July 8, 2008
Once Revue Kicks into Gear, ‘Chaps!’ is Lighthearted Fun
By Jay Wamsley For the Deseret News
"CHAPS!" Old Lyric Repertory Company, Caine Lyric Theatre, Logan (435-797-8022 or www.usu.edu/lyric), running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes (one intermission)
LOGAN -- Musical revues have an important role in the summer theater scene, particularly for repertory companies. For the audience, it is a chance to see a wider range of talents from the actors. In fact, some actors are invited to participate with some companies during the summer season based on their musical talents.
For the actors, the musicals are a chance to, well, show off a bit, in a setting that feels more relaxed and less precise and demanding.
"Chaps!" the musical in this summer's Old Lyric Repertory Company lineup, fills this role. "Chaps!" is as light -- and about as filling -- as cotton candy, with a small lineup of musicians who get to dress up and act silly.
"Chaps!" is set in 1944, during World War II, when the BBC invites a troupe of American singing cowboys into their studio to entertain a studio audience and soldiers abroad, via the airwaves. The cowboys end up getting lost in London, and so a ragtag group of BBC employees and the traveling manager for the Americans have to put on the show. This setup -- the excuse, really -- to stage a musical show was kind of hit-and-miss during the opening weekend of "Chaps!" Some of the actors seemed to feel ill at ease getting this scenario to work.
The characters in this setup scene include an oft-drunken lush, an asthmatic and an old veteran from "The Great War." Jokes and laughs were only lukewarm until Clive (Richie Call), advertising man, has to pretend to be Jack Diamond, a cowboy ventriloquist, and Miles (Steven Fehr), the station manager, is called into duty as his dummy. Midway through the first act, the choreography, music and comedy needed to make this scene work finally kicks the enthusiasm in "Chaps!" up a notch.
Call oozes confidence and helps dispels the anxiety and sputters felt by cast members up to that point. Archie (Andy Johnson) and Mabel (Emily Heap) seemed to get stronger in Call's presence.
The music in "Chaps!" is not as tight and true as Old Lyric Repertory Company audiences may have found in the past, in shows such as "Forever Plaid,""Beehive" or "Route 66." The songs are more like short snippets -- not lengthy by any means and, for the most part, not memorable. Standout numbers, though, included a fun doo- wop version of "Cool Water" and a medley of "White Cliffs of Dover/ The Roundup in the Spring."
After intermission, which was a clever use of an air-raid warning, the crew seemed to find a stronger stride. In Act II, the troupe seems to kick back and have fun, whether on key or not. There is also just the right amount of "audience participation" in this second act. A crackerjack visual effect during the air raid deserves a pat on the back to the set designer, Shawn Fisher.
Almost lost in the background, but a key part of the show, is a four-piece band of musicians, led by Jay Richards on the piano and Sara Law with a lively fiddle.
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