By Harrison Neville
Gold Side’s “Ballad of the Mississippi River” pulls from a conglomerate of American folklore, but focuses on Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed and John Henry. The show opens with three characters who act as narrators throughout the show: Molly Pitcher, Darlin Clementine and Sweet Betsy.
The trio serve as the primary singers for the prologue. In the background, the rest of the cast dances and acts out their roles for the prologue, introducing Bunyan, Appleseed and Henry. Through the prologue we learn that Bunyan and Henry have already clashed and that Henry lost the encounter.
Once the prologue is finished, the scene resets, and the characters are shown at a train station. Henry speaks with his wife Polly Ann, who is concerned about him leaving for the famous competition between himself and the steam engine.
After Henry and his wife say their goodbyes, Henry gets on the train, where he meets Appleseed. The two swap stories; the cast sings about traveling on the train and passengers get on and off while, in the background, the conductor chases Daniel Boone attempting to stamp his ticket.
After the song, Appleseed mentions Bunyan, and is promptly told by everyone else to not say Bunyan’s name. A new song starts up where the cast sings about how dangerous Bunyan is and that he’s been terrorizing the land for years.
Appleseed doesn’t take their concerns very seriously. He and Henry part ways with Henry telling Appleseed that if he ever needs him, he knows where to find him.
Henry then has a solo where he sings about how he must be brave and strong for his family and friends.
The scene pivots away and reveals that minions of Bunyan, Bill and Jane, were on the train with Henry and Appleseed. The two arrive at Bunyan’s cabin, where they inform Bunyan and his romantic partner Babe that Appleseed said he was going to plant seeds on their land. Bunyan is furious, particularly when the two minions reveal that Appleseed doesn’t really know who Bunyan is.
This prompts another song where Bunyan talks about his accomplishments. Then Babe and the minions go to fetch Appleseed.
While the scene transitions, Clementine, Pitcher and Betsy appear and inform the audience that everyone loves Appleseed’s apple cider. Then, the lights turn on revealing the Rattlesnake Saloon, where all the occupants are praising Appleseed for his incredible cider.
The “Cider Song” starts, which includes a lot more praise for Appleseed and a tap-dancing number. After the song ends, Appleseed mentions how he’s having fun and he just can’t wait to meet Bunyan.
Everyone inside the saloon shushes him. They warn that if he says Bunyan’s name, then Bunyan will hear him. Appleseed finds this laughable, until Babe comes through the door.
Appleseed hides and Babe announces that she is looking for Appleseed. The occupants of the saloon are terrified of Babe. “Babe’s Burlesque” starts playing as Babe continues to interrogate everyone and warns that she always gets what she wants.
Ironically enough, Babe leaves without Appleseed but takes Boone and the drunken local sheriff, Pecos Bill, along with Appleseed’s seeds.
Pecos Bill and Boone are taken to Bunyan. There was a mix up, and Wild Bill thought that he had grabbed Appleseed instead. Bunyan is furious and asks both Boone and Pecos Bill to tell him where Appleseed has gone. Pecos Bill is drunk and tells Bunyan that Appleseed went to see Henry in Tennessee.
The next scene is set at a railyard. Henry is talking with Polly Ann when they hear shouting and Appleseed rushes into the scene. Appleseed tells Henry that Babe, Wild Bill and Jane took his seeds.
Appleseed wants to run away, but Henry says that he’ll help him get his seeds back, despite the protest of everyone else. This commences the song “John and Johnny’s Help Song,” where Polly Ann agrees for Henry to go help Appleseed, and Appleseed and Henry promise to defeat Bunyan.
As the scene changes, Clementine, Betsy and Pitcher inform the audience that Henry decided to travel on foot because the train might attract attention, and that they are near the Tennessee state line when they encounter Bunyan’s crew.
The scene opens in a forest. Jane and Wild Bill are walking through the forest and spot Henry’s hammer, and Henry grows tired of hiding and reveals himself.
After a brief conversation where Appleseed demands his seeds and Bunyan refuses to give them up, Henry and Bunyan begin to fight. Their conflict cracks the earth, and causes the Mississippi River to spread out between the two of them. The two then cease fighting and leave.
The “Epilogue” song begins to play, where it is revealed that Bunyan and Babe went off to create the Grand Canyon, Appleseed and Boone went up north to create an apple orchard and Henry won his race with the steam drill.
Harrison Neville is the editor in chief for The Alabamian. He is a fourth-year English major whose hobbies include reading, hiking, cooking and writing. He has previously worked for The Alabamian as a managing editor, distribution manager, copy editor and SGA columnist.