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.|
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 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.|
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 www.theplayhousesa.org.
Photos by Siggi Ragnar.