Opening Nights: Chaps!

Wartime Brits keep calm and go Western.

If there were an award for the local theater that most faithfully serves and delights its own particular subscriber base, I would nominate Taproot. Its loyal patrons belly-laugh at the jokes, rave about the shows while waiting in line for the loo at intermission, and often offer standing ovations at the end. Taproot's passion for good clean fun—with a hint of spirituality—rarely challenges or skewers compared to other Seattle theater companies, but that's just dandy with the regulars, as evidenced by the reception to the musical comedy Chaps!.

Dateline: London, 1944. A visiting American cowboy band misses its live gig at the BBC, so reluctant radio staff must impersonate the dogie-wranglers, joined by the band's plucky manager Mabel (Caitlin Macy-Beckwith). The jaundiced Brits, initially loath to perform, eventually warm to it, entertaining the troops and brave citizens under Nazi attack. The thin story caulks together 21 vintage country-Western songs, jauntily arranged by Malcolm Hillgartner and Chip Duford. Richard Lorig's set puts the singers out front, personable yet mute soundman Stan (Solomon Davis) in the middle, and a bass/fiddle/guitar trio behind. The audience plays the BBC studio audience, obeying an "Applause" light and sometimes clapping along. Aside from a few air raids and a micro-romance, not much happens except the rollicking musical numbers. Oh, and a few painfully creaky jokes. Tex: "Have you ever punched cows?" Miles: "I would never hit an animal." The talented Ian Lindsay scores some laughs as the radio station's sourpuss prig manager; otherwise Chaps! plays like a two-hour musical compendium from A Prairie Home Companion.

Director Karen Lund conjures a mood of shared wartime sacrifice all but extinct in our present wartime era of draftlessness and drones. There's no American Idol spotlight-seeking in this show; soldiers are brave, but so are the terrified non-performers pushed out of their comfort zones. That this ragtag bunch manages to pull it off yields a wholesome message: Everyone has something of value to offer the group. Though that moral would launch like a lead balloon on most other stages in town, at Taproot it's celebrated like V-E Day.

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