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GIVIN' THE BOOT TO FACTS : 'Diamond Studs' Tells Cowboy Lore Tongue in Cheek

February 04, 1993|CORINNE FLOCKEN | Corinne Flocken is a free-lance writer who regularly covers Kid Stuff for The Times Orange County Edition.

Between the text books and the late, late movies, I have culled the following important Old West facts:

(1) A saloon was a place to drink.

(2) Even good guys packed guns.

(3) Cowboys didn't wear petticoats. At least not in public.

Purists beware. In the interest of good, clean and socially responsible fun, "Diamond Studs," a Jim Wann/Bland Simpson musical presented by Casey/Woody Entertainment, gives the proverbial boot to the cold, hard fact. Based loosely on the life of outlaw Jesse James, "Diamond Studs" will be presented Feb. 6 at the Pacific Auditorium in Fullerton as part of Cal State Fullerton's Professional Artists in Residence (PAIR) series.

Instead of documentary, "Diamond Studs"--which enjoyed a long off-Broadway run in the mid-1970s--appears to be more of a dramatized musical hit parade showcasing what advance materials call a "historically correct blend of (musical) styles." Woven into the story line is a collection of blues, country, ballads, folk, bluegrass and jazz tunes from the era, performed by a cast of 13 singer/actor/dancers backed by onstage musicians.

"Diamond Studs" also unites a variety of pre- and post-Civil War folk heroes, many of them from different chapters of history. There's Jesse and his brother Frank as well as the rascally Younger brothers, Mexican renegade Pancho Villa and dance-hall-hostess-with-heart-of-gold Belle Starr, plus fleeting glimpses of Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe and other literary stars of the day.

According to associate producer Joan Simmons, there are a few real-life events replayed, including Jesse's murder in 1882 by a member of his own gang. Other somber themes, such as the anger and alienation felt by Southerners during the post-war Reconstruction period, are not overlooked.

"There are some serious undertones that deal with the Old South," Simmons said by phone from her office in Seal Beach. "There's a bit of the idea of why Jesse James became an outlaw. After all, he was a product of the Civil War, a Southerner angry because their lands were being taken over.

"But mostly," she added, "we are emphasizing the fun."

Which brings us to the petticoats.

"The whole thing is basically a spoof," Simmons explained. "There's one scene where (the authorities) are out looking for Jesse James and the brothers. In our show, Jesse's mother is played by this big man (who) puts on the dress, the bonnet, the breasts, the whole bit. The boys hide out by forming kind of a human chair and draping a quilt over themselves, and then 'mom' sits on it. The audience just howls."

Simmons doesn't recommend the show for children under about age 10 ("there's nothing the least bit off-color . . . but they probably wouldn't understand some of the humor"). Nonetheless, she says the production, which will visit 18 states during its seven-week tour, was created with family audiences in mind.

Which, apparently, is where the social responsibility thing kicks in. Even though "Diamond Studs" is set in a saloon filled with rough and ready cowboy types, nobody takes a drink. And when the script calls for gunslinging, instead of reaching for their six-shooters, these deadeyes lay 'em low with a well-aimed index finger, and maybe a hearty "bang, bang."

The overall effect, claims Simmons, is a marginally informative but highly entertaining show that is loyal to the intent of authors Wann and Simpson.

"I have a feeling that when they wrote this, the playwrights did a lot of it tongue-in-cheek," she observed.

"Our intent is for everybody to have a wonderful time. (Audiences) will have a little history lesson but as in many lessons, they should take it all with their tongues firmly in cheek."

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