At first blush, you might not have the faintest inkling that Idaho! The Comedy Musical is something of a homegrown production, the long-brewing brainchild of L.A. writer Buddy Sheffield and Las Vegas’ Keith Thompson, musical director of Jersey Boys and emcee of monthly talent bash Composers Showcase. What does the show’s spud-farming dirt clod of a town Angel’s Butte have to do with Las Vegas? Nothing. But there’s definitely a surge of Vegas spirit that helps power this almost obsessively ribald musical. The two-and-half-hour production is exhaustively (and sometimes almost exhaustingly) bawdy, replete with puns, innuendoes and double-entendre, splayed legs! flouncing bloomers! — the low-concept, high-cornball stuff your grandma’s grandma might find titillating and that you as person with a respectable sense of irony would probably be rolling your eyes at every 4.7 seconds in a fit of hokiness-induced palsy ... if you weren’t, to your mild surprise, laughing despite yourself. It’s like one of those mobile stripper billboards you see trolling around town. You shake your head ... and yet.
What makes Idaho! work? Maybe the fact that it’s also thoroughly aware of itself and, in the end, knows it’s a little hokey but doesn’t care — and kinda doesn’t care if you care. For every three I-totally-saw-that-one-coming riffs there’s a sharp meta moment, for every character named Yank Daley and Amanda Ride there’s an Exposition Joe and a Mavis White Eagle (an escaped slave passing as an “Indian woman” servant in order to get better treatment — itself a cuttingly clever micro-commentary on race). This gives Idaho! a satirical edge, but only just an edge. Thompson and Sheffield are, in the end, more interested in celebrating the form than skewering it.
And, like the pioneer folk of Angel’s Butte, they celebrate it with a mojo of madcap invention inspired by thrift: For instance, the pivotal twister scene in which a freak tornado threatens to wreck the crucial potato crop that (here’s the plot, btw) will allow hunky hero Whip Masters to buy sweet virginal mail-order bride Cassie from rich bad guy Jed Strunk is a marvel of imaginative use of a minimal set. And (spoiler alert) the scene supplies the kind of deus ex machina that magically fixes everything, with a pop-culture wink, naturally: tornado + potatoes = the fortune-changing invention of curly fries!
If such a plot point feels too breezy, shrugging and slapdash, know that Thompson and Sheffield aren’t being lazy. Rather, they’re working hard at having fun; they just happen to hide it very well. The same should be said of the cast, who on opening night seemed to perform with a collective gutsiness — even restlessness — that didn’t sacrifice professional polish, either; even in this storm of salaciousness, talents like Jessica Fontana (Cassie) showcase clear, ringing voices in solo numbers.
The show’s long run time does outstrip its freewheeling spirit and, in the second part, risks being a bit pleased with itself. But, then again, as though they’re aware of this very fact, Uncle Fate handily wraps up plot and subplots with three quick marriages in one brisk wedding hoedown — another appearance, perhaps, of Vegas matrimonal wisdom: happy endings are more fun with a little art and artifice.
Idaho! plays through July 17 at The Smith Center. Tickets $19-$89. Info: thesmithcenter.com