Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The show is set in the apartment of a single man who 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 presence of airhead, 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.
What elevates The Drowsy Chaperone to an inventive and even moving musical is that, not only do all of the subplots intertwine and add to the plot of the show within a show, but Man in Chair is a character that anyone who loves musicals can identify with. His obsession with musicals, and this musical in particular, and how we get to know him as a person contribute to making him not only three dimensional but a person we truly care about.
Bookwriters Bob Martin and Don McKellar are to be commended for how the musical is more than just the sum of its comedic plots and characters, and for the decision to include such an interesting character. However, it is the performance of Matthew Harris that makes us care so much for this man. The way that Harris portrays how obsessive Man in Chair is about this particular musical is endearing, but when the character speaks about himself, his past, and his feelings, Harris turns him into the heart and soul of this showa heart and soul that we want to protect. Harris' performance is so good and touching that I was almost moved to tears at the end of the show when he reveals some personal information about Man in Chair.
While not everyone else is up to the level of Harris' abilities, there are definitely a few good performances amongst the cast. Emily Noxon is an absolute riot as the Drowsy Chaperone. With her vapid line delivery that perfectly evokes the Chaperone's cynical view of life and an ever present martini glass, Noxon provides a nice counterpoint to the sunny disposition of every other character in the show. Noxon also delivers a knock-out version of the Chaperone's solo song, "As We Stumble Along." Niki Richins makes a fun, glamorous and slightly self-centered bride, with great stage presence and a powerful voice. As the latin lover Aldolpho, Rob Dominguez is an absolute hoot while Wayne Peck and Kim Rodriguez are appropriately desperate and wacky as Feldzieg and Kitty. Emmanuel Antillon and Zack Pepe provide some fun as the gangsters. However, several members of the cast falter a bit on their vocals with their singing not quite up to par with Noxon and the rest of their castmates.
Co-directors Jere Van Patten and Marisa Brady ensure that the mood of the piece never falters, which is impressive considering it changes from comedic to serious and back a few times throughout the show. It's just too bad that all of their cast, including the ensemble, aren't up to the caliber of Harris. Even choreographer MaryLee Baker's steps, which appear to be fairly basic, seem too challenging for some of the cast. While Dori Brown's set is fun and functional it doesn't give much clarity to Man in Chair's apartment as it is basically two walls that are very long, seemingly designed to fill up the wide space of the stage. This makes his apartment appear to be either gigantic or completely abstractly constructed. Brown does deliver with one very impressive set piece in the finale. Aurelie Flores' costumes add plenty of color and humor to the proceedings and at times appropriately take us back to the 1920s. Music director Dan Kurek achieves a lovely sound from his small orchestra while lighting designer Daniel Davisson and sound designer Peter Bish provide effective work.
While there may be a few flaws in DFT's production of this Tony winning musical, Matthew Harris' performance and his expertly delivered comedic, insightful, and personable commentary help the entire production rise above the shortcomings and turn it into a comical and memorable show. You will definitely laugh a lot, but with the connection to the material and the character Harris provides, you will most likely be moved as well.
The Drowsy Chaperone at Desert Foothills Theater runs through November 22nd, 2015, at the Cactus Shadows Fine Art Center, 33606 N. 60th Street in Scottsdale. Information and tickets can be purchased at www.desertfoothillstheater.org or by calling 480 488-1981
Music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Co-Directed by Jere Van Patten and Marisa Brady