucy.” A spate of poor health curtailed the comedienne’s ability to perform, and the show closed after about six months.
Some of its catchy music, however, found a life of its own. “Hey, Look Me Over,” was recorded by Louis Armstrong, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, Bing Crosby and others, and was found recently in the soundtrack of the 2017 film “Going in Style.”
A western, but not of the “shoot ‘em up” variety, “Wildcat” takes audiences to early 20th century Texas, when oil could make fast fortunes. Ranchers who had bemoaned the constant presence of oil in their cattle’s water source, suddenly found the value of “black gold.” Local folks sized up their holdings and “wildcatters,” independent prospectors, flocked to promising territory to buy land and sink wells.
Wildy Jackson is one of those prospectors. Fueled by dreams and grit, she doesn’t let problems like lack of funds get in her way.
“A theme of the show is that everybody has a dream. At first, a lot of them are oil and the riches it would bring,” said Amy Panineau, a longtime QuarryWorks cast member, at rehearsal this week.
“Underneath wanting the oil is what they want it for,” added Todd Jones. “They’re really wishing for something in their lives to make them happy.”
“And it’s a musical comedy, so some characters are looking for love,” G. Richard Ames noted.
The cast of “Wildcat” includes long term QuarryWorks company and community members as well as new ones, crosses generations and includes multiple members of a couple of families. Todd, Lynn and Lela Jones — and puppy Zoe — have QuarryWorks ties back to “110 in the Shade.” For mother and daughter MaryBeth and Riley LeFevre, “Wildcat” is their first musical.
“This theater is named Phillips Experimental Theater. We are able to experiment and try new things and really collaborate as a team,” said Cassandra Machia, who first performed with QuarryWorks when she was 11 years old in the title role of “Annie” more than a decade ago.