The Drowsy Chaperone
Nominally, The Drowsy Chaperone is a goofy musical set in the Prohibition era, in which a bright young starlet prepares to give up her life of glitz and fame in order to marry a handsome young man she hardly knows. Just from that one-sentence description, you can probably fill in most of the blanks yourself - the bride's attempt to discover (using some form of deception) if the groom really loves her, the more worldly woman who attempts to advise her, the dim chorus girl who hopes to take over her job, the seductions and mistaken identities, and so forth. Even the two surprisingly articulate gangsters who show up at the wedding seem to come straight from Central Casting.
But in reality, it's so much more. The Drowsy Chaperone takes a play-within-a-play form, so we aren't just watching this quaint little piece unfold. In addition, we're watching the actors who perform it. For example, when the bride's chaperone (who isn't so much drowsy as drunk) sings her advice to the bride, it takes the form of a rousing Broadway anthem. But since we know a little something about the (fictional) actresses playing the chaperone and the bride, the number is also a moment when we watch a fading Broadway actress steal a little limelight back from the new generation. Even more than that, The Drowsy Chaperone is brilliantly self-aware. A rousing Broadway anthem is one thing, an aging diva upstaging the up-and-coming starlet is another, but when attention is directly called to the fact that we are watching an aging diva take her standard rousing anthem moment - well, that makes every oversung note and overemphasized gesture downright hilarious.
But even a clever concept can fail if it isn't executed properly, and The Drowsy Chaperone delivers. Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison have written a great set of songs. Their lyrics, especially, are quite witty and they score again and again with songs that lovingly parody standard musical number types that we know so well. The book, by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, is even richer. Martin plays a part in the show himself, and gets laughs on nearly every line. In fact, nearly everyone in this ensemble show is perfectly cast, fitting their dual roles impeccably. Sutton Foster, as the bride, shows Los Angeles audiences what she got that Tony for. Her first act song is a big, bold production number, performed with a gorgeous voice and a no-holds-barred enthusiasm. Beth Leavel, as the chaperone, is also outstanding, attacking her role as an aging diva with gusto. Eddie Korbich plays the best man in smooth song-and-dance-man style. Danny Burstein is wonderful as the egotistical Latin lover, creating for his character a unique delivery that got solid laughs out of this often-mocked stereotype. Georgia Engel brings her usual soft-spoken, good-hearted, dim-witted character to the party - with impeccable timing and delivery. (If there is a weak link at all, it is Kecia Lewis-Evans in the underdeveloped role of Trix; Lewis-Evans is given precious little to work with, and what she has is frequently drowned out by the orchestra and sound effects.)
Casey Nicholaw's choreography and direction are visual treats - with several moments requiring perfect timing pulled off without a hitch. There is so much to see and appreciate in The Drowsy Chaperone, I eventually put down my pen and just let myself get swept up in the fun of it all. If you're reading this, you should probably step away from the keyboard and do the same.
The Drowsy Chaperone runs at the Ahmanson thru December 24, 2005. For tickets and information, see www.centertheatregroup.org.
Center Theatre Group - Michael Ritchie, Artistic Director; Charles Dillingham, Managing Director; Gordon Davidson, Founding Artistic Director - presents The Drowsy Chaperone. Music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. Scenic Design by David Gallo; Costume Design by Gregg Barnes; Lighting Design by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan; Sound Design by Acme Sound Partners; Casting by Bernard Telsey Casting and Amy Lieberman, CSA; Hair Design by Josh Marquette; Make-up Design by Justen M. Brosnan; Orchestrations by Larry Blank; Dance and Incidental Music Arrangements by Glen Kelly; Music Direction and Vocal Arrangements by Phil Reno; Technical Supervision by Brian Lynch; Associate Producer Neel Keller; Production Stage Manager Karen Moore; Stage Managers Joshua Halperin, Susie Walsh. Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw.
Photo by Craig Schwartz