It’s 1944. The war is on. What to do when the American cowboy band doesn’t show up for a live, highly-hyped variety show on BBC radio? You rustle up some stand-ins.
But pickins are slim at the London radio station: a bloke who loves cowboy songs, a producer who is afraid for his job, a chap whose claim to fame is a fish ‘n’ chips ditty, a stuffed-shirt announcer with an attitude problem, and a shell-shocked veteran who does special effects.
Throw in the usually back-stage American gal who has the script and the props, and Whoa, Nellie! The show must — and does — go on. And it’s all for the boys overseas.
If your hankering is for angst-y, artsy, edgy, woke, relevant, or transgressive theater, you already know this ain’t for you. But if you’re a ordinary audience member, you’ll love it, because this show is all about pleasing the audience, all about good entertainment. It’s short on story and long on spectacle.
Comic highlights include Archie’s complete inability to approximate an American accent, and the suddenly flamboyant Leslie’s falsetto version of an aria from Carmen with lyrics replaced entirely with names of French foods.
“Cowboy band” may make you think of twangy voices, trucks, and mamas. But what’s offered is tight, four-part harmonies, acoustic guitar, upright bass, and toe-tapping beats (many improvised by the effects guy in unconventional ways).
Lamb’s has put together an ensemble of players who can act, sing, and dance, while roping in plenty of good laughs. There’s no weak link in the chain, but Catie Grady as Mabel lassoes hearts with her spunky performance and flawless vocals over two hours. Arusi Santi creates a fully developed, engaging character in Stan the effects guy despite not having a single spoken line. His physical acting put me in mind of Rowan Atkinson.
Bring the whole gang: It’s family-friendly.
Chaps! by Jahnna Beecham & Malcolm Hillgartner
Lamb’s Player’s Theater, 1142 Orange Avenue, Coronado
Directed by Robert Smyth. Cast: Steve Gouveia, Arusi Santi, Charles Evans, Jr., Ross Hellwig, Manny Fernandez, Caitie Grady. Music Direction by Jon Lorenz, choreography by Deborah Gilmour Smyth, scenic design by Mike Buckley, costume design by Jeanne Reith, lighting design by Nathan Peirson
Plays through May 19