Group to celebrate Chisholm Trail at Fort Worth performance
By James Russell
Special to the TJP
Richard Allen stood in front of the audience at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in Fort Worth welcoming them to the Sunday matinee production of his newest musical, The Spirit of the Trail: A Musical Celebration of the Chisholm Trail.
Wearing a cowboy hat, plaid shirt and jeans, the New York-born, Emmy Award-winning professor of film, television and digital media at Texas Christian University was not just introducing a new show but his new theater company too.
The show, directed by Jim Covault, the artistic director and executive producer of Orchard Theatre of Texas, combines songs from stage and screen, classic hits from the country charts and exciting new music written by local talent. Songs include a wide range of works from musicians ranging from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Toby Keith, Cole Porter and Irving Berlin. There is original work too by Allen, actress and show standout Gigi Cervantes and Stephen Beatty.
Allen called it a “Western cabaret,” interspersing songs with real-life tales of the trail.
The Orchard Theatre of Texas, Allen told the audience, was “purposefully homeless.” Co-founded with Jim Covault, the acclaimed recently retired artistic director of Stage West, Orchard Theatre is a nomadic theater company with no home.
“We met and thought about a new theater company. We thought, instead of having a building, what if we don’t have a building? What if we stage productions in different venues?” Allen said.
With the nomadic theater company established, the next decision was a bigger issue. What would be their first show?
“We found out it was the 150-year anniversary of the Chisholm Trail. It was a perfect opportunity to create a musical revue celebration of the trail,” Allen said.
According to the Texas State Historical Association, the trail was the major route for livestock between Kansas and Texas. The trail was important to the city’s early growth, earning it the name “Cowtown.” It was only used during a brief period in the late 19th century but its legacy is still around. A real life re-enactment of the cattle drive, known as the Fort Worth Herd, occurs twice daily on East Exchange Boulevard in the Stockyards. Fort Worth Herd still appears twice a day on East Exchange Avenue.
“Our vision was a Ken Burns documentary with voices from the time period evoking the pioneering spirit,” Allen said.
Fort Worth, with its “cowboys and culture” slogan, had plenty of options to stage the revue.
The team ultimately decided on two venues. The National Cowgirl Hall of Fame and Museum in the Cultural District hosted the company on the opening weekend. The next two weekends would take place at the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame in the Stockyards. The show will run at that location through July 9.
The Orchard’s future seasons will not just evoke the city’s past, however. The company is looking forward, too.
“We’re thinking we’ll have one play about Texas, or by a Texan; one play about cultural identity, such as Jewish identity or lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identity; and one classic,” Allen said.
In fact, one upcoming production is explicitly Jewish. The two-performance fundraiser is a one-man musical revue starring Adam Roffman, associate rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel of Dallas. Roffman is a rabbi with a certificate in musical theater from the prestigious Circle in the Square Theatre School in New York City. An Evening of Broadway Music, Memories and Musings, directed by Covault, recounts his own musical theater journey with scores from shows like Guys and Dolls, Sweeney Todd, Company and Little Shop of Horrors, among others. That will take place at Stage West in Fort Worth on Aug. 20 and 27.
“There is definitely nothing like this in Fort Worth. Maybe a few are in Dallas. But this is a concept mostly found on the East and West Coasts. For now we are finding spaces where performances are not typical but are fun. We mostly want to do these shows in smaller spaces.”
When it comes to getting an audience to fill seats, Allen has a simple reminder for Dallasites.
“It is not a terrible drive! Hopefully people will realize that!” Allen said. “But like an orchard spreading, we could go anywhere. We have no borders.”
General admission is $33 for evening performances and $28 for matinees. Seniors pay $28 for evening performances and $23 for matinees. Students pay $15.
Reservations and information about group discounts are available through the box office at 817-575-7984 or on the website at Orchardtheatre.org.