Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Indian Head Black Box Theater Laughing Daughter

By • Sep 12th, 2009 • Category: Reviews
Laughing Daughter
Indian Head Black Box Theater, Indian Head, MD
Through September 20th
2:10, with one intermission
Reviewed September 11th, 2009

Laughing Daughter is predominantly a Country Rock Musical depicting the interwoven lives and loves of three very different couples. The principal character, Laughing Daughter, is a 19 year old Native American girl, possessing a beautiful voice but bored with performing at local shows, harbors a dream of being a star in the Nashville heavens. With her father’s reluctant blessing she leaves the reservation to seek fame.

A world Premiere musical, Laughing Daughter has received lots of well thought out publicity. The show opened last weekend at the Indian Head Black Box Theatre and plays through September 20th. As a Native American, I was very interested in seeing how this contemporary piece would present this element. It is a shame that the same creative sources who did such an innovative presentation in marketing the musical and consulting Native American experts did not edit the musical as well. While the premise and intentions behind the work are good, there are many components which make this production not up to professional standards – even for an 84 seat theater in the suburbs.

The musical numbers are simple and easy enough to listen to – especially with the fine 4 piece band under the direction of Jim Watson. However, they are not only melodically and harmonically elementary, they have no “hook,” are wordy and do not project well on stage. Musical Theater audiences have some expectations which were not met in this production. A musical built on the premise of a lead star (Laughing Daughter) who wants to make it in show business, and a principal character who becomes an overnight success (Junior) needs performers who fit the bill. They need to be able to play guitar and sing country music. This production featured lots of “air guitar” and inconsistent singing. Many of the unmiked vocals were lost in this acoustic setting.

All these elements, plus the need to find four Native American performers in suburban Indian Head can present quite a challenge. The casting process yielded a small turnout and limited the options for the production team. Perhaps choosing a venue closer to a major metropolitan area would have yielded more alternatives for casting and showcasing the characters needed for Laughing Daughter?

There are some charming ensemble moments and Director Bill Graves has done some clever staging, particularly in Act Two which has a mild power surge. The supporting characters, and particularly Jeff Barehand (Storm Heart) and Crystal Mosser (Jolene) bring a breath of fresh air to the tiny stage.

The production is a 30 year project for collaborators and authors Roger Penycate & Rick Jones and their personal story is really quite interesting. Perhaps that could be a musical? It is certainly as fresh as the loosely developed storyline of Laughing Daughter. The dialogue in the show is minimal and most of the story is moved along in an easy going, predictable finish from one ballad to the next with little or no action or character development along the way. Certainly the story is engaging enough that in the hands of a good editor it can come to life.

Can Laughing Daughter continue? Producer Roger Penycate plans to reflect and review before taking the next step with this production. Doable? Yes – but she is in need of a major makeover. Their are many elements in the show that should be retained, retrained and taken to the next stage…literally and figuratively. It is just going to take a bigger Dream Catcher.


  • Storm Heart: Jeff Barehand
  • Junior Johnson: Draper Carter
  • Bubbalou Burns: Tom Cauler
  • Sleeping Raven: Adam Curtis
  • Lenny Black: Pete Farnham
  • Little Bird/Laughing Daughter: KJ Jacks
  • Bartender/Thug 1/Ensemble: Mike Margelos
  • Jolene: Crystal Mosser
  • Shell Flower: Natalie Proctor
  • Ditzy Tourist/Hooker 2/Ensemble: Sarah Riggle
  • Shopaholic Tourist/Hooker 1/Ensemble: Lynn Thorne


  • Music by Rick Jones
  • Lyrics by Rick Jones, James D. Watson and David Pierce
  • Written by Roger Penycate and Rick Jones
  • Additional dialogue and lyrics by James D. Watson and Bill Graves
  • Directed by Bill Graves
  • Choreographed by Katherine Elizabeth Kelly
  • Musical arrangements and orchestrations by James D. Watson
  • Makeup Design: Shemika Berry
  • Lights Design: Jodie Muller
  • Photography: Mary Thiedeman
  • Stage Manager: Melissa Gilpin
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works nationally and internationally as an opera singer, coach, teacher, conductor and stage director. She is the CEO of Saltnote Stageworks, a non-profit corporation that promotes education & performance opportunities for emerging artists.

One Response »

  1. I interviewed creators Rick Jones and Roger Penycate on DC Theatre Scene. Click on this link It’s an interesting story that Lisa talks about in her review. I hope you enjoy it. You can also find it in my Theatre Schmooze column. You can also read Tim Treanor’s review of the show in “Our Reviews”.