My husband loves a good western movie, whereas my daughters and I are big fans of musical theater.
So when the Dallas Theater Center announced the world premiere musical of Bella: An American Tall Tale, I knew that I had found the perfect night out that would entertain us all. The show runs now through Oct. 22 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theater in downtown Dallas.
This new musical comedy takes place in the Wild West and tells the story of Isabella “Bella” Patterson, a young black woman in the late 19th Century America.
Her wildly inventive tale begins as she boards a train from Mississippi and heads west to reunite with her Buffalo Soldier sweetheart.
Along the way, she encounters an array of lively and colorful characters including rootin’ tootin’ cowboys, a Pullman Porter, bold soldiers, plucky mail-order brides, weary settlers and many more.
There’s lots of smart witty action during this fast-paced production, along with an unforgettable soulful musical score.
Although bullets fly and hearts break, Bella with her big heart and voluptuous figure, rises through it all.
Before the play started we attended a free 30-minute informative talk that the Dallas Theater Center hosts called Come Early.
Bella cast member Zak Reynolds shared details about the performance that really enhanced our play-going experience and offered fascinating information about the show’s context and insight to the creative process.
We learned that Kirsten Childs, who wrote the book, music and lyrics for Bella, was inspired to create a tall-tale musical about people of color on the Western frontier whose contributions rarely made it into history books.
The American west was actually built and populated by a colorful mix of people from all over the world. From Chinese workers building the railroad to freed African Americans escaping slavery or from Mexican cowboys to Native Americans – people of color were intertwined in the fabric of the frontier. It was a melting pot of unique individuals determined to prove themselves and create a new life.
Hope-filled Bella, played by the immensely talented Ashley D. Kelly, has a chance to meet many of these forgotten figures on her musical journey.
Although the show highlights themes about journey, adventure, discovery and re-invention – it’s really a story about the power of imagination.
Through Bella we hear a tall tale of the old west whose music, lyrics and dialogue are told from the experience of a black female protagonist with a large dose of optimism and a huge imagination.
Throughout the play Bella’s character is told to “make big dreams so she won’t forget.”
Bella reminds us that one most important freedoms that we have is the freedom of human spirit and to always imagine the possibilities that inspire us to live out loud.
Bella runs through Oct. 22 at the Wyly Theater. DTC’s Come Early takes place one hour before every performance and DTC’s Stay Late takes place after each performance. The Dallas Theater Center provided passes to this performance. The thoughts and opinions are my own.