By Bill Beard
From time to time, a reviewer has the opportunity to cover two different productions of the same vehicle offered by comparable, if not equal, professional theaters. I covered the “Broadway in Chicago” production of The Drowsy Chaperone about a year ago; so, when Marriott Lincolnshire opened it recently, I was hesitant to put myself in a situation of having to compare the productions. I need not have worried! I should have known that the Marriott would always be great!
The Drowsy Chaperone! What a strange name for a Broadway musical, right? Right! And even after enjoying this delightful spoof twice, the name of the vehicle still seems somewhat contrived. Yes, there is a chaperone; and yes, she does lose focus on what she is supposed to be doing at times. Yet, it still seems a misnomer. But it is new and smart and witty. A brilliantly-conceived little pastiche with some of the cleverest twists and surprises in many a show, The Drowsy Chaperone will keep you awake and laughing, and amazed at the quality of the performance.
After a couple of decades of watching Andrew Lloyd Webber and Steven Sondheim and Stephen Schwartz trying to come up with yet another innovative musical to shove the wonderful, old traditional musicals to the back of the bus, it is a real pleasure to discover a musical that finds its fresh, bright originality in a nostalgic send-up of the musical theater of even further back, the 1920s. There’s a bit of the Marx Brothers, Fred and Ginger, Vaudeville and even the British Music Hall, all brought lovingly back to mind with great joy.
The show originated in 1998 as a musical spoof entertainment for a bachelor party in Toronto, for Tony Award winner Bob Martin, then a star of the Canadian company of Second City. After the performance, Martin joined the creative team, expanded the show, and finally, in 2006, it opened on Broadway to win several Tony awards.
The action begins in complete darkness, with just a man’s voice speaking to his closest friends (that’s us…the audience). This narrator, of sorts, listed only as “Man in Chair,” wins us over even before the lights come up, some 3 minutes later, with his homey, chatty wit. When we do have lights, we see only his rather drab, cluttered apartment. He sits in his baggy cardigan and tells us of his extensive collection of…what else, but records…yes, long-play 33-1/3 records…of old musicals; and proceeds to share with us one of his favorites, a 1920s hit called…you guessed it, “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
But, as he guides us through the show and the evening, his drab apartment is magically transformed into wondrous, elegant scenes, filled with chic, sophisticated ladies and stylish men. It becomes a Vaudeville stage, a lovers’ boudoir and eventually the landing spot for an early bi-winged aeroplane, which then serves as a sort of deus ex machina for the hero at the end. Fantastic? Yes, but a wonderful, fanciful spree for all.
Man in Chair is played by James Harms, who will be remembered for his many roles at Marriott. His comfortable, winning demeanor is perfect; and although his opening conversation with the audience in the dark was a little too rushed to really bring out the dry, wry wit of the bit, the character was right on target throughout the rest of the evening, with just the right iconic, satiric wisdom and tongue-in-cheek humor.
The distaff side of the cast was splendidly filled out with four wonderful actresses: Paula Scrofano as Mrs. Tottendale, Tari Kelly as Janet, Laura E. Taylor as Kitty, and Linda Balgord as the Drowsy Chaperone herself.
The ensemble, as always, under the flawless direction and choreography of Marc Robin, was enthusiasm personified. The dances were a joy to behold. However, the absolute highest special kudos must go to the “tappers”! When Tyler Hanes as Robert, the groom, and Andy Lupp as George, the Best Man, challenged one another repeatedly in “Cold Feets,” the audience was thrilled with the great tap dancing.
But when the “brothers Anguila,” Adrian and Alexander, as Gangster No. 1 and No. 2 took the floor, it was tap dance heaven. They were brilliant—the dance highlight of the show! The highlight of “schmaltz” in the show was the hilarious, “over the top” character of the Italian lover, Adolpho, played by the indomitable Adam Pelty.
Costumes by Nancy Missimi were outstanding. Sets, light and props ingenious, though limited, of course. But the technical coup of the whole show was the ending. I had wondered how on earth they would pull off the need for that 1920s bi-winged aeroplane to land on stage to carry the cast off into the air. It was one of the cleverest solutions I’ve ever seen on a theater-in-the-round stage. But if you want to find out how they did, you’ll just have to go see The Drowsy Chaperone!
There’s still time to see this show! It plays through June 27. Call (847) 634-0200 or go online at www.MarriottTheatre.com for information.
From the June 23-29, 2010 issue