CHiPs, The Musical by Rick Batalla and Henry Phillips – Los Angeles Theater Review
CHiPs NEEDS SOME PONCHING UP
by Tony Frankel
published July 24, 2010
CHiPs, The Musical
now playing in Los Angeles at the Falcon Theater
through July 25
For 15 years, the Los Angeles-based Troubadour Theater Company has been well-known for its theatre “adaptations”:
mixing up classics (as well as original productions) with a specific bent, such as A Midsummer
Night’s Dream with music from Saturday Night Fever. Since the “Troubies” write their own
material, improvisation plays a large part in their presentation, and the results are often staggeringly funny, but their latest offering
at The Falcon Theatre, the uneven CHiPS the Musical, while occasionally uproarious, is too often
spotty and disappointing.
From 1977 to 1983, the T.V. show CHiPs had the tightly-clad,
motorcycle-riding Ponch and Jon keeping our streets (well, highways) safe from thugs. Writers Rick Batella (also portraying Ponch) and Henry
Philips bring us back to the ‘70’s with a wisp of a story: Sergeant Getrear (Mike Sulprizio) is sent off to sensitivity camp and Ponch and
Jon (director Matt Walker) are assigned by the new boss, the Get Christie Love replica Carmel
(Michelle Anne Johnson), to apprehend a band of lesbian eco-terrorists.
This is the first Troubies show not based on someone else’s material and,
although the tunes have a great beat, the lyrics are sophomoric to the point that it seems they are made up on the spot. A silly script and
zany antics can become redundant; perhaps a dash of sophistication in the lyrics would have made this a better-rounded event. Robert Arturo
Ramirez’ sound made it a bit tough to decipher some lyrics over the jail cell band (energetically led by Eric Heinly).
Your jaw will drop at the very notion that some of the bits are improvised; indeed, the improvisation served up
the truly hilarious moments in the show: Batella’s physical dexterity and comic brilliance is evident as he struggles to fetch his
sunglasses from an unwieldy position between two bar stools; Joel McCrary’s diner owner Jim worked the audience into a frenzy with a bucket
of fluorescent-green (but apparently edible) pollution; and I’ve never seen anybody get a “nose job,” but Johnson stopped the show when she
showed us how.
Matt Walker consistently stages a quick-moving, well-focused show. His work with the Troubies is professional,
inventive and choreographed tighter than Ponch’s pants. Caroline Gross shows off astounding acrobatic aerialist skills while delivering
three babies as a ghost (yeah, you need to see this act). All of the actors sing and dance with gusto and professionalism.
These are the moments that you know this company is adept at clownery of the highest order: it’s Cirque du So-silly.
And with ChiPS, it is much more satisfying when the players are off book.
tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com
photos by Chelsea Sutton