Thursday, December 9, 2010

Chaps! A Jingle Jangle Christmas

The world would be a better place if everyone was a cowboy. But you'd have to abide by the cowboy code! What code, you ask.  It's 10 simple rules to live by and it originates from Gene Autry, America's Favorite Singing Cowboy.

Gene Autry's Cowboy Code:

  1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.
  2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.
  3. He must always tell the truth.
  4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.
  5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.
  6. He must help people in distress.
  7. He must be a good worker.
  8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.
  9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation's laws.
  10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

We should all be cowboys!
During WWII in London, a traveling singin' cowboy show, Tex Riley and his Radio Roundup, get themselves lost on the way to perform a live BBC Christmas Eve broadcast to the boys fighting on the frontlines (and a live audience).  The only ones to make it to the studio on time is spunky Mabel Carter, the stage manager, with a trunk full of costumes in tow, and three musicians. Leaving only Mabel, the musicians and the BBC crew to pitch in and put on the show. In true cowboy fashion, they pull themselves up by their borrowed boot straps and put on a rootin' tootin' good time show. YEEHAW!

Chock full of cowboy ditties, Chaps! is a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, heart-warming release from all  the Christmastime hubbub.  Usually, the Orlando Shakespeare Theater's  Christmas productions teeter on the brink of slapstick comedies (not that I don't love Every Christmas Story Ever Told), but this show has a bit more heart (without being sentimental) and a ton of musical talent.  But don't get me wrong, there are lots of laughs, too. Patrick Flick has directed a delightful balance of both.

Is it just a coincidence that Melissa Mason's character is named Mabel Carter? Could this be an homage to country music and Grand Ole Opry legend Maybelle Carter of the Carter Family? Either way, Mason does justice to these down home tunes with her tinny country twang - plus she can yodel, which is no small feat.  The BBC crew consists of guitar picking Michael Gill as Archie Leitch, Philip Nolen as stuffy Leslie Briggs Stratton, Mark Whitten as uptight and asthmatic Miles Shadwell, Michael Edwards as jolly Clive Cooper, and Brandon Roberts as Stan the sound effects man. Gill opened the show with a respectable cowboy rendition of "I'm an Old Cowhand" (which gave me a flashback of an I Love Lucy episode... I got wind of it). Whitten, with the assistance of Edwards, was hysterical as the dummy singing "The Ballad of Curly Joe." It's a visual that cannot be missed. Speaking of Edwards, I was surprised to see that this is his debut season with Shakes. He just seems familiar or better yet, comfortable. With his smooth cowboy voice, he fits right in.  In an uncharacteristic supporting role, Philip Nolen added his charm and finesse to the production as the inebriated and cross-dressing BBC announcer turned saloon gal. I don't know if it was part of the act or an organic reaction, but the rest of the cast had a hard time keeping a straight face as he belted out "I'm Gonna Tell Santy Claus On You." Roberts, Shakes comedy staple, still gets the laughs even without uttering a word.

I have to mention the musicians that backed the production: Ted Henderson, guitar; Matt Tonner, Bass; Daniel Flick, Fiddle/Mandolin; and Michael Gill, guitar. They blended into the background (except Gill), but contributed the backbone and backbeat of the show.  And I would be remiss if I did not mention Daniel Flick's music direction. In fact, the entire production team deserves a round of applause - especially Bert Scott for his spot on set design.

Not even the Jerrys can stop this production. Git yourselves all gussied up and y'all come to this here Orlando Shakespeare Theater production by December 26th, or you'll be plumb out of luck. And remember, be a cowboy this Christmas, and all year long.

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