The ladies of WOAI perform their rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Photo by Sandra Treviño.
The ladies of WOAI perform their rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." Photo by Sandra Treviño.

In 1950, the rodeo made its San Antonio debut at the Joe and Harry Freeman Coliseum. This year, the rodeo is hitting the stage at the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater in the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts with Lee Cusenbary’s “Rosie’s Rodeo Roundup.”

This rousing musical comedy tells the story of Roseanne Henderson, one of America’s first famous rodeo champions. In Cusenbary’s show, Rosie becomes a radio star on San Antonio’s very own WOAI-AM radio station, live-broadcasting the city’s first rodeos.

Rosie Henderson’s skill and showmanship inspired Cusenbary’s original story, but fame came earlier in rodeo history for Rosie, with her career truly taking off in the early 1920s. She gained a sensational reputation on the rodeo circuit in the Midwest, Dallas, and Houston, riding broncos in silk, feathers, and a giant sombrero. Audiences were scandalized by her outfit of nothing but bloomers and a blouse, but that certainly didn’t stop them from filling the arenas where she competed, taking rodeo from a competition to an entertainment event. Cusenbary found inspiration in Rosie’s confidence and audience appeal and created a character that was both rodeo star and radio celebrity.

“The same year the rodeo started in San Antonio, the source of ranch and farm news, WOAI was getting new competition in television stations which made the future of the radio stations uncertain. These worlds come together in the fictional story of “Rosie’s Rodeo Roundup,” with Rosie doing the first live broadcast of a rodeo in San Antonio,” Cusenbary said.

Although Rosie was never a radio newscaster, her spirit lives on in this exciting musical. Rosie was never one to let a challenge go unanswered; her fight, along with WOAI, to keep radio alive in the show is a telling tribute to her fierce and independent spirit. Following current trends in the entertainment industry of blending the modern and the vintage, Cusenbary has incorporated the songs of pop powerhouses like Miranda Lambert, Michael Bublé, Rascal Flatts, One Direction, and Josh Groban, as well as more classic crooners like Elvis Presley and The Andrew Sisters into the show.

Dancers from C & C Ballroom showcase their grace and excellent choreography during the production. Photo by Sandra Treviño.
Dancers from C & C Ballroom showcase their grace and excellent choreography during the production. Photo by Sandra Treviño.

“Rosie’s Rodeo Roundup” has already been performed once in the Tobin Center’s H-E-B Performance Hall. This staging will take place in the more intimate Carlos Alvarez Studio Theatre, which has given Cusenbary and the cast a new opportunity to bring the “radio show within a show” out into the audience, even asking patrons to cheer along as the exciting radio show is “broadcast” live.

The restaging also brings with it a new Rosie.

“The first staging of the show featured a very talented actress as Rosie, but she didn’t sing. It was a challenge to give the audience the impression of a book musical when the main character didn’t sing or dance. Fortunately, she was so engaging, the show was a success. In the restaging of the show, Rosie is played by Ginger Gamble Martel, a talented singer and dancer, who I last cast in The Playhouse’s sellout “Fiddler on the Roof.” We have added two new songs for her character, and there is also a new scene which foreshadows a romantic relationship between Rosie and the radio station technician, Buzz Stein, who could not be less like her. Opposites attract in their two songs together,” Cusenbary said.

Buzz is played by respected actor and former judge Philip Kazen.

Cusenbary also included characters and events many locals will recognize. The story reveals some of the origins of Fiesta events and why the Freeman brothers chose to build their coliseum. The strong Hispanic influence on San Antonio’s history shines through, adding to the rich culture of the city in 1950 and today. Local actors Travis Treviño, Erica Gonzaba, Alyssa Lopez, and Rosa Cabezas-Gil portray some of these characters inspired by the real people who lived and worked in San Antonio when the rodeo first arrived. The story was carefully crafted to pay homage to the Hispanic men and women who helped make San Antonio the great city it is today.

As Cusenbary says, “With a majority of San Antonio’s citizens having a Mexican-American heritage, local theatre should reflect that same heritage and be relevant to our city’s entire history.”

The men of WOAI perform their “live broadcast.” Photo by Sandra Treviño.
The men of WOAI perform their “live broadcast.” Photo by Sandra Treviño.

Cusenbary is no stranger to writing for the stag. For more than 10 years he has been the driving force behind Ethics Follies, an annual performance parodying famous musicals to provide ethical training to attorneys and other professionals. Cusenbary has gathered quite a following of legal and theatre professionals, reintroducing many people to live theatre for the first time in years. He also takes great joy in blending these two seemingly disparate groups onstage, helping those in the legal field unlock their creative potential. These annual performances give Cusenbary the opportunity to combine his two great loves, theatre and law, while helping raise money for some of his favorite non-profit organizations. In fact, that’s how “Rosie’s Rodeo Roundup” got its start. He was first commissioned to write an original “jukebox musical” about the San Antonio Rodeo’s history by Dr. Deborah Valdez at The Bexar County Family Justice Center, which prevents domestic violence in Bexar County.

“I wrote ‘Rosie’s Rodeo Roundup’ to fill the request of the Center, that wanted a fully produced original musical as a draw to their annual gala and dinner. The one-night production raised almost $100,000 for the Center and was the first locally written play or musical performed on the Tobin’s H-E-B Performance Hall stage,” Cusenbary said. 

In addition to writing the piece, Cusenbary made his own contribution to the Center by donating back his fee, as well as underwriting the costs of the costumes and sets, which he has also chosen to do for The Playhouse’s benefit performance. Because of Cusenbary’s local popularity, several people sought to purchase individual tickets to the original staging of “Rosie’s Rodeo Roundup,” but there were none to be had, as the Center decided to do all tables for their fundraiser (they had a sell-out house). This demand for tickets was one of the reasons that Cusenbary wanted to restage the show as a fundraiser for The Playhouse San Antonio; putting it in the Carlos Alvarez Studio Theater meant lower ticket prices and individual seating..

“Rosie’s Rodeo Roundup” runs April 15 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $55 and can be purchased at the Tobin Box Office at (210) 223-8624. Proceeds benefit The Playhouse San Antonio.

*Featured/top image: The ladies of WOAI perform their rendition of “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy.” Photo by Sandra Treviño.

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Casey Weed is the Development Manager at The Playhouse San Antonio, San Antonio's oldest continually-operating arts organization. She is a graduate of the University of Virginia and the University of the...