Saturday, February 23, 2013

Playhouse presents Roads Courageous world premiere musical

by Jenni Morin

Dr. John R. Brinkley may not be a household name today, but less than a century ago this goateed “goat gland” doctor was an international superstar of controversial medicine and radio broadcasting. The Playhouse’s world premiere musical production of Roads Courageous chronicles the doctor’s rise to fame and his ultimate demise through a whirlwind circus of fraud and flamboyance.

Johnny Boy played by Karl Roach-Compton and Trey Hoadley.
As a “barefoot Appalachian boy” who grew up to be a doctor, Brinkley was the epitome of the Depression era American dream for the poor common man—a community which he exploited by promising a cure to nearly every ailment, but mostly impotence and virility. After witnessing the amazing stamina of goats at the Swift meatpacking company in Kansas where he worked as a house doctor, Brinkley wryly suggested to one of his first patients at his Milford, Kansas practice he started in 1917 to allow him to implant goat glands to help the man’s libido. After his patent’s wife gave birth to son, Brinkley’s popularity boomed, bringing him inordinate wealth.

The first act of Thomas Nyman (book and lyrics) and Kevin Parman’s (music and lyrics) Roads Courageous engulfs audiences in the chaotic carnival of Brinkley’s rise to fame. Narrated by Brinkley’s grown son Johnny Boy—portrayed by Trey Hoadley who gave a much-needed grounded performance as a sort of ringmaster—the production quickly focuses on the boy’s admiration of his father and the prolific family lies his parents ferociously protect to keep the good doctor on a pedestal. With a classic 1950s musical feel, the first act offers well-choreographed traditional dance numbers, complete with dancing goat boys, backed up by a nice melding of voices from the ensemble.

Roy Bumgarner as Dr. Brinkley puts on a show.
The bombastic performance of Roy Bumgarner as Dr. Brinkley is complimented by the elegant solos of Sherry Gibbs Houston as Minnie Brinkley. Numbers from Anna Gangai as Rose Dawn and Jason Mosher as Koran help to round out the production with a taste of unrequited yet convenient love reminiscent of Oklahoma. Chris Berry’s Roy Faulkner Lonesome Cowboy country interludes were welcome additions to the score even without the expected over the top twang. Adam Fellers' Wolfman Jack character provides a bridge from the doctor’s medical practice to radio prowess when he takes an interest in Brinkley’s Mexico border blaster radio transmitter.

The unveiling of the “million watt” transmitter is a spectacle, along with the overall set and costume design. Archival imagery and artifacts from the Del Rio Brinkley mansion are a reminder that this episode in quackery and charlatanism, as the medical board referred to Brinkley’s career when revoking his license, is a true story.

Brinkley’s fame and subsequent loss of his medical license—spearheaded by the American Medical Association representative Morris Fishbein, played by Byrd Bonner, who was hell-bent on exposing Brinkley’s medical frauds—prompted him to run for governor of Kansas as a write-in candidate in 1930. After receiving nearly 30 percent of the votes, he ran again in 1932 to no avail.

Sherry Gibbs Houston as Minnie Brinkley.
In the second act, the circus winds down and Brinkley’s fall from grace mirrors the modern musical but with a distinct melancholy evocative of Carousel. The doctor suffers multiple heart attacks and has his leg amputated, but even on his deathbed still plans to swindle the common folk as a preacher. A pivotal scene in the second act allows the grown Johnny Boy to confront his father about the truth wherein his father rebuts asking his son to believe. At the expense of protecting his lies, the doctor loses what he once most treasured, his son’s faith in him as a good man.

Roads Courageous tells the story of one of the most successful surgeons and radio personalities of the 20th century with a lasting impression of what happens when that success blinds its victims with a road paved with glimmering lies. These stories of how the mighty have fallen due to deception and greed are now an all too familiar occurrence—perhaps Brinkley can even be credited as the forefather of the modern American dream to get rich quick and stay on top by any means necessary. According to Brinkley, that’s just what happens when failed circus clowns go into politics. In the end, the story revolves around the worth of a son, an heir to fame and fortune but not the guile that got his father there, and his heartbreaking journey from the Big Top to an abandoned sideshow.

Roads Courageous plays through March 17 at the Russell Hill Rogers Theatre at The Playhouse with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit
Photos by Siggi Ragnar.

No comments:

Post a Comment