The Drowsy Chaperone
Also see Fred's review of Trumbo: Red, White and Blacklisted
The Drowsy Chaperone, running at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through February 24th, is delightful, clever, amusing – a fine winter escape. Led by droll, slumping Jonathan Crombie as Man in Chair, a talented cast carries the one-hour 45 minute musical comedy from curtain to curtain.
The action begins without any action. The audience sits in darkness as Man in Chair, seated, admits that he hates theater and utters a plea that the following show be short in length. With a record player beside him, he places an LP of The Drowsy Chaperone on the turntable and before long, a musical-within-a-musical version of that 1928 production transpires before his very eyes. Most of the time, Man in Chair, amid the clutter of his studio apartment, is euphoric.
Name performers? Georgia Engel, known for roles on both "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Everybody Loves Raymond," plays Mrs. Tottendale, a wealthy, air-headed hostess. Her part is actually fairly insignificant but she's quite capable. Actress Nancy Opel has performed in many Broadway shows, including Urinetown, Fiddler on the Roof and Evita. She is actually the touring musical's title character and sings the solo number, "As We Stumble Along."
In terms of plot, we find Janet Van De Graaff (Andrea Chamberlain) and Robert Martin (Mark Ledbetter) about to marry - or are they? He inherits a small fortune through oil while she's making a name for herself on Broadway. Ledbetter does a swift turn on a pair of roller skates and she sings sweetly on a number of occasions including "Bride's Lament."
Paul and Peter Riopelle (who appear to be identical twins but one never knows) are clearly absurd as Gangster #1 and #2, even if costumer Gregg Barnes has them wearing white apparel of pastry bakers. James Moye, as Aldolpho, plays a lover who happens to be Latin. Everyone, by the way, moves about the confines (designed by David Gallo) easily, avoiding such things as a Murphy bed.
Much of the credit for this successful production goes to director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw, responsible for some delightful dance numbers including impressive tap. Song and dance, when executed with precision and flair, serve as wonderful, charming diversions.
The show debuted at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 1999. The expanded product utilizes a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar. Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison have supplied music and lyrics. The Drowsy Chaperone won five Tony Awards during the 2006 season.
Jonathan Crombie, through his nerd-like but winning demeanor, is the focal point. Man in Chair relishes musicals of the 1920s and wishes to be transported to a different time and place through "a few good songs." The actor is warm, unassuming, somewhat disheveled and absolutely appealing as, perhaps, an everyman.
On a certain level, there's not all that much to The Drowsy Chaperone since the inner storyline is so thin. The musical is far from profound. One enjoys listening to/identifying with Man in Chair. It is he who wishes for something out of the Gershwin/Cole Porter epoch. He lives through the characters who spring to life before his very eyes. Man in Chair eventually rises and begins to sway and sing a bit with the company. Onlookers, men and women seated in orchestra, mezzanine and balcony chairs might be tempted to follow that lead.
The Drowsy Chaperone continues at The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford through February 24th. For ticket information, visit www.bushnell.org or call the box office at (860) 987-5900.
- Fred Sokol