The Rose Theater has a brand-new work by Omaha’s Max Sparber calling forth images of this city and the nation’s past. It’s Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band, a primarily verbal, theatrical review of some of that icon’s adventures, Cody doing the telling. In this colorful, lively quasi-lecture, near-documentary, young audiences have a chance to learn about him. And adults may find fascinating the many on-screen projections of photographs of our city from the turn of the 20th Century along with other parts of the West of that time plus frames from early movies giving glimpses of Cody’s famed Wild West show.
The setting is an Omaha-bound, real-time, one-hour train ride where Bill tells his 11 year old daughter Irma about some events in his life, including connections with Annie Oakley, Will Bill Hickok and Sitting Bull. Meanwhile, the Band, two genial, cowboy-costumed singer/guitarists, regularly burst into song. Despite that title of this production, though, they are not the focus; they provide decoration.
Matthew A. Pyle plays the celebrated showman, looking more grungy than glamorous, which maybe intended to show him as an actual person under those layers of leather. Indeed, during the course of his story-telling, he lightly indicates what he thinks about what he has done and who he has been, but these reflections don’t dominate what is said and may pass right over the heads of young audiences. Most of the time the narrative pulses on, like the non-stop wheels of a locomotive. Certainly director Amy Lane fills the stage with movement and color, much aided by Brad Carlson’s film projections. The pauses for songs add to the entertainment. There’s even an audience sing-along.
Bill Grennan, as the train conductor, appears as Lillian Smith and Wild Bill, as well as a couple of other characters and gives the proceedings friendly appeal.
Lane appears to have decided to have those actors perform as if those of a bygone period, more broadly than realistically, underscored by Carlson’s suggestion of period footlights. This and Pyle’s performance undercut making Buffalo Bill as human as he could be.
The songs are un-credited in the program book. And, as always, there is no information about the writer behind the scenes who created what’s on-stage. Max Sparber is a performer, journalist, editor and self-described “history detective,” who has delved into Omaha stories before with Minstrel Show at Blue Barn Theatre and The House of All Nations at Shelterbelt Theatre. He also calls himself “The Ukulele King of the Great Northwest” and at one time was editor-in-chief of this publication.You can read fascinating facts about him at: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1360874/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm
Young audiences could come away from this cursory glance at an American legend wanting to know more. Teachers and parents might also be spurred to go into further detail and pass along more information about such a legacy of American history.
Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band continues through February 8 at The Rose Theater, 2001 Farnam St. Omaha. Fri: 7 p.m. Sat: 2 p.m. & 5 p.m. Sun: 2 p.m. Tickets: $18. http://www.rosetheater.org