Theater Review: CHAPS (Lamb’s Players in San Diego)

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by Milo Shapiro on March 29, 2019

in Theater-Los Angeles,Theater-Regional


It’s 1944. The war is raging across the English Channel and the Germans could invade at any moment. Britain needs levity to get through these tough days. Miles (Charles Evans, Jr.) is the station manager for a BBC program and he’s got the solution. BBC has announced that a famous, beloved American country band “Tex Riley” is going to be doing a live broadcast in studio. Excited Londoners are lined up around the block for the big show. It’s all good for BBC and good for the allies’ spirit, except for one thing: the group is a no-show.

What’s more, Miles hears Archie the sound guy (Steve Gouveia) in the studio playing guitar and singing like Tex for fun, so Miles thinks the band is actually there — right up until minutes before going live. And all those tickets have been sold and the live studio audience (us) is ready for Tex. The result? Chaos, as it’s all-stage-hands-on-deck to try to fool the live audience and the millions listening on the air into believing that Tex and company are in studio, entertaining and singing.

The tone of Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner’s Chaps is farcical. There’s a hundred places that the plot doesn’t add up, especially if we’re the actual studio audience, because we see everything that’s gone wrong; we couldn’t possibly believe that Archie is Tex, especially when one of Miles’ first discoveries is that Archie sounds a lot like Tex singing, but cannot do an American accent to save his life.

Prim announcer man Leslie (Ross Hellwig) makes it clear near the beginning that he cannot sing, but somehow, when harmony is needed by the middle of Act I, he sings just fine. Yet all of this is immaterial because, under Robert Smyth’s direction, we get Monty Python meets Hee Haw, plus good ol’-fashioned country music (think Roy Rogers, not Keith Urban), and we’re happily along for the ride.

There’s lots of vaudevillian-style chuckles, with a highlight being the section where they discover, while on the air, that one of Tex’s performers needs to be a ventriloquist. Not only is stage hand Clive (Manny Fernandes) not at all a ventriloquist, but the dummy breaks before he can try. Since the show must go on, Miles must play the dummy. Sound silly?  It is. But it works, yielding a great deal of laughter.

Jon Lorenz’s musical direction yields some lovely harmonizing, which shines in “Cattle Call.” The guys mix crooning and humor nicely with Deborah Gilmour Smyth’s choreography in a rendition of “Cigareets and Whusky.” As the only woman there, Mabel (Lamb’s staple Caitie Grady) rounds out the group of fakers as the most innovative of the bunch, getting the men back on track whenever things fall too much apart. She arguably gives the strongest vocals of the evening in a beautiful, powerful and touching medley of “White Cliffs of Dover” and “Roundup in the Spring,” a much-needed respite amid all the lunacy.

A great addition to the fun is PTSD-ridden Stan (Arusi Santi) who won’t say a word, but thrives on adding sound effects to all of their efforts, sometimes with magnificent support and other times purposely wrong for his own entertainment. Santi steals many a scene with imaginative choices and silent facials.

The plot is a thin vehicle for delightful goofiness and joyful singing, so enjoy this bright spot among the many entertainments currently in town and enjoy it for what it is, rather than giving a thought to what it isn’t.

photos by Ken Jacques

Lamb’s Players Theatre, 1142 Orange Ave in Coronado
Tue at 7:30; Wed at 2 & 7:30; Thu at 7:30; Fri at 8; Sat at 4 & 8; Sun at 2
ends on April 14, 2018 EXTENDED to April 28, 2018
for tickets, call 619.437.6000 or visit Lamb’s Players

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