Behind the Scenes: "Chaps!"
Cowboys and Comedy at Barter Theatre
By TOM NETHERLAND | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER | March 08, 2010*** Published: February 25, 2010 in the Bristol (Va.) Herald Courier. ***
Imagine the sound.
Spurs jingle jangling during World War II era London, England.
Hear and see that and more during Barter Theatre's production of "Chaps!" Scheduled to open Feb. 26 and run through April 22, 2010 at Barter Stage II in Abingdon, the play combines a motley mix of Monty Python-styled humor with cowboy songs amid war-blitzed Britain circa 1944.
All sorts of multiple meanings and angles occur in "Chaps!"
"Chaps are something that cowboys wear, and it's what the British refer to as friends," said Rick McVey, who plays BBC radio announcer Leslie Briggs-Stratton. "It's just a fun play."
Mary Lucy Bivins directs.
"We're really trying to create Monty Python meets the singing cowboy," Bivins said.
However, given that the play occurs in London's BBC radio studios amid ravaged London, layers of serious matters underscore the play's comedic qualities.
"It's a zany comedy, but we're also talking about a radio broadcast that was going out to war-torn London," Bivins said. "It's a ragtag bunch, but the show had to go on. Those soldiers out in the trenches were waiting on the broadcast."
The star of the broadcast is Tex Riley, a fictional singing cowboy from America. Only problem, he encounters difficulty in making his way to the BBC radio studios.
"The show had to go on," Bivins said.
Based on the book by Jahanna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner, "Chaps!" features a cast of on-stage actors as Brits, along with musicians and off-stage voices. So as time nears for the broadcast of Riley and his cowboy songs, it becomes clear that he won't make it to the station in time.
In step the aforementioned Brits. They dig into trunks for cowboy attire and affect American accents and quickly set about learning Riley's cowboy songs. Meanwhile, BBC announcer Leslie Briggs-Stratton, played by McVey, looks down his long nose at the ruckus.
"He's a typical sort of BBC snob," McVey said. "He doesn't care much for cowboy music."
Goodness, what music.
Among the list of 21 songs in "Chaps!" classics include The Sons of the Pioneers' "Tumblin' Tumbleweeds," ""Cool Water" and Gene Autry's "(I've Got Spurs That) Jingle, Jangle, Jingle."
Here's the humor in that. They are sung by the British with best-as-they-can-conjure American accents singing as the absent Tex Riley would sing them.
"The whole concept of the British trying to be cowboys is just fun," McVey said. "It is crazy in a way, but it's not just another crazy play because it's set in World War II. That adds heart to the play."
So "Chaps!" should appeal on several fronts. For those who love comedy, it's Monty Python funny. For those who adore cowboy music, pardners, there's plenty. And for those who recall World War II or simply want to learn more, then there's that element of seriousness, too.
"The play pays tribute to the singing cowboys through Tex Riley," Bivins said. "But the play also pays tribute to the soldiers, and the play pays tribute to those Londeners who hung on and kept on going."
IF YOU GO
When: Feb. 26 through April 22
Where: Barter Theatre Stage II, 127 W. Main St., Abingdon, Va.
Info: (276) 628-3991