Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The Drowsy Chaperone
Also see Gil's recent reviews of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Drinking Habits 2: Caught in the Act
The Drowsy Chaperone is set entirely in the apartment of a single man called Man in the Chair. Since he's feeling a bit blue, he decides to play the cast recording of his favorite show, the 1928 musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone, to cheer himself up. This escapist show is one that he believes will help take him away from the harsh reality of the world outside his apartment. As he sits in the chair next to his record player, he plays the record for himself as well as for the audience and he routinely breaks the fourth wall to tell us about the plot and the actors in the show while the musical comes to life in his apartment.
The show within the show centers on the wedding of stage actress Janet Van de Graaff, who plans to leave her theatrical career behind to marry the businessman Robert Martin whom she just met. However, their wedding day plans are interrupted by a series of events including Janet's producer Feldzieg being threatened by gangsters disguised as pastry chefs, the lothario Aldolpho, who is on a mission to seduce the bride, and the airheaded, talentless Kitty, who is prepared to take over Janet's part. While the absent-minded best man George and the prim and proper butler and forgetful hostess continue to cause confusion, there is also Janet's constantly drunk and tired chaperone, who often declares that "champagne makes me drowsy" while hilarity ensues.
Bookwriters Bob Martin and Don McKellar won the Tony for this show and it's easy to see why, as their script is entirely original and it also inventively intertwines all of the subplots while fleshing out the character of Man in the Chair so he is not only realistic but incredibly identifiable for anyone who is a super fan of musicals. The show also has a huge heart and an abundance of charm. The fun score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison features a range of musical styles that are germane to the time of the show within the show while also having some modern touches that show off the comic abilities and soaring voices of the leads.
Under Stephen Hohendorf's assured and clean direction, the entire cast make each of their characters very realistic while also firmly setting them in the period of the show within the show. I've seen this musical numerous times and this cast particularly shines and shines bright. Hohendorf's staging works very well with good use of the entire stage–I like the addition of Man in the Chair's bathroom on stage left, which is also incorporated into the show within the show–and the accents and gestures he's instructed the cast to use add to the hilarity of the show.
Charlie Hall is giving one of the best performances I've seen as Man in the Chair. The character's obsession with musicals, and this one musical in particular, are clearly defined by the excitement and vocal inflections Hall gives to his line readings. Hall's nervous laugh and fidgety gestures also help to give dimension to this character who is often agitated when real-life events threaten to disrupt the enjoyment he feels when playing his cast albums. The more we get to know Man in the Chair, the more he becomes a person we truly care about and that's all due to the fantastic book, clear direction, and Hall's phenomenal and endearing performance.
Lily Nelson and Alaina Lish are equally good as the Drowsy Chaperone and Janet Van De Graaf, respectively, with wonderful singing voices and excellent comic abilities that make their characters shine. Nelson's vacant looks and flippant gestures perfectly get across the bored mentality of the character, and Lish's sunny disposition gives Janet plenty of effervescence. As Janet's fiancé Robert, Carter Samuel has solid stage presence and warm vocals, making the character very appealing.
The rest of the cast create portrayals with many moments that pop with humor. Aaron Clark is hilarious as Aldolpho, and Austin Watts is appropriately nervous and sweet as the forgetful best man George. Brian Fleisch and Maddie Jones have great accents and good comic timing that provide plenty of zaniness to Feldzieg and Kitty, respectively, and Ghost Bravo and Addie Beattie are bright and fun as the two gangsters. Brady Fiscus and Mason Berchman are wonderful as the resourceful Underling and the dimwitted Mrs. Tottendale, and Savannah Swiatkowski's rich singing voice shines as Trix, the Aviatrix. The small ensemble of polished dancers and singers are used to very good effect throughout the show.
Elyssa Blonder's choreography is varied and fun and danced well by the entire cast, including a rousing tap duet for Samuel and Watts. Music director Tyler Thompson achieves rich notes from the entire cast. Tanja Bauerle's set design works very well to portray an older, almost colorless, run-down apartment as well as bright and colorful moments for the show, assisted by Zach Lundquest's lovely lighting and excellent costumes and period and character perfect hair and make-up designs by Heather Riddle.
The Drowsy Chaperone is a zany, frenzied, and funny musical that is not only well crafted but has a huge amount of heart and charm. The joy the cast brings to the show is equal to the joy Man in the Chair gets from listening to the cast album of the show within the show and, with a cast, direction, and creative elements that are excellent, Desert Stages' production will most likely bring a smile to your face and a lot of joy to you as well.
The Drowsy Chaperone runs through February 12, 2023, at Scottsdale Desert Stages Theatre at Fashion Square, 7014 East Camelback Road, Suite 0586, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit desertstages.org or call 480-483-1664.
Director: Stephen Hohendorf