Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The 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 musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, to cheer himself up. This fictitious 1928 show 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 with many of the characters from the show emerging from his refrigerator. He also frequently stops the record at appropriate moments to give us information and his analysis, most of it comical, about both the plot and 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 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 airheaded, talentless Kitty who is prepared 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.
The show won five Tony Awards including wins for Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison's score, which features several infectious tunes, and the book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, who are to be commended for how the musical is more than just the sum of its comedic plots and characters. The show also has a big heart, mainly due to their decision to include such an interesting character as Man in Chair 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.
Hale's cast is just about perfect and led by a joyous performance from Timothy Fiscus as Man in Chair. Fiscus exhibits a huge dose of endearing charm and he also makes us care about his character during the few times when he speaks about himself, his past, and his personal feelings. Fiscus' high energy and excitement level does occasionally result in a few of his lines being very quickly delivered. While that may mean a few funny lines are lost due to the energetic speed, it does add to the excitable personality traits of the character. Fiscus also has a lovely singing voice which he gets to show off toward the end of the show.
While a few of the other cast members don't quite hit some of the high, sustained notes required by the score, they all inhibit their characters with an infectious glee and deliver big laughs throughout. As the Drowsy Chaperone, Kathi Osborne is an absolute riot. Her sarcastic line delivery knows no limits and her ability to portray the Chaperone's stilted, cynical view of life in an exceedingly direct way adds a nice counterpoint to the sunny disposition of the other main characters. As Janet and Robert, Brandy Reed and Drake Sherman make a cute as a button couple. Both deliver winning performances and clear vocals.
In smaller parts, Jacob Goodman is hilarious as the latin lover Aldolpho, and Mark Kleinman and Kim Rodriguez are comically delicious as the desperate and ditzy Feldzieg and Kitty. Jonathan Holdsworth brings a sweetness to the part of the forgetful best man George and his duet with Sherman, which includes a fun tap-dancing element, is a crowd pleaser. As the dimwitted Mrs. Tottendale and always resourceful Underling, Jodie Weiss and Tedd Glazebrook make a charming duo. Raymond Barcelo and Julian-Sebastian Peña provide several moments of fun as the gangsters, and Melissa VanSlyke, while only in a few scenes, has a powerful voice that excels on her solos.
Director/choreographer Cambrian James delivers his usual high level of excellence with high-flying footwork and comically rich performances from his talented cast. He stages the show exceptionally well in Hale's "in the round" and intimate space which provides a nice personal connection to the characters. Lincoln Wright's music direction achieves rich vocals and the show's creative elements are sublime. Brian Daily's set design, while slightly minimal, still has some fun touches and surprises, and the costumes from Mary Atkinson are a non-stop parade of color and creativity. Jeff A. Davis' lighting is rich and lovely and Justin Peterson's sound design is crystal clear.
The Drowsy Chaperone, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary of opening on Broadway, is one of the most joyful and well crafted musicals of the past several decades. While it may be a show that is mostly fluff, it will definitely make you laugh a lot and also possibly move you due to the expertly written character of Man in Chair and the personal connection to him the authors have created. The big heart of that character and of this show beats strong in Hale Centre Theatre's exceptional production.
The Hale Centre Theatre production of The Drowsy Chaperone runs through October 8th, 2016, with performances at 50 W. Page Avenue in Gilbert. Tickets can be ordered at www.haletheatrearizona.com or by calling (480) 497-1181
Music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison