Chief Players’ summer melodrama swaggers back in town

Chad McGown during the Chief Players’ production of “Blazing Guns at the Hot Springs Hotel.”
Sarah Laping-Garland

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There’s a new show in town — guns on its hips, a swagger in its step and absolutely bursting with drama.

The melodrama is “Blazing Guns at the Hot Springs Hotel,” performed by the Chief Players. It’s a tongue-in-cheek, family-friendly script by Pioneer Drama Service that the Players have done several times before: first in 1994, and then again in 1998, for a dinner theater show at the Loft Bar of the Ore House.

But the Players haven’t tired of it yet — not even close.

Set in the wild, wild West, the melodrama follows one of the heroes, Harry Heartstone, on his pursuit of alleged robber Snipe Vermin. Heartstone and Vermin are both played by Chad McGown for a shocking reason that will eventually become clear — but not during this article. 

Throughout a series of snarky arguments, thoughtful recollections of early childhood, sprints through the theater’s aisles and gunfights, we meet hotel proprietress Widow Black, “lady sheriff” Willie Lovelace. Vermin’s bumbling sidekick Bill Filbert, Colonel Crabtree and his pair of feathered, boy-crazy assistants and Martha Muldoon, who’s an actress — a fact that she’ll definitely tell you. The show nods to historic and modern-day Steamboat Springs all along the way and is musically narrated throughout by musical director Andy Pratt.

“Something that’s important about this show is that it’s a gender-bending show,” said Co-Director Jennie S. Lake. “In most melodramas, the villain and the hero are both men, but in this, they’re both women.”

“I enjoyed seeing a strong female lead,” said Co-Director Michael DeNova. 

If you go

What: “Blazing Guns at the Hot Springs Hotel, A Live Western Melodrama”
When: Doors open at 6:30 p.m., show at 7 p.m. July 11, 18 and 25 and Aug. 1
Where: Chief Theater, 813 Lincoln Ave.
Tickets: $15 for adults, $10 for kids at

While some of the melodrama actors have been coming back to this show for decades, its several others’ first time in a Chief Theater production.

“Some had never even seen a melodrama production before,” said DeNova, who’s been acting in the Players’ productions for three years and is debuting his directorial skills during this melodrama. 

“We’re always looking for more people to get involved,” Lake said. “The melodrama is a great way to get into theater — it’s more light-hearted and audience interactive, and it allows for us to work through mistakes without making it worse.”

Joe Haines as Widow Black in the Chief Players’ “Blazing Guns at the Hot Springs Hotel.”
Sarah Laping-Garland

This year’s melodrama is composed of nearly 20 cast and crew members.

“People will see their co-workers, they’ll see their servers, they’ll see local business owners and nonprofit directors,” said Lisa Popovich, who plays Martha Muldoon in this show and who also played her in the Chief Players’ 1994 production. “We are the community.”

“A ragtag team of misfits,” added Benjamin Kiser, who plays Crabtree.

Lisa Popovich and Benjamin Kiser perform during the Chief Players’ melodrama “Blazing Guns at the Hot Springs Hotel.” The melodrama premiers at the Chief Theater on Thursday, July 11.
Sarah Laping-Garland

The actors have been working on the show since May. For whatever reason, not many people showed up for auditions, the cast recalls. One woman was there, but the melodrama calls for five female roles. So the cast and crew reached out to those around them.

They eventually recruited enough actors to fill out the whole cast — more than the previous productions had. This will be the first time the Players will put on a show featuring Crabtree and his two assistants. 

But the best characters might be the ones who never even auditioned.

“The audience is like a character of its own,” stage manager A.J. Jennings said. 

At every twist and turn of the show, the audience is encouraged to let loose their boos, hisses and cheerios, their gasps and laughter and whatever other reactions may be catalyzed. 

“With a melodrama, the more engaged the audience is, the more they’ll get out of the actors,” Haines said. 

Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and the show begins at 7 p.m. Shows are set for July 11, July 18, July 25 and Aug. 1. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children.

Beyond the shows at the Chief, the melodrama is also offering itself to the community in several other ways.

The Players invited all Horizons clients and staff to watch and participate in Wednesday’s final dress rehearsal, a connection facilitated by Kirk Aigner, who plays Barney and works with Horizons. Also on Aug. 8, the cast and crew will pick up and haul their play to the Hayden Community and Cultural Center, at the high school, for the melodrama’s last show of the season.

Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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