Book by Perry Liu, Joe Calarco, and Alastair William King
Music by Alastair William King and Perry Liu
Lyrics by Perry Liu
For lack of a better word, Outlaws is badass. Sure, you could write a musical about Billy the Kid and make it totally ordinary. It might even not suck. But it was ingenious of Liu, King, and Calarco to attack the story as rock and roll mythology; sticking only to the barest outline of the facts (there was a Billy the Kid, there was a Pat Garrett, they were criminals for a while, then Garrett turned legit and was involved in taking Billy down) and outfitting it with driving rock score, they have crafted something wholly itself and thoroughly engaging. It’s a rock musical without distancing irony—no magically appearing hand mics here.
The plot is fairly light, and the show could probably be compacted by about five minutes and the intermission deleted (as it is, Outlaws runs less than 1:45 including the break); although the first and last segments could use some clarification, it almost works to have Billy be a history-free, motivationless expression of pure teenage id. It doesn’t hurt that he’s played by the intensely charismatic Corey Boardman. David Murgittroyd is impressive as the hulking, conflicted Garrett; Isabel Santiago works wonders with a huge voice in the marginally underwritten role of a young mother who captures Billy’s heart (and other parts). They are ably assisted by the supporting cast of Antonio Addeo, Justin Gregory Lopez, and Travis McClung as well as a smoking five-piece band led by guitarist Chris Blisset. Jenn Rapp directs and choreographs with aplomb on a set designed by the estimable David Gallo, and Sky Switser's costumes carefully walk the line of contemporary and period.
And then there are the songs. Oh, the songs. I dare you to get "We Do Whatever We Want" out of your head. Hint: you won't be able to. (The main argument for keeping the intermission may be to hear nearly everybody on line for the restroom humming it, as was the case tonight.) It's hard to pick favorites out of the score, but the opening "That's What They Said" (which forms a leimotif throughout), the driving "Gun Song," and the haunting "Little Man" are standouts. I know that Outlaws has been floating around for a long time (it was originally announced to premiere at Signature in Virginia in 2001, but was canceled in the wake of September 11th), but I can't wait to see what comes next.
SCORE: 8 out of 10