The story of Billy the Kid has been told numerous times, in many, many different ways, but the entertaining new musical Outlaws: The Ballad of Billy the Kid, at the McGinn/Cazale Theater, manages to make the story seem fresh.
The show's book -- written by Perry Liu, Joe Calarco, and Alastair William King -- may be set in the 1800s, but the language used by the authors feels very contemporary. So does Liu and King's catchy score, which ranges from the hard-driving rock anthem, "We Do Whatever We Want," to the tender ballad, "A Place in the Sun," a duet between Billy (Corey Boardman) and his love interest Celsa (Isabel Santiago).
The production highlights the rebelliousness of youth as it follows Billy and his friends Pat (David Murgittroyd), Chavez (Justin Gregory Lopez), Charlie (Antonio Addeo), and Tom (Travis McClung), who like to drink, party, and commit a few petty crimes as they dream of traveling out West to California. Everything changes, however, when Billy shoots a man dead. And while he and his gang are initially thrilled by their notoriety, things start to spin out of control very quickly.
Boardman provides a nice mix of swagger and vulnerability in his portrayal of Billy. He -- and the rest of the cast -- also look terrific in Sky Switser's costumes, which suggest the Wild West without being strictly period.
There are moments when the actors push a little too hard, indicating the script's heightened emotions rather than conveying the tension and drama inherent in the characters' interactions. This is particularly true of the production's climactic gun fight, which doesn't have the emotional payoff that it feels it should.
Still, with a little more rehearsal and stronger guidance from director/choreographer Jenn Rapp, it's possible that the cast (all of whom sing their roles well) can get to the places they need to be -- particularly as the material they have to work with is already quite strong.
-- Dan Bacalzo