Quote of the Day: By the time Jesse James and his gang became part of America’s consciousness in the 1860’s, there was already a template for fictionalizing and romanticizing true crime tales in story and song. Jeffrey Hatcher, playwright. Hatcher has once again teamed up with composer and lyricist Chan Poling to create The Defeat of Jesse James for the History Theatre in St. Paul, MN, directed by new artistic director Richard D. Thompson. 

Cast of The Defeat of Jesse James by Hatcher and Poling, at the History Theatre thru 5/28/23. Photo: Rick Spaulding

Hatcher and Poling gave us Glensheen, the murder musical about the Congdon family in Duluth. That dark comedy musical is a huge success for the team and the History Theatre. It will be back at the History Theatre July 8-23. Their latest collaboration, The Defeat of Jesse James, has similar appeal and style. They set his story as a final concert by the legendary outlaw. He sings of his terrible past and the people in his life. 

Adam Qualls as Jesse James and Dane Stauffer as Frank James in The Defeat of Jesse James by Hatcher and Poling at the History Theatre thru 5/28/23. Photo: Rick Spaulding

Adam Qualls is sensational as Jesse James. He’s a bad boy, but with a certain amount of charm. Even though he does terrible things, like kill numerous bank tellers (there’s even a bit about it, asking what do you have against bank tellers), we are drawn to his character and his story. We want to know what happened in his life to make him so dangerous. 

Dane Stauffer plays Jesse’s older brother Frank. The two spent most of their young adult lives robbing banks, killing people for their survival and fortune, and running from the law. If they were both in it together, why is Jesse James the name we all know? The brothers have their moments, but they stick together. The question that Northfield residents still ask, Was it Frank or Jesse who killed the bank teller in that attempted robbery? The town of Northfield, MN claims bragging rights to this event and celebrate the Defeat of Jesse James Days in the summer. 

Adam Qualls as Jesse James and Angela Timberman as Zerelda in The Defeat of Jesse James by Hatcher and Poling, at the History Theater thru 5/28/23. Photo: Rick Spaulding

Angela Timberman plays Zerelda, Jesse’s mother. She is always dynamite in the roles that she plays, and she’s especially so as Jesse’s hardened mother. She has a great song called House Full of… (a-holes) that had the audience hooting with laughter. She also gives Jesse advice on how to survive in the wild west, with a cool way of handing him a gun. Real guns are not used on stage. The actors make the shape of a gun with their hands, like little boys do when they’re play fighting. The gun is part of them. Jesse James has a song about it called I Am The Gun

Angela Timberman as Zerelda, Adam Qualls as Jesse James, and Suzie Juul as Zee in The Defeat of Jesse James by Hatcher and Poling, at the History Theatre thru 5/28/23. Photo: Rick Spaulding

Suzie Juul plays Zee, and others (short for Zerelda, as she was named after her aunt). She and Jesse get married, and after he retires from gun violence and bank robbing, they settle down as farmers.

Jordan Leggett plays Perry Samuel, and others. He is the “half-step-brother” (I think that’s how they referred to him) of Jesse. His step-father’s son with a woman who was his slave. He’s in the family pictures. Perry sings about their family in a song called That’s Me, while photos of the James/Samuel family are projected (video design by Leslie Ritenour). 

Jen Burleigh-Bentz, Jordan Leggett, and Randy Schmeling in The Defeat of Jesse James by Hatcher and Poling, at the History Theatre thru 5/28/23. Photo: Rick Spaulding

Sasha Andreev and Jen Burleigh-Bentz play numerous characters. They’re best song (and a personal favorite) is Two Unlucky Stiffs, where they sing about their death and immortality through the display of their brains in jars at carnivals. Clever and funny lines and choreography for that one! Choreography by Austene Van.

James Ramlet and Randy Schmeling also play various characters from Bloody Bill Anderson to John Sheets. They’re officers, family members and townsfolk. Randy dies several times as a bank teller, making his line about What do you have against bank tellers? extra funny.

The entire cast is terrific. The choices for props (Kirby Moore), lighting (Karin Olson) and sound (C Andrew Mayer) are wonderful, bringing it all together. The music is a variety of styles, ballads, whimsical, rock – rockabilly, with a nod to classic westerns, without being a true Western musical. The set (Joel Sass) is a multi-level stage, concert style. The musicians are on stage as they would be for a concert. Music director and keys is Raymond Berg. Christian Wheeler on guitar. Kameron Markworth on bass, and Mick LaBriola on drums. 

You can see this terrific show, The Defeat of Jesse James, by Jeffrey Hatcher and Chan Poling, directed by Richard D. Thompson, at the History Theatre through May 28, 2023. Don’t delay in getting tickets. Opening weekend was nearly sold out! 

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Are you fascinated by any outlaws? Have you visited a place because it was where the outlaw is said to have lived/robbed/or occupied?