DOVER — The twangy stage production “Johnny Guitar: The Musical” comes riding into town this weekend courtesy of the Kent County Theatre Guild.
Although “Johnny Guitar” has been a stage musical since 2004, the story is best known from the 1954 cult Western bearing the same name which featured Joan Crawford and Sterling Hayden.
“Who doesn’t love Joan Crawford?,” said show director Eddie Cohee of the legendary actress who is enjoying renewed fame thanks to the current FX drama “Feud” about her rivalry with Bette Davis while making the movie “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”.
“I’m a fan of old movies and wanted to do something different.”
Mr. Cohee has been involved with the Theatre Guild since 1976 mostly working on music but has directed several shows including “Shout” and “Waiting Around.”
“I asked if I could direct this show here, and (Guild board chairman) John (Muller) said ‘sure,’” Mr. Cohee said. “I think it was a risky choice for a show but John is a great person to get support from when you’re taking a risk.”
Mr. Muller, who also plays The Dancin’ Kid in the show, said he was supportive of Mr. Cohee’s choice because it’s important for people to come out and see shows they haven’t seen before.
“There are so many great shows considered classics, but you can only do the classics so many times,” he said.
“We need to be exposed to new and different things, not only for the actors to grow, but for the community to grow too.”
But “Johnny” doesn’t only have minds and talents growing, it has facial hair growing too, as some of the male actors have decided to grow mustaches to have an authentic Western look for the Arizona-based musical comedy that tells the story of a sultry saloon keeper and her jealous nemesis, the town’s tycoon. When a handsome stranger with a secret past rides into town, the stage is set for a showdown.
Although “Johnny Guitar” falls into the genre of Westerns, the cast and crew all agree that it isn’t a true shoot-em-up.
“I’d say it falls halfway between a melodrama and a farce,” Mr. Cohee said. “What I like about this show is that it centers around all these macho guys but somehow the women are even tougher. You don’t get that dynamic very often in musicals.”
Lori Christiansen plays the leading lady, Vienna, the toughest woman in town who is both loud and opinionated.
“Vienna was a feminist before her time,” Ms. Christiansen said.
“I’ve been in theater for close to forever and I really like to dabble into the obscure and try out different shows, especially ones that haven’t been performed here before.”
Jose Bernard, who plays the title role, said that the women in the show are truly out of the ordinary for a musical.
“It’s set in the West so the guys are the ones known to have the most grit but these women, they have nothing on the guys,” he said.
“Normally female characters bring a certain femininity to a show, but not to this one.”
“Johnny Guitar,” despite its toughness, has some humorous undertones and Mr. Bernard can’t wait to perform it live.
“There are a lot of these little ridiculous moments and during rehearsal we react to the humor ourselves but it’s going to be great to get a reaction from the audience and hear them laughing,” he said.
“Johnny Guitar” plays at the Theatre Guild’s Patchwork Playhouse, 140 E. Roosevelt Ave., in Dover on today and Saturday and April 21 and 22 and 8 p.m., and Sunday and April 23 at 2 p.m.
General admission tickets are $20 and available at kctg.org or at the door.