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She Says: Bella: An American Tall Tale – A Tuneful Western Adventure

She Says: Bella: An American Tall Tale – A Tuneful Western Adventure
Kenita R. Miller, Liz Mikel, Ashley D. Kelley

Kenita R. Miller, Liz Mikel, Ashley D. Kelley — Photo: Joan Marcus

There is a lot to admire about Kirsten Childs’s Bella: An American Tall Tale, which opened tonight at Playwrights Horizons. First, is its leading actress, Ashley D. Kelley, who is joyous to watch. With a powerhouse voice, acting chops, and a winning smile, I am sure we will be seeing Ms. Kelley again. For that point, the entire cast is vocally strong and a great deal of fun. Second, the score is interesting. It is tuneful and goes places you do not expect. Third, the choreography by Camille A. Brown is a high kicking, rootin’-tootin’ good time.

Ashley D. Kelley, Yurel Echezarreta, Marinda Anderson

Ashley D. Kelley, Yurel Echezarreta, Marinda Anderson

The script, however, is a mixed bag, with the title character taking on the characterization of the Hottentot Venus, as a teenager. Bella (Ashley D. Kelley) has been nicknamed a “Big Booty Tupelo Gal.” She is infectiously confident and enthusiastic with an imagination that has gone overboard. We meet Bella aboard a train bound for her Buffalo Soldier sweetheart (Britton Smith)who’s out West. To amuse herself along the way, we meet the tall tales she invents. From a shy spinster (Marinda Anderson) who is wooed by the sexy, hot, guitar-strumming gaucho with all the moves (the terrific Yurel Echezarreta). A train-robbing outlaw named Snaggletooth Hoskins (Kevin Massey) who bears a striking resemblance to the man she is running away from. And a stripping, Chinese cowboy named Tommie Haw (Paolo Montalban) who channels Elvis in a gold lamé Speedo.

Ashley D. Kelley, Kevin Massey

Ashley D. Kelley, Kevin Massey

Bella is so wrapped up in her fantasies she doesn’t see that the attentive porter (Brandon Gill) is her knight in shining armor.

Donald Webber Jr., Ashley D. Kelley

Donald Webber Jr., Ashley D. Kelley – Photo by Karen A

The problem is, Bella is three shows – which is one too many. There is the story about the wealthy landowner (Kevin Massey) who did or didn’t have his way with her. There is the story of her posterior (portrayed by NaTasha Yvette Williams) and the Spirit of the Booty. Then there is also all the Tall Tales, which instead of being one coherent thought, just seem like a mesh of ideas.

Robert O’Hara’s direction also seems a little over-the-top and instead of grounding Ms. Child’s work he has set it to flight.

The costumes by Dede M. Ayite, are fanciful, the set by Clint Ramos doesn’t capture the shows topsy-turvey antic and I am not sure why there were multiple sets.

Bella’sability to not allow diversity to stop her from living and being in her happy place is admirable. I would like to see this piece re-worked and brought back. There is a gem inside all of this disorder.

Bella: An American Tall Tale: Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St., until July 2nd.

Off Broadway

Suzanna, co-owns and publishes the newspaper Times Square Chronicles or T2C. At one point a working actress, she has performed in numerous productions in film, TV, cabaret, opera and theatre. She has performed at The New Orleans Jazz festival, The United Nations and Carnegie Hall. She has a screenplay and a TV show in the works, which she developed with her mentor and friend the late Arthur Herzog. She is a proud member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle and was a nominator. Email: suzanna@t2conline.com

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