Regional Reviews: Phoenix
This show is set in the apartment of a single man who is feeling a bit blue so he decides to play the cast recording of his favorite show, The Drowsy Chaperone to cheer himself up. This fictitious 1928 musical is one that he says perfectly achieves the escape from reality that musicals can provide. As he plays the record for himself, and for us as the fourth wall is fairly nonexistent in this show, the musical comes to life in his apartment. He also frequently stops the record at appropriate moments to give us information and his analysis, most of it comical, about the plot and the characters of the show and some interesting facts about the actors who played these parts in the 1928 production. The show within the show centers on the wedding of stage actress Janet Van de Graaff, who is planning to leave her career behind to marry businessman Robert Martin. On their wedding day, a series of events threatens to interrupt the nuptials, including Janet's producer Feldzieg being threatened by gangsters disguised as pastry chefs and the talentless airhead Kitty preparing to take over Janet's part. Add in the lothario Aldolpho, who is on a mission to seduce the bride, the absentminded best man George, the prim and proper butler and forgetful hostess, and Janet's constantly drunk and tired chaperone, who declares that "champagne makes me drowsy," and hilarity ensues.
Tony winning bookwriters Bob Martin and Don McKellar are to be commended, as not only is their script exceptionally inventive in how all of the subplots intertwine, but the show also has a big heart as well. However, their biggest accomplishment is in their decision to include such an interesting character, Man in Chair as he is called, someone that anyone who loves musicals can immediately identify with. His obsession with musicals, and this musical in particular, and how we get to know him as a person is what makes him not only three dimensional but a person we truly care about.
The ASU / Lyric Opera Theatre cast is exceptional in delivering superb vocals as well as plenty of laughs. As Man in Chair, Alex Kunz is exceedingly endearing. The few times when he speaks about himself, his past, and his personal feelings make us also care deeply for him. The superb voices and refined comic abilities of Frances Tenney and Brittany Howk add plenty of lift and zing to their roles as the Drowsy Chaperone and Janet Van De Graaff, respectively. Their individual solos of "As We Stumble Along" and "Show Off" are excellently delivered with big, belting voices. As Janet's fiancé Robert, Drake Sherman's clear vocals and winning stage presence are especially appealing.
Enrique Guevara is comically delicious as the Latin lover Aldolpho, and Alex Crossland brings a sweetness to the part of the forgetful best man. Michael Devery and Sara Sanderson add moments of desperation and zaniness as Feldzieg and Kitty, while John Batchan and Ted Zimnicki provide comic relief as the gangsters. Brynn Lewallen and Kaivan Mayelzadeh round out the main ensemble cast as the loveable duo of dimwitted Mrs. Tottendale and always resourceful Underling. While only in a few scenes, Sara Bruton, as Trix, has a belting voice that soars over the auditorium.
Director Robert Kolby Harper adds numerous original touches to make the production shine. His decision to bring Man in Chair out into the audience at several points in the show (completely unobtrusively, so if you're concerned that you may be pulled into the action on stage you have no worries) makes perfect sense, especially since he does continually talk to the audience throughout the show, so this is a logical next step. He keeps the pace fast but makes sure the charming moments shine through, too. Choreographer Molly Lajoie has crafted plenty of upbeat dance steps into the show and together she and Harper incorporate the ensemble members seamlessly into the action. Music director Brent C. Mauldin achieves beautiful, lush sounds from both the cast and the impressive twelve-piece band. Creative elements are excellent: Alfredo Escarcega's expansive scenic design includes a few fun surprises, and the vibrant costumes by Jacqueline Benard and Sharon Jones are full of color and humorous touches.
While The Drowsy Chaperone is ultimately zany and full of fluff, it is an exceptionally well-crafted musical with a big heart. If you happen to be feeling blue like Man in Chair is at the start of the show, with an impressive cast, flawless direction, and excellent creative elements, this production will definitely make you laugh a lot and leave with a smile.
The Drowsy Chaperone at Arizona State University / Lyric Opera Theatre runs through April 24th, 2016, at the Evelyn Smith Music Theatre in the ASU School of Music, 50 E. Gammage Pkwy in Tempe. Tickets can be purchased and information on upcoming productions can be found at music.asu.edu/events/lot.
Music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and