By Dana Casadei
In the summer of 1995, "Chaps!" had its world premiere at Hope Summer Repertory Theatre. Now, 17 years later, the show is back, and in full force.
All three creators are back for this revival, with playwrights Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner directing and Chip Duford back on stage.
To put it simply "Chaps!," with book by Beecham and Hillgartner and vocal arrangement by Hillgartner and Duford, is the definition of a good time at the theater.
Whether it be the harmonies of the group, which I'll get to in a minute, or the small touches, such as the props and costumes, that make the show really jump off the stage, it has it all; music, comedy and Brits trying to be cowboys.
The story, which takes place in 1944, in the heat of World War II, is about the men of BBC in Porland Place, London, waiting for an American radio troupe of cowboys to arrive for a special show. When things don't go as planned, the men must become the cowboys, going from proper Brits to Texans wearing ten-gallon hats.
The transformation of the men is easily one of the most fun aspects of the play to watch. Whether it be nervous-wreck producer Miles (T.J. Wagner), who has some of the best facial expressions I've ever seen, finally relaxing and enjoying himself, to Leslie (Duford), the most proper Brit of the group willing to play a very special role towards the end of the show, they all have moments to shine. Even Stan (John Telfer) the sound effects man, who barely utters a word, gets a chance to get out from behind his desk and be up front and center.
Original cast member Duford, who played Clive in the 1995 production, is the most straight-laced Brit of the group. But once he lets his facade down, with the help of some "tea," is where Duford really shines. He takes moments that are crazy and outrageous but plays them off with enough gusto that viewers are left wanting more. Never has the word "wa-hoo" sounded so funny.
While most of the men, Miles, Leslie and Salty's Fish 'n Chips promoter Clive (Michael Hanna), are rather eccentric, Archie (Teddy Yudain) tends to play the straight man to the chaotic group around him.
Yudain is a great surprise to watch. From the first moment he's on stage, lone light on him while singing "I'm an Old Cowhand," he has a deep voice that's unbelievably silky smooth to listen to. His moments may not be as outrageous as the rest, but he has so much charisma oozing off the stage that you can't take your eyes off him.
In a show mainly of men, Emily Austin's Mabel proves that she can keep up with the boys, willing to take control of the show that only she knows, fitting in easily with the chaps.
While the group is of a great variety, so is the music, with arrangements ranging from a lovely group ballad at the top of Act Two to a male quartet, which has "Jersey Boy" aspects to it, just without the Frankie Valli high notes. Each number is fun and unique in its own way, with harmonies that mesh as well as any Tony-award winning Broadway musical.
Beecham, Hillgartner and Duford have made "Chaps!" into a show that not only leaves you with aching sides from laughter, but humming songs that will be stuck in your head long after you get home.
Hope Summer Repertory Theatre at Knickerbocker Theatre, 86 E. 8th Street, Holland. Plays in rotating repertory through Aug. 10. $19-28. 616-395-7890. http://www.hope.edu/hsrt