By Manning Harris
fmanningh@gmail.com

The Horizon Theatre’s is currently reviving their 1998 musical hit “Cowgirls” to help celebrate the theatre’s 30th anniversary. It will run through June 29.

I saw a preview performance and found this all female country-western musical both fun-loving and life-positive; I also think the show will tighten up a bit in pace and cohesiveness and become more of the “joyful noise” it’s intended to be.

Conceived by Mary Murfitt with a book by Betsy Howie and music and lyrics by Murfitt, the show’s premise is quite amusing: Jo Carlson (Christy Baggett) is the owner of Hiram Hall, a country western saloon in Rexford, Kansas. Jo inherited ownership of the hall from her recently deceased father; she also inherited a sizable debt. The hall is in financial trouble and needs some hit acts, pronto.

Jo decides to hire an all-girl country-western band, but when the trio shows up, it’s apparent a mix-up has occurred. Instead of the “Cowgirls,” Joe is greeted by the starchy Coghill Trio, three classically trained musicians. There’s Rita (Katherine Anderson), a good natured seven-months pregnant pianist who declares “We’re good musicians; we can do this!” to a doubtful Jo.

Then we have the prim and proper Mary Lou (Pearl Rhein), a rather bossy violinist who can’t understand Jo’s skepticism considering the trio’s trained talent (they all also sing, by the way).

Finally, there is Lee (Paige Mattox), a cellist with a metaphysical bent: She sees music as a healing force and is the least uptight of the trio.

Jo, quite the no-nonsense sort, tells the women that for country music you need a feeling to get across, and frankly, “You ain’t got it.” By the way, I like it when Jo cuts loose with a song; she’s quite a force.

To add to an already top-heavy plot, there is the attractive waitress Mickey (Ally Duncan), an aspiring singer who’s after Jo to give her a shot. But even the likable Mo (Christy Clark), Jo’s most trusted employee and right hand woman, seems reluctant to take a chance on Mickey when Hiram Hall needs real talent, or the place could fold at the end of the weekend.

So there’s a lot going on, but even with much individual talent onstage, for this viewer the piece lacks urgency and cohesion, and the plot, especially the first act, is just a bit convoluted and hard to believe and warm to. It reminds me of what Fanny Brice’s friend Eddie, in “Funny Girl,” says to her: “Everything you’ve got’s about right; but the damn thing don’t come out right.”

But there’s no shortage of energy or talent behind the scenes: direction by Heidi Cline McKerley; a great set by Moriah and Isabel Curley-Clay; choreography by Jeff and Heidi McKerley; nifty sound design by Jason Polhemus; and musical direction by S. Renée Clark.

So will the starchy trio be able to loosen up and turn into country cousins? You’ll have to see.

Okay, so “Cowgirls” is not one the great American musicals; it’s still a light, frothy entertainment just in time for summer that shows, in co-creator Mary Murfitt’s words, “that hard work, trying, and believing will bring you success.”

For tickets and information, visit horizontheatre.com.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.