One wouldn't think that a musical about cancer and alcoholism would provide for a fun and diverting evening of theater, but Firebone Theatre's Son of a Gun, now playing at The Beckett Theatre, covers both of those things (and more) with grace, charm, and a kickass score that will leave you singing all the way home.
The audience is greeted by Cowboy Jesus (Ryan Link), a bedazzled cross and fringe-clad country rock messiah who introduces us to Winston Khrusty and the Appalachian Mourners, a touring family band with lots of issues. (Think the Partridge Family with an alcoholic dad). The oldest son, Danderhauler Agamemnon Khrusty (Van Hughes) wants to quit the band, but when his tyrannical father Winston (Jimmie James) is diagnosed with cancer, it falls upon Danderhauler to keep the tour going by stepping into his father's shoes as the band's lead singer.
What follows is a thoughtful examination of the lasting effects of alcoholism on a family, thanks to Chris Cragin's unpredictable book and Don and Lori Chaffer's pulsating and hauntingly beautiful music. These aren't your typical rock musical songs, but they're written with such clarity and dramatic purpose that they seem perfectly at home on stage.
The cast is not only perfect in their delivery of these tunes, but the sheer virtuosity of this tight ensemble is astounding. There is no band, spare the one in the play, so all of the music is produced by the actors on stage, each of whom plays between three and six different instruments.
Hughes has an irrepressible rock front-man energy that occasionally sends his body into spastic fits that are at once terrifying and thrilling to behold. He also exhibits spot-on chemistry with Rebecca Hart, who brings a lot of warmth to the role of Lucy Sunshine. And as Khrusty mom Elmadora, Lori Fischer delivers a heartbreaking performance of one the score's finest tunes, "All I Ever Wanted."
Director Gabriel Barre has staged the piece with the utmost economy of space and resources. Sound designer Josh Liebert and music director Martin Landry (who also doubles as "Angel Mike" onstage) also deserve a round of applause for delivering perfect balance (I never strained to hear an actor) to a rock musical in such an intimate space.
Anyone who has lived with (or loved) an addict will tell you that there are no easy answers. While this show is not prepared to offer them, it will get your brain thinking and your toes tapping over the course of 130 minutes – which is no mean feat!