Tyler W. Smith as the Newspaperman

' The Legend of Pearl Hart' Tries Hard & Almost Succeeds
From Town & Village June 22, 2006
ON STAGE by Gene Kilik

Rich Look, who wrote the music and Cathy Chamberlain, who wrote the book and lyrics for their new musical, "The Lend of Pearl Hart," try hard to make their musical attractive to a broad audience. There is something for American history buffs, for lovers of a variety of popular music, and for those who like the virtues of the old-fashioned American musical.

"Pearl Hart" is filled with song (arrangements and music direction by David Jackson) and dance (choreographed by Jim Osorno). Performances of "The Legend of Pearl Hart" are at TBG Arts Center, 312 West 36th St. through June 24.

Like "Annie Get Your Gun," "Pearl Hart" is based on a piece of American history that puffs the real life of an extraordinary woman into a legend. In the 1890s, Pearl (Catherine Hesse) sees an opportunity to leave the small Canadian town where she was born by eloping with the village handyman and small time gambler, Fred Hart (Michael Shane Ellis).

They go to Chicago where Fred gets a job in a Wild West Show, starring Bill Truman (Keith Krutchkoff). But Fred "does her wrong," and after leaving her baby with her sister (Darcy Miller) in Canada, Pearl goes to the Arizona Territory to find Truman, who is now sheriff.

There, in a poker game, the not as naïve as she appears, Pearl, wins the local dance hall from its worldly-wise owner, Kate (Laurie Gamache).

All seems great until Fred shows up and loses her business in another poker game. Desperate, broke and pregnant again, Pearl, egged on by her two cohorts, the old bartender Joe Boot (George Riddle) and the small-time thief Ed Hogan (Trip Plymale), decides to rob one of the few remaining stage coaches that hadn't been displaced by the railroad.

Completely inept, the trio is caught by Truman. But fame comes to the jailed Pearl who becomes known as the "Female Arizona Bandit." She was looked on as an example of womanly competence by the Suffrage Movement and as an ally of the anarchist, Emma Goldman, who visits her in prison. For "Pearl Hart," Rich Look's music is a tasting menu of almost every pop style: Country-Western, Broadway classic, Rock and Roll, a march and even a tango. Cathy Chamberlain's book is probably too inclusive with too many episodes in Pearl's life detracting from the drama of the main events.

But "Pearl Hart" is pleasant; the cast is superb and, as directed by Lea Orth, entertaining from beginning to end.