In his program notes director Paul Barnes describes this musical by Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hilgartner as "a piece whose sole intent is to entertain." Barnes also says that he's "respectful of the lessons of courage, generosity, and invention that underpin its delicious surface." Barnes and assistant director Erik Stein have achieved a wonderfully witty entertainment that touches chords of patriotism, bravery, kindness, and ingenuity that play well in this era of post-9/11 nationalism.
The premise is that it's 1944 and only the band and show manager Mabel Holliday of Tex Riley's Radio Round-Up—America's favorite singing cowboys—have shown up for a special BBC live radio broadcast. Mabel (delightfully portrayed by Kathleen Mary Mulligan) and frenzied producer Miles Shadwell (David Ray) press their station's crew into service. Clive Cooper (David Studwell) joins snooty announcer Leslie Briggs-Stratton (Timothy Casto), a nearly mute soundman (Jeff Evan Clarke), and erstwhile soap opera actor Archie Leitch (Jered Tanner) in gamely presenting an Anglicized rendering of Tex's American cowboy tribute in front of their studio audience and our boys at the front. Mulligan's cool crooning, Studwell's riotous rendition with a live dummy, and Casto's droll observations (not to mention his surprising costume change in Act Two) keep their audience chortling, chuckling, and cackling throughout.
Music director Alan Plado's work is superb, as evidenced by the actors' vocals and the marvelous work of Tex's band: fiddler Allan Dick, guitarist Jerry Coelho, bassist Jeff Norwood, and percussionist Ross Sears. Scenic design by Troy Hemmerling and costume design by Angeline Lee Summers satisfy our sense of nostalgia, while John Martin's lighting and Nat Koren's sound are flawless. If the patriotic addendum after the bows seems a little over-the-top, and if Chaps! bears more than a passing similarity to Walton Jones' The 1940s Radio Hour, Mabel and company's cavalcade of county music is still a gratifying break from serious theatre.
"Chaps," presented by PCPA, the Pacific Conservatory for the Performing Arts, at the Marian Theatre, 800 S. College, Santa Maria. Wed. 2 p.m., Thurs.-Fri. 8 p.m., Sat. 2 & 8 p.m., Sun. 2 p.m. Sept. 6-21. $15.75-19.75. (805) 922-8313. And in the Festival Theatre, 420 2nd St., Solvang. Wed.-Sun. 8 p.m. Sept. 27-Oct. 13. $17-21. (805) 922-8313.