Monday, October 06, 2008

The Drowsy Chaperone

A touring production of 'The Drowsy Chaperone,' a completely original musical comedy that became the most celebrated musical of the 2006 Broadway season, opened last week at the Sacramento Community Theater.

The show is directed and choreographed by Tony Award nominee Casey Nicholaw ('Spamalot'), with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and Bob Martin and Don McKellar; all four won Tony Awards.

While not destined to achieve 'old chestnut' status, the show is a delight, revisiting a time before musicals had to have a hard-hitting message ... or be a stage version of a beloved Disney animated film. 'The Drowsy Chaperone' has no deep message, no memorable songs, no cute animals running around on stage.

It's just good, clean fun, with a lot of laughs, a lot of groans - as the lines are delivered - and a lot of madcap mayhem.

The central character, known only as 'Man in Chair' (Jonathan Crombie, who played the role on Broadway), is a music lover who misses the days of old-style musicals. He speaks to the audience throughout the show, as he pulls out one of his old records (remember records?) and plays the original cast recording of his favorite show, 'The Drowsy Chaperone,' which his mother introduced him to.

As the record plays, the show comes to life on stage; Man in Chair narrates throughout, giving the show's history, discussing the actors playing the roles, and commenting on the various musical numbers.

It's kind of like Stephen Peithman's KXPR show, 'Musical Stages' ... but on speed.

As for the show within the show, nothing could be sillier or more formulaic.

Therein lies the fun.

The opening number, 'Fancy Dress,' introduces the show's many characters and lets the audience know right away that this is a plot with tongue set firmly in cheek. A big, fancy wedding has been planned, you see, and all these characters have assembled to make it happen.

The bride is a young actress, Janet Van De Graaff (Andrea Chamberlain), who plans to leave the stage to marry the dashing Robert Martin (Mark Ledbetter). Her producer, Feldzieg (Cliff Bemis), plans to sabotage the wedding, with the help of two gangsters disguised as pastry chefs (the delightful Paul Riopelle and Peter Riopelle).

The gangsters represent some unseen big boss who'll do serious damage to the producer if Janet leaves her show.

Alicia Irving has the role of The Drowsy Chaperone, the bride's elegantly attired friend and confidante, who is tasked with preventing the bride and groom from seeing each other on their wedding day. She states at the outset that champagne makes her drowsy, and then proceeds to down a bottle of it - with a martini chaser - and hence becomes 'the drowsy chaperone.'

The wedding is hosted by Mrs. Tottendale (Georgia Engel, well remembered from TV's 'The Mary Tyler Moore Show' and 'Everybody Loves Raymond'). Engel originated this role on Broadway, and is every bit as charmingly and endearingly dingy as we remember from her TV roles.

Mrs. Tottendale's Underling is played by Nobel Shropshire (which sounds more like a character from the play!). Mrs. Tottendale and her Underling have a very funny slapstick scene, which requires Man in Chair to take mop in hand to clean up afterwards.

Another key player is the Latin Lover Aldolpho (Dale Hensley), the self-proclaimed 'King of Romance' who is hired by the producer to seduce the bride, and thus thwart the marriage.

Additional characters include George (Richard Vida), Robert's best man who, along with Robert, does a mean tap dance; Kitty (Linda Griffin), Feldzieg's ditsy aspiring-actress girlfriend; and Trix (Natasha Yvette Williams), an aviatrix who flies in at an opportune moment.

David Gallo's set is ingenious, and it must be pandemonium backstage, given all that takes place in front of the audience.

In the end, everyone lives happily ever after and a wedding does take place, because this is an old-fashioned musical comedy and that's the way those things end. There are, however, a few twists and turns along the way, along with a memorable special effect at the conclusion.

'The Drowsy Chaperone' has received much praise and a lot of criticism, but it would be difficult to imagine anyone not entertained by this delightful pastiche.

Be sure to visit the restroom beforehand, though, because the show runs 100 minutes with no intermission.

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