The Drowsy Chaperone
nytheatre.com review by Judith Jarosz
January 29, 2011
I never got to see this show (which won five 2006 Tony Awards, including Best Book and Best Original Score) when it ran on Broadway, so I looked forward for the chance to view it at the dependable Gallery Players in my beloved Brooklyn. What a fun zippy show this is!
The charming book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar introduces us first to a character known only as “Man-in-Chair.” He is a seemingly middle-aged lone soul who from his living room in his apartment shares with us his passions for old musicals and puts a favorite—“The Drowsy Chaperone,” a show set in the 1920s—on the stereo. When the show comes to life before our eyes, we are treated to a silly story with clever music and lyrics by Greg Morrison and Lisa Lambert performed by a wonderful cast.
The character of Janet Van De Graaff stars in a very successful follies revue produced by Mr. Feldzieg. While on a cruise she has fallen in love with the dashing Robert Martin and plans to give up her life on the stage. This being the 1920s, she has a “chaperone” who looks after her virtue. However this so-called guardian has a freewheeling and seriously imbibing lifestyle of her own. But gangsters who collect big revenues from the show are determined to keep their leading lady, and pressure Feldzieg to derail the wedding plans. We meet a kaleidoscope of other colorful characters along the way, and after hilarious trials and tribulations love wins out as it should. The whole cast does a terrific job of bringing these cartoon characters to life, with just the right balance of over-the-top sincerity and sharp comic timing. Although no one person in the cast has a standout voice, they all do a solid vocal job.
As this is a real ensemble effort, I feel that everyone deserves a mention. Craig Treubert is loony yet endearing and as Man-in-Chair. Dawn Trautman is goofy and lovable as the elder Mrs. Tottendale. Jan-Peter Pedross as the butler, Underling, brings a nice balance to his duties and duet. Eric Weaver as Robert Martin is wonderful as the dashing leading man with the toothpaste-ad smile, and Colin Pritchard equally so as George the belabored wedding planner and best buddy to the groom to be. These two do a standout tap duet together that makes the heart sing. Robert Anthony Jones as Mr. Feldzieg and Megan Rosenblatt as Kitty, his girlfriend and aspiring star, are both a hit and play off of each other well. Aaron J. Libby and Trey Mitchell as the gangsters disguised as catering chefs have talent and energy to spare. Edward Juvier is just hilarious as Aldolpho, a singing Latin lover who brings down the house in the number “I Am Aldolpho.” Whitney Branan as star of the follies Janet Van De Graaff has great style, timing, and dances as light as feather. Lorinne Lampert is elegant, wicked, and witty as that drowsy chaperone who never seems to be without a cocktail. Tauren Hagans as Trix the aviator, and Tyler Wallach as the superintendent, both do fun turns, and Jennifer DiDonato, Jake Mendes, Chloe Sabin, Tyler Wallach (again) do terrific jobs in bit parts and group numbers.
While Hans Friedrichs does a serviceable job directing the scenes this show really belongs to choreographer Christine O’Grady and associate choreograher/dance captain Jennifer DiDonato, whose multiple fabulous musical numbers really bring the show to life. Musical director Kevin Lawson (also conductor and keyboardist), like many in the space-challenged independent theater world, has the unenviable job of leading his ace five-piece orchestra behind flats upstage with no cast eye contact. He and Jon Illari (clarinet, saxophone, flute), John Kramer (trumpet), James Pingenot (percussion), and Johnna Jackson (trombone) all do an amazing job. Jared Rutherford has designed a set that turns a living room into all sorts of places thanks to clever pieces that swing out or fold away as necessary. Costumes by Ryan J. Moller are fun and colorful, and the lighting by Brad Peterson is fun and always suited to the action. Ditto the sound design by Kim Fuhr-Carbone. The props are given nice detail by Jara Belmonte, and special mention must be giving to Jon Jordan, the wig and makeup designer. Wigs can make or break a period piece and often are the last thing to be given attention in a budget-minded production. What a pleasure to see well-made wigs styled beautifully, that fit the era and move well with the dancing. Production stage manager Nicholas Rainey is to be commended for running a tight ship with a large cast in a fast moving piece.
I do have one quibble. The very ending of the piece feels flat and unsupported by the action to me. When I mentioned this to a friend who had seen the Broadway production, he described a different ending that makes more sense to me. It has to do with how the character of Man-in-Chair is portrayed. But this is small in relation to the great time had by all for the previous hour and 45 minutes of theatrical joy.