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‘Cowgirls’ a light-hearted clash of musical cultures

Some real-life incidents were behind writing the musical “Cowgirls” that opens Wednesday at the Mountain Playhouse in Jennerstown.

One was that Mary Murfitt was looking for more work and decided to create her own show. Another was that her actor friend, Mary Ehlinger, was going to be eight months pregnant when it opened.

Murfitt created the plot by drawing from her training in classical music and her growing up in a Kansas town that was heavy on country music, and rewrote a character just to accommodate Ehlinger’s condition. The resulting musical comedy has run off Broadway and has been performed all over the country for nine years.

“I was one of the authors of ‘Oil City Symphony,’ which ran for two and a half years,” said Murfitt, who lives in the Hudson Valley of New York. “I was trying to get something else to do when that finished, and a friend knew I had written some novelty country songs just for fun and thought I should do a one-woman show. But the idea of working alone on stage didn’t appeal to me, and a few dumb country songs wasn’t enough for a show.”

The story is about the classical Coghill Trio being mistaken as the Cowgirl Trio and booked at Hiram Hall in Rexford, Kansas. The three women keep the date and make the best of the cultural clash with three women at the roadhouse.

Jo could have been a country western star herself, but gave up her dream to run her daddy’s business. She faces losing it all unless there’s a financial turnaround, and she’s counting on the Cowgirls to make it happen. She’s backed by her loyal waitresses, Mickey, and Mo, who will do anything to help her. The classical musicians have their own problems. Pregnant Rita wonders if she’ll perform after the baby is born. Mary Lou, a violinist who tends to be uptight, can’t stand that this isn’t a real booking and fears that her career is doomed. Lee, a New Age lesbian, is always searching for something elusive and feels that they should give Hiram Hall a chance.

The local production brings together talent from the original show. Murfitt, whose music and lyrics were paired with the book by Betsy Howe, is the director and recreates the role of Mary Lou, which she originated in the off Broadway performances.

Ehlinger plays Rita, a role that she thought she’d miss in the opening.

“After four years when Mary called to tell me that we finally got a theater to do it, I said okay, but I’d be eight months pregnant by then,” she said. “Mary told me that okay, she’d make Rita pregnant. I thought she’d replace me, but she reworked the part and added an urgency to Rita, and it really works. Now I tell people that I’ve been pregnant for nine years.” Ehlinger is music director of this production, has directed musicals from New York City to California, and composed the original musical, “Percy The Poor Little Penguin,” which will run for its third consecutive season at Macy’s Puppet Theatre in New York City. Her song “When Hope Is There,” a tribute to Bob Hope, will be featured in this year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Ehlinger appeared as the fan, Louise, in both of the Mountain Playhouse’s productions of “Always…Patsy Cline.”

Rhonda Coullet, reprising her role as Jo, has made many appearances on “Saturday Night Live.” She was in “Robber Bridegroom” with Barry Bostwick and “Pump Boys and the Dinettes,” both on Broadway, and in the Los Angeles production of “Hair.”

Lori Fischer, now and the original Lee, recently performed in her musical, “Barbara’s Blue Kitchen,” at the Cincinnatti Playhouse in the Park, and played in “Bingo” at The Adirondack Theatre Festival.

Playhouse veterans Janet Dickinson and Susan J. Jacks play Mickey and Mo.

“Cowgirls” was nominated for Best Off-Broadway Musical by the Outer Critics’ Circle. Murfitt, who was honored for her work by the New York Drama League, was co-author and an original cast member of “Oil City Symphony,” for which she received a Theatre World Award, Drama Desk Award and Outer Critics’ Circle Award.

“‘Cowgirls’ celebrates the everyday ordinary heroes–your mother, your grandmother, your teacher,” Murfitt said. “You don’t have to go looking for those people on tv or in movies. They’re in your own family, in your own life already, and that’s sort of what this is about.”

Additional Information:

Details

‘Cowgirls’

When: Wednesday through Oct. 12; 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 2 p.m. Wednesday and Friday, 3 p.m. Sunday, special matinee 2 p.m. Oct. 2.

Where : Mountain Playhouse, Route 985 1/2 mile north of Jennerstown off Route 30

Tickets: $20-29; $13 students; $7 teen night on Wednesdays; half price on Buddy Nights, first Thursday evening of each show.

Info : 814-629-9201, Ext. 290


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