Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt, authors of the immortal off-Broadway masterpiece The Fantasticks, have as good a claim as anyone to the status of genuine musical-theater Gods, so you cannot imagine how much it pains me to give one of their shows a bad review. But honestly, this show is so embarrassingly awful that it would seem like a horrifying prospect even if it were written by people you’ve never heard of. At first glance, it seems like the world’s worst parody of Oklahoma (it _is_ reportedly based on one of Lynn Riggs’ other plays), but on closer inspection it becomes clear that it is a blatant retread of the team’s classic 110 In the Shade, only seen through a funhouse mirror that apparently makes everything suck.
The plot is completely absurd and exists as little more than an excuse to string together the jokes and songs, which might not have been as bad if the jokes and songs were any good. Jones’ dialogue and lyrics are constructed from the stupidest, most hackneyed Western clichés, and are written with such a lack of self-awareness that they seem like an unintentional parody. Every character is a complete stereotype and the central romance in particular is presented in such a clichéd manner that it makes Harlequin romance novels seem like masterworks of naturalistic characterization.
A few of Schmidt’s tunes are pretty, particularly “The Way It Should Be” and “All Men Is Crazy”, but for the most part his music is as corny as the words, and only one song (“I Toe the Line”) manages to be even moderately funny. Combine that with the ghastly performances given by the original cast, each of whom seemed to see the goofy script as an excuse for the kind of overacting that makes The Beverly Hillbillies look like a high-class act by comparison, and you have what, with no disrespect intended to its illustrious authors, is quite seriously one of the worst musicals to play New York in the entire decade.