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St. Louis by Sarah Boslaugh

The Drowsy Chaperone
Touring Production at The Fox Theatre

Also see Richard's review of Return of the Bedbug and Bob's review of The Clean House

The Drowsy Chaperone
Jonathan Crombie
Before the curtain went up on the touring production of The Drowsy Chaperone playing at the Fox through November 11, I said a little prayer, not unlike the one Man in Chair says before every theatre performance, except mine was: "Please let Man in Chair be good." Because, for all the clever sets and showy costumes and inside jokes contained in the 100 minutes occupied by a performance of The Drowsy Chaperone, the evening's success really rests on those slender, cardigan-clad shoulders.

Unlike most of the characters in The Drowsy Chaperone, I will refrain from milking a concept too long and simply tell you that the Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie inhabits the role and carries the show. To paraphrase a TV show in which cast member Georgia Engel appeared some 30 years ago, he makes it seem all worthwhile. And for my money there's not a better time to be had in all of St. Louis right now than at a performance of The Drowsy Chaperone.

Not that there's anything wrong with the rest of the cast: they sing, dance and mug with great enthusiasm, all the while managing an astonishing number of costume changes while some truly amazing sets and backdrops transform Man in Chair's dismal apartment into everything from a 1920s parlor to the wild blue yonder. It's just that the musical within the comedy is astonishingly lame, albeit intentionally so, and is only bearable because of Man in Chair's running commentary as well as his obvious enthusiasm for the show and his occasionally heartbreaking vulnerability as he invites the audience into his world. Don't worry, though, it's a comedy and everything works out in the end, including a surprising number of marriages.

In case you are unfamiliar with the plot of The Drowsy Chaperone, here's a brief recap. Man in Chair lives an isolated and not particularly joyful existence, brightened by escape into his favorite musical comedies, which stem from an era when the Marriott Marquis was called the Morosco, a gay wedding simply meant that everyone was having a jolly good time, and the first performance to be interrupted by a cell phone lay about 80 years in the future. When he puts on a recording of his favorite show, that 1928 smash The Drowsy Chaperone, his apartment is magically transformed into a stage set, the cast materializes from nowhere (actually, through the refrigerator door and by way of the Murphy bed) and the whole show is performed right then and there, before his adoring eyes.

Did I mention the show within a show was lame? You can't believe how lame. The cast includes a silly ingenue and her dim-witted, roller skating fiance, a Latin lover whose acting skills are more suited for the silent screen, an aviatrix who might also be a dominatrix, two gangsters rather unconvincingly trying to pass for pastry cooks, an exasperated producer with a Jewish surname and a really knockout bathrobe, a tap dancing best man, an inebriated grand dame, a dotty elderly woman and a long-suffering butler named Underling. Can you guess which role Georgette Engel plays? There's an inordinate number of bad puns and stretched-out gags and a plot which would take more space than this review can provide to untangle it. There's even an airplane descending from the ceiling, bringing back a character you thought was included in the plot strictly for momentary gimmick value (unlike the other characters, of course). And for the kids in the audience, there's an entire scene centered around spit takes.

Of course, it's supposed to be lame, because that gives us something to laugh at, and Man in Chair something to comment upon. Think of it as Mystery Science Theater for MTQs (and if you have to ask what that means, you're probably better off not knowing), except in this case the MTQ really loves the production he is dishing. And he's so sincere in his devotion that we can't help loving him for it, and that's what makes the play work. He also gets in a number of digs at contemporary theatre, sentiments no doubt shared by a large proportion of the audience, and even explains why musicals are like pornography.

Maybe they did have more fun in the old days, before musicals became ironic and self-referential and ... oh, never mind. There's no going backwards, but The Drowsy Chaperone may offer the best of both worlds, hopping back and forth as it does between the ironic post-modern sensibility of Man in Chair and the brainless but fun loving musicals of the 1920s. So my advice is to take advantage of the Fox's $25 ticket special in honor of their 25th anniversary and get down to see it today. Ticket information is available from the Fox website or from MetroTix at 314-534-1111 or 1-800-293-5949.

Cast:
Man in Chair: Jonathan Crombie
Mrs. Tottendale: Georgia Engel
Underling: Robert Dorfman
Robert Martin: Mark Ledbetter
George: Richard Vida
Feldzieg: Cliff Bemis
Kitty: Marla Mindelle
Gangster #1: Paul Riopelle
Gangster #2: Peter Riopelle
Aldolpho: James Moye
Janet Van De Graaff: Andrea Chamberlain
The Drowsy Chaperone: Nancy Opel
Trix: Fran Jaye
Super: Chuck Rea
Ensemble: Kevin Crewell, Taylor Farrell, Chuck Rea, Jennifer Swiderski
Swings: Tiffany Haas, Alicia Irving, James Patterson, Mason Roberts

Music & lyrics: Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book: Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Direction and Choreography: Casey Nicholaw
Scenic Design: David Gallo
Lighting Design: Ken Billington, Brian Monahan
Costume Design: Gregg Barnes
Sound Design: Acme Sound Partners
Casting: Telsey + Company
Hair Design: Josh Marquette
Makeup Design: Justen M. Brosnan
Orchestrations: Larry Blank
Musical Director/Conductor: Robert Billig


Photo: Joan Marcus


-- Sarah Boslaugh

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