In times of war, when reality is often dark, lonely, and gloomy, a radio or road show (a la Bob Hope’s USO Road shows) is an attempt to enliven and empower the troops’ spirits. Chaps is a hilarious musical comedy, set in WWII, where the Tex Riley and his Radio Roundup singers are scheduled to perform for a war-weary, eager audience. When things go awry, and the “cowboys go missing,” the Brits (stereotypically accustomed to a “stiff upper lip,”) are forced to improvise and act out as American cowboys on the range, for the show must go on.
The irony here, given the historical backdrop of friction between the British and Americans (dating all the way back to the Revolutionary War) makes the premise of the show priceless!
The ensemble, led by the classy Leslie Briggs-Stratton (Jeffrey Markle), and accompanied by a smooth, harmonic live band, are hilarious and entertaining as rag-tag cowboys in this rip-roaring Country-Western extravaganza.
The show ends up as a laugh out loud hootenanny, with slapstick physical humor, impromptu gags, and a sensational sound effects guy who chimes in right on key.
The British performers, transformed from London West End to the Wild West … had to improvise “out of their hats and boots,” literally, in the heat of battle — all in the name of entertaining the troops. A true show-stealer is Mabel Halliday (Debbie Lowe), with a quality of voice and stage presence comparable to Ethel Merman in Annie, Get Your Gun.
She is an energetic pistol, a song and dance dynamo, with a spectacular voice and charming country drawl. Reprises of old western standards are refreshing and wholesome, with a menu of old time cowpoke faves, like “Ragtime Cowboy,” “I’m an Old Cowhand,” and “Jingle, Jangle, Jingle.”
Adding a nice touch is home-made baked goodies and warm cup of cocoa, coffee or tea at intermission. Chaps is pure, wholesome family fun for a pre-Veterans Day autumn afternoon or evening of amusement.
Chaps plays through Nov. 20 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
The Lincoln Stegman Theatre is located at 6020 Radford Dr. For tickets, call (818) 509-0882.