The zanies who call themselves the Troubadour Theater Company are back with CHiPs The Musical, the award-winning ensemble’s first show not based on the hits of a major recording artist or group. Instead, the Troubies’ takeoff on the late-‘70s/early-‘80s action TV series has catchy original music composed by Henry Phillips, with Rick Batalla taking care of book and lyrics.  In all other respects however, CHiPs The Musical is exactly the madness and merriment we’ve come to expect from Troubies’ Artistic Director Matt Walker and company.


In the roles made famous by Eric Estrada and Larry Wilcox, Batalla (Ponch) and Walker (John) make their entrance atop a pair of souped-up bikes (i.e. bicycles) to the rocking strains of their theme song “We Are The CHiPs,” one which answers the decades-old question, “Why are those California Highway Patrol uniforms so tight?”  (It’s so that we can see that they are “packing heat,” and of course to make their signature ass poses all the more provocative.)

Staffing the CHiPs office are Sergeant Getrear (Mike Sulpruzio), male chauvinist extraordinaire, and perky Officer Statch (Christine Lakin), aka “Sweet Cheeks,” at least when Getrear is sexually harassing her. No wonder the Sergeant is getting shipped off to Camp Sensitive “where they strip you down naked, beat you blind, and rid you of male chauvinism.”  Other office staff members include the appropriately named Grossman (Matthew Morgan) who is “Gross, man,” and the sexually ambiguous Jenkins (Mike Teele).


Replacing Getrear is Afro-wigged Carmel (Michelle Anne Johnson), a dead ringer for Foxy Brown of Blacksploitation film fame, and her backup gals The Carmelites (Kristin D’Andrea and Jackie Seiden), always ready with an R&B refrain and some girl-on-girl body contact.  As for Carmel herself, like Shaft “she’s a bad mother… Shut your mouth!”

The new chief soon gives Ponch and John their next assignment, to root out a band of lesbian eco-terrorists who pollute the coastline and call themselves Gang Green.  As to why this is a job for the CHiPs, Carmel explains that it’s because they do this via the highways.

Gang Green members include pretty, high-heeled Crystal (Jen DeMinco), brain-impaired Bill (Meleney Humphrey), muscle dyke Charlie (Joseph Keane), tough gal June (Lakin), Charlie’s Angel-eque Frankie (Seiden), and gang leader MG (Beth Kennedy), a “synthetic albino” who’s “got no color and that makes her mad.”  (We’re told that the gang operate near the beaches because they look good in bikinis.)


The eco-terrorists’ latest target is hefty diner owner Jim (Joel McCrary), who pollutes the atmosphere with the massive amounts of hairspray he uses to keep his “do” in place, and who pollutes the ocean by dumping used fry oil down the drain. 

It’s up to John and Ponch to convince Jim to stop dumping before Gang Green gets there first.

With musical director/drummer Eric Heinly, keyboardist Kevin McCourt, and guitarist Philip accompanying them from their onstage jail cell, and ‘70s-inspired dance moves choreographed by Nadine Ellis, the Troubies perform such numbers as “The Times,” a sexy ballad which asks the musical question “How will I invite you to the party in my pants?”; “Sexual Tension,” a production number which has the full cast swinging night sticks as they boogie; and a dozen or so other ditties with titles like “Single Teenage Mama” (choreographed by Ameenah Kaplan), “Shootout,” and the alphabetic “I N.E.E.D. You.”  In one particularly terrific sequence, the cast sport clown costumes which light up when the black lights go on.

As in every Troubies show, CHiPs The Musical features so many adlibs (or apparent adlibs) that audience members may wish to pay a return visit simply to determine how much madness was actually unscripted.

Walker and Batalla once again prove themselves stupendous comic actors and adlib masters, and Walker looks quite fetching indeed in his perfectly feathered blonde wig, a cross between Farrah Fawcett’s signature Jill-do and Dorothy Hammil’s wedge.  Among the oh-so talented cast are a number of power belters, particularly Seiden and McCrary, who rock the house with their pipes. Troubies regulars Keane, Lakin, Lopez, Morgan, Sulprezio, and the rest of the cast (old and new) couldn’t be more in their element—singing, dancing, emoting, and improv-ing to perfection.  Aerialist Caroline Gross is impressive indeed as suspended-in-midair Ghost Of Mary. The brilliant Kennedy’s MG carries on the actress’s string of bizarre yet oddly lovable characters, which have included Winter Warlock, Jocasta, and Feste, brought to life as only Kennedy can.

Kudos to design team members Sherry Santillano (set), Mike Jespersen (lighting), Robert Arturo Ramirez (sound) and particularly Sharon McGunigle for her spot-on ‘70s costumes. Corey Womack is stage manager, Sulprizio associate director.

If ever there was a review-proof performing ensemble, it’s the Troubadour Theater Company, whose frequent Falcon runs sell out time after time.  That is, they would be review proof if the Troubies didn’t invariably get raves from even the toughest critics.  If you haven’t yet discovered them, CHiPs The Musical provides a perfect introduction. It’s quite possibly the Troubies’ best show to date.  

Falcon Theatre, 4252 Riverside Drive, Burbank.

–Steven Stanley 
July 1, 2010
                                                                           Photos:  Chelsea Sutton

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