A review of "Chaps," a musical comedy playing at Taproot Theatre in Seattle through Aug. 11, 2012.
Usually it pays off to be patient. As Taproot Theatre’s production of “Chaps” begins, you may well have misgivings, especially if you don’t like cornball humor.
But soon enough, what at first seemed predictable and a little drippy takes off. Cowboy songs from the mid-20th-century begin to mesh irresistibly with British music-hall humor, and you’ll find yourself humming along and laughing as sagebrush and longhorns join forces with a spot of tea and a stiff upper lip.
“Chaps,” written by Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner with vocal arrangements by Hillgartner and Chip Duford, takes place in a BBC radio station. It’s 1944 and preparations are being made for a live show of American cowboy music to entertain the troops. Unfortunately only the group’s manager shows up; the cowboys are nowhere to be seen. But the show must go on, and the motley British male radio crew and the female American manager are coerced into doing the show themselves.
Director Karen Lund and musical director Edd Key (celebrating his 20th year with Taproot) have done everything right to make this quirky musical work. The cast members capture U.S. stereotypes of English pretentiousness as they prissily look at the radio script, then surprise us as they belt out old favorites like “Tumblin’ Tumbleweed,” “I’m an Old Cowhand,” “Sioux City Sue,” “Cool Water” and so many others with all the harmony and finesse of the Sons of the Pioneers.
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The ensemble is a highly polished team whose comic instincts are as good as their voices. Each one deserves praise, but there are a few standouts: Caitlin Macy-Beckwith as Mabel Halliday, the sole female, brings sassy charm as well as a superb voice to her role as manager. Ian Lindsay as the stuffed-shirt announcer is overbearingly British, even demanding a cup of tea — or something stronger — at the breaks. He’s a delight to watch as he copes with the outrageously inelegant situations into which he’s thrust. And keep your eye on that silent, stone-faced sound man (Solomon Davis), who diligently rings bells, blows whistles, moos mournfully, and dutifully provides every other noise called for in the script. He has a hilarious surprise for the audience.
This is light, summer fun for all and a nostalgic look back for those old enough to remember cowboy movies, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry.
Nancy Worssam: firstname.lastname@example.org