Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The title of the show is a take-off on how "chaps" is both the term for a cowboy's leg coverings and a British word for "fellows." The musical is set in Britain in 1944 where a live radio broadcast on BBC is set to take place that features the American cowboy musical act Tex Riley's Radio Round-up. As the staff of the radio station prepare for the show, there is just one small problem: Tex and his gang haven't arrived and the show is about to start. So, in order for the show to go on, the British "chaps" don the Radio Round Up costumes, which fortunately arrived in time, and pretend they are Riley and his gang. Needless to say, hilarity ensues as these proper English gents let their inner cowboys shine.
The premise is silly, but the show moves fast, the comical situations are charming, and the twenty songs are cuteseveral are toe-tappers. The script by Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner has a good setup, with the audience introduced first to the staff of the BBC show, so once the they don their cowboy hats and chaps to masquerade as Tex and his gang, we are already familiar with their distinct personalities and different work styles. However, as charming as the characters and situations are, there is some repetition in the show, and even though they aren't supposed to know the lyrics to the songs they are singing or the lines of dialogue in the script they are reading, since they've all been thrown into putting on this show with zero rehearsal, that premise pretty much gets thrown out after a few songs and comic bits. Also, while there are some hints of patriotism in the show, as they are performing not only for the live studio audience but also for the Allied troops listening in across the various war zones in Europe, the show lacks a big patriotic number, which is a disappointment.
Fortunately, under the capable direction of Tim Dietlein, the Hale cast all excel in creating these quirky, lovable characters and they all have bright singing voices and good comic timing so the songs resonate and the many comic moments shine.
As the radio show's harried producer, Allan Dewitt is appropriately nervous, frazzled, and short tempered. Dewitt has perfect comic timing, with the addition of rubbery facial expressions, getting big laughs, and his excellent physical comedy abilities deliver some hilarious moments. Austin Delp is charming as the one individual who has some familiarity with country music. Delp's strong singing voice has a warm country shine and he delivers winning solos and ensemble contributions.
Cory McCloskey is hilarious as Clive, who continually reminds everyone that he's an actor while also constantly finding a way to push the fish and chips company he's a sponsor for. The number McCloskey shares with Dewitt, in which Dewitt has to pretend to be a ventriloquist's dummy, is a major highlight. Jim Roehr is a hoot as Leslie, the snobbish radio announcer. As Mabel, the missing cowboy act's road manager who has arrived before the group, Ralynne Riggs is sweet and charming, with a beautiful and clear singing voice. Kyle Webb adds many fun bits to the hijinks as sound engineer Archie, using an abundance of everyday items to create the many sound effects in the show.
The scenic and prop design by McKenna Carpenter instantly takes the audience back in time to the 1940s, with fun period touches throughout. Tia Hawkes' costumes are a perfect combination of period English work attire and flashy cowboy digs. Her costume for the ventriloquist's dummy is hilarious. Lincoln Wright's music direction delivers warm notes and lush harmonies from the cast, including a gorgeous a cappella number, and bright sounds from the small onstage band.
While Chaps! may not be a show of the caliber of any classic musicals or Tony winners, it's a bright, cheerful musical comedy of errors with an abundance of charms that will most likely put a big smile on your face.
Chaps! runs through February 5, 2022, at Hale Centre Theatre, 50 W. Page Avenue, Gilbert AZ. For tickets and information, please visit www.haletheatrearizona.com or call 480-497-1181.
Producers & Casting Directors: David & Corrin Dietlein
Set Technical Director: Brian Daily