Mini Play Review: Cowgirls, with music and lyrics by Mary Murfitt and book by Betsy Howie

I’ve never been a huge musical lover. There, now it’s in writing. I get tired of the old-timey songs about women being impossible and racial epithets being used casually. I hate the plots: man abuses woman, woman gets used to it, women and man fall in love. So now that I’m on a play selection committee, I’m working to get some new musicals into my fellow committee members’ hands. One script I purchased is Cowgirls by Mary Murfitt (music and lyrics) and Betsy Howie (book).

It’s the story of Jo, whose father just died and left her Hiram Hall, a sort of honky tonk bar. When Jo was a girl, her mother used to sing there, but when her mother ran off, her father said women were not allowed to sing at Hiram Hall ever again. Haha, he’s dead, now women are going to sing there. Jo’s two best employees just know they can sing at the grand re-opening and make enough money to save the old bar, but Jo is reluctant. She hires the Cowgirl Trio.

Except she misheard. They are the Coghill Trio, a group of classically trained women who decided to play together on a tour that summer instead of with important orchestras that traveled to Europe. The whole summer has been a mismanaged mess, so they want to make it work. The Coghill Trio learn the cowgirl life — its sadness, its poverty, its hard living, its willingness to skip some notes if you’re really feeling it — and play on opening night.

Cowgirls stars six strong women, which is a breath of fresh air, and has some fun lyrics. I particularly enjoyed the following from Jo’s two best employees:

Mo: Cheese fries, wise guys, demolition derby.

Mickey: Stir fries, nice guys do nothin’ fer me. / Never cut out gourmet recipes.

Mo: She prefers the cuisine at the Tasty Freeze.

Mickey: I like a car with lots of chrome.

Mo: I can make art out of Styrofoam.

Mickey: I ain’t got no cellular phone. / But don’t call me trailer trash.

Mo: She lives in a mobile home.

If you click this link and scroll down, you can hear some of the music.

Even the classically-trained trio have funny moments. One is seven months pregnant, and all the sad cowgirl stories give her “allergies.” They also dress up in fringe and giant Dolly Parton-esque wigs. In fact, Dolly Parton was in the original off-Broadway cast of Cowgirls. I hope I can convince the other committee members to vote for this musical! The only challenge: all the characters must also play instruments.

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*record scratch*

In the trio there’s a violin player who’s given a mandolin, a pianist, and a cello player who’s given a guitar. Mo plays autoharp, ukulele, and the bucket. Mickey plays banjo and tambourine. *sigh* I wonder what auditions would look like.

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29 comments

  1. You make an interesting point about the storylines of a lot of the older musicals. I think I like musicals in general more than you do, but I agree with you that some really are sexist and have other -isms in them. This one sounds interesting, and as though there’ll be both wit and a real story.

  2. Don’t know if it would count as classic, but Nine to Five has some great female roles and some great songs. My Fair Lady is about equal male/female if I remember right. And Mame was a lot of fun, with some strong female roles including the star.

    • I remember liking Mame, but the executive director said that he does not. We did my fair lady just a few months ago, and there’s this whole song about how awful women are. Good gravy! I’ve heard of 9 to 5, but I don’t know much about it so I’ll look it up! Thank you!

  3. Yes, there are some musicals I can’t get into. I love the music for The Phantom of the Opera, but the stroryline and some of the lyrics. Just, no. This one sounds fun and funny, though! I hope you get to do it and find a brilliant cast!

    • Yeah, there’s no crazy misogyny or stalking or abusive behavior. It’s just six women trying to save a bar that is important to the owner. I hope we do it too, but we’ll see what happens, and if we choose to produce it, I look forward to auditions! I feel you, though. I also love the music to Phantom of the Opera and have seen it twice.

      • Awhile ago I saw a filmed version of an American in Paris (well, I saw the ending!) and they managed to find a lead who could act, sing, dance ballet, and do pointe. So I guess you never know what kind of talents people have! Auditions should certainly be interesting!

  4. Oh man. Good luck with auditions. Is this one of those musicals where the performers are also the pit orchestra? Because… well, that’s going to be a challenge. That said, you’re in a college town, so I bet you could hunt people down with these skills! Or, depending on how complex this is, you might be able to teach some actors new skills. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I believe in you!!!! Go Cowgirls! Go!

  5. It does sound interesting. I appreciate a story that has a message and is not just about signing.
    I am still thinking about musicals that are โ€œoldโ€ and have a message. How political are you happy to go? For example Hair may be a bit too much for some especially around the war messaging etc.

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