'Chaps' successfully mixes comical, musical

Lawrence Community Theatre opens its 30th season with a good, lighthearted musical that proves not all of the Lawrence- and Topeka-area theater talent is located in the college community. Under the stage direction of Mary Doveton and the musical direction of Judy Heller, these vocal talents bring a renewed flavor to the music, building an enjoyable show for all generations.

"Chaps" centers around the staff of a BBC radio station expecting America's favorite singing cowboy troupe to play a special on-air show. When only Mabel the stage manager shows up, she must help this awkward and panicked group of Englishmen perform the show themselves.

Doveton has brought together a gifted cast of theater veterans with great comic and musical ability - so gifted, in fact, that it's hard to believe that these characters are supposed to be untrained in musical performance.

Jason Hart plays the young Archie Leitch, a guitar-toting sound engineer who loves American cowboy music. His vocals shine in a superb version of "Tumblin' Tumbleweed."

Dean Bevan, whose credits also include work with E.M.U. Theatre and the University Theatre, plays radio voice Clive Cooper. His distinctive bass tone brings a strong foundation to the harmonies of "Ragtime Cowboy Joe" and "Ride, Cowboy, Ride."

The oft-hyperventilating producer, Miles, is brought to life by Peter Hansen, a familiar face in Lawrence and Topeka musical theater. He creates a fun character for the audience to watch and brings a solid musical performance to "The Ballad of Curly Joe" and "Jingle Jangle Jingle."

John Phythyon brings a larger-than-life quality to the role of Leslie, the haughty BBC announcer. At first against the idea of performing the show, he eventually trades in his animosity for a dress and a great performance of "Duelin' Divas" with Mabel, played by Sarah Young.

Young's exquisite soprano voice melds beautifully with the four- and five-part harmonies of the mostly male cast. She opens Act II with a particularly lovely rendition of "White Cliffs of Dover," reminding the audience of the bleak shadow of World War II that looms over the cast's performance.

About the only voice you don't hear belongs to the shell-shocked sound effects man, Stan, played by Charles Whitman. His precise comic timing and artfully subdued stage presence, however, bring a delightful contrast to the otherwise vociferous and busy cast.

The actors are backed by a strong musical ensemble of pianist Judy Heller, fiddler Janice Griffin and strings player Valance Penn. These musicians kept the pulse of the show constant, giving a solid base to an already terrific musical.

- Liza Pehrson graduated from Kansas University's journalism school. She can be reached at <a href="mailto:redbluescully@yahoo.com">redbluescully@yahoo.com</a>.


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