The Drowsy Chaperone
[The following review is reprinted as a preview for the upcoming national tour that opens in Denver, at the Buell Theatre, on October 14th.]
It was a heady time as the Twenties roared toward oblivion: the rich hardly new what to do with themselves, though their foibles made for popular divertissements. Even after the Great Depression, Americans were happy to lose themselves in the theatrical and cinematic escapades of the carefree gentry, whose fortunes supported cultural fantasies that served as antidotes to harsh reality.
Urinetown aside, such froth has been hard to come by as of late in musical theatre, which explains in part the charm of The Drowsy Chaperone, a throwback to a simpler time when a silly story line wrapped in pleasant melodies was a wholly satisfactory evening at the theatre. But in addition to a surfeit of such trappings, what makes this show's simple conceit work is the self-conscious presentation by the Man in Chair.
Ensconced on a couch in his cluttered apartment, our theatre queen shares his love of a make-believe 1928 musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, with us. When he drops the needle on the first of the show's two LP's, his living space is magically transformed into the set for the show.
As Man in Chair, Jonathan Crombie's enthusiasm is infectious, but it is his narrative function—which allows him to indulge in an insightful explication of the story's plot lines, devices, and characters—that makes this show as much about our love affair with the American musical as it is about the plot.
The title comes from the Mame-like character charged with watching over a young Broadway starlet who decides to give up show biz and get married. There's a B-plot to go along with this romantic through-line, involving gangsters posing as chefs, a misguided Lothario, tycoons, and an aviatrix. On another level, we're introduced to the imaginary actors who are playing these roles. Needless to say, theatre aficionados are beside themselves with all this inside business.
|Mara Davi (center) as Janet Van De Graaff and cast
Photo: Joan Marcus ©2007
Though the quality of the send-ups vary, there are plenty of highlights, as the five 2006 Tony Awards and a slew of other honors attest. Tony-winner Beth Leavel took the night off for this performance, but Stacia Fernandez filled in nicely as Drowsy, belting out "As We Stumble Along," a show-stopper replete with lavish period costumes and set.
Colorado's own Mara Davi is dazzling as Janet Van De Graaff, tossing off with abandon a wild series of calisthenics, acrobatics, and heavy-duty choreography in "Show Off."
Danny Burstein's Adolpho, a romantic legend in his own mind, is a hoot in his pursuits.
Jo Anne Worley and Peter Bartlett's turns in "Fancy Dress" and "Love is Always Lovely in the End" sparkle.
|Jo Anne Worley as Mrs. Tottendale
and Peter Bartlett as Underling
Photo: Joan Marcus ©2007
The high-stepping, banister-sliding, knee-slapping, flapper-happy "Toledo Surprise" is a rousing run up to what would normally be Intermission. But as the narrator patiently explains, in place of this he is going to put on the second LP while he takes a short bio-break.
We're then treated to an exotic scene from an Oriental opera that turns out to be the result of a misplaced record by the cleaning lady. In what has to be among the most expensive throw away scenes in Broadway history, everyone is whisked off the stage while the Man in Chair finds the correct vinyl platter and continues with the story. Too much!
As we're told it would, and as we expect from comedies, everything works out in the end, with enough marriages to give Shakespeare a run for his money.
The Drowsy Chaperone is in an open-ended run at the Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway, New York, New York. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster at 282-307-4100 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.