The Drowsy Chaperone

Musical theatre aficionados will find a lot to like in this throwback to the late '20's. The story transports us between a humble, contemporary NYC apartment and a lavish, fanciful production that celebrates the transition between vaudeville reviews, which were dying, and plot-driven musicals, which began with Showboat in 1928.

Andrea Chamberlain and the company
Andrea Chamberlain and the company
Photo: Joan Marcus
The Man in the Chair (Jonathan Crombie), our narrator, host, and guide to this light-hearted, zany new musical pretending to be an old chestnut, is a self-conscious eccentric who periodically stops the show to share a curious detail about the plots (A and B), the characters (who they were based on), the genre (musicals using vaudeville acts), or something personal (his love affair gone bad).

Crombie, who took over this role in New York from one of the creators of the show—Bob Martin, whose shared award for Best Book of a Musical was one of five Tony's captured in 2006—is incredibly engaging, and quickly ingratiates himself with the audience by inviting us to join him in an imaginative adventure (that is, a lavish production which comes to life in his living room).

Jonathan Crombie as the Man in the Chair and Andrea Chamberlain as Janet Van de Graaff
Jonathan Crombie
as the Man in the Chair
and Andrea Chamberlain
as Janet Van de Graaff
Photo: Joan Marcus
The frothy plot involves a talented Broadway starlet, Janet Van De Graaff (Andrea Chamberlain) who, after a whirlwind romance, is about to marry a wealthy oil heir, Robert Martin (Mark Ledbetter), and retire from the stage. Her mentor and escort is the champagne-friendly, big city-jaded Drowsy Chaperone (Alicia Irving)—a '20's distaff version of the classic fool as wino, a forerunner to Mame. Irving warms her way into our hearts with a Drowsy that fully embraces the "drink and be merry" halycion days of the Roaring Twenties, just before the Crash. Her big number, "As we Stumble Along," a worthy show stopper.

Drowsy's affair with Aldolpho (Dale Hensley), a stock character from that period (the exotic and self-possessed dark and handsome foreign lover) is one of many odd romances that float through the story. Hensley has a great time strutting around, flipping his hilarious wig, and sending out quite a spray with his familiar, but tantalizingly unidentifiable accent.

Chamberlain's Janet is winsome, and her voice packs a lot of punch, though she does not posses the athleticism and infectious star-power we saw in homegrown favorite Mara Davi's performance on Broadway.

Peter Riopelle as Gangster #2, Cliff Bemis as Feldzeig, and Paul Riopelle as Gangster #1
Peter Riopelle as Gangster #2,
Cliff Bemis as Feldzeig, and
Paul Riopelle as Gangster #1
as Janet Van de Graaff
Photo: Joan Marcus
Georgia Engel, who's been with the production since the beginning, couldn't be more charming as Mrs. Tottendale, a sort of Spring Byington/Gracie Allen send-up, ditzy and a little senile. She and Richard Vida, as the dead-pan butler, Underling, have a running vaudeville gag involving the substitution of water for vodka. The B plot involves the producer, Feldzeig, and a couple of mafioso disguised as bakers, who hope to prevent Janet's marriage and keep her lucrative show up and running.

By the way, the costumes are divine, the scenic design a delight, the score filled with delightful baubles, and the silliness infectious. The national touring production of The Drowsy Chaperone runs through October 26th. 303-893-4100.

Bob Bows


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