BWW Reviews: Boulder's Dinner Theatre Presents THE DROWSY CHAPERONE - an Over the Top Triumph!
Boulder's Dinner Theater presents the smash hit THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, playing now through May 13th in Boulder, CO. This homage to the American musical of the Jazz Age begins when a die-hard musical comedy fan dusts off his favorite album, a (fictional) 1928 smash hit called The Drowsy Chaperone (music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison; book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar). The musical magically bursts to life right in his tenant apartment and the audience is instantly immersed in the glamorous, comical tale of a celebrity bride and her uproarious wedding day. Featuring mix-ups, mayhem, and a madcap wedding, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is hailed as one of the wittiest, craziest shows ever to hit Broadway and Boulder!
So this time around at Boulder’s Dinner Theater, (yes, in a previous life I was a secret shopper) we arrived a little late to see how the wait staff and the actors would "act" under the pressure serving late arrivals and getting ready for the show. I was impressed! They expedited service without rushing us or showing any stress. Again, the only real thing missing from the multisensory experience was music playing during dinner (bring on the jazz!) Boulder’s Dinner Theater has been a part of the community for 34 years now – I KNOW they have plenty in their repertoire, and I say USE IT! Also, it would be a nice creative touch to have the menu whimsically reflect the play’s theme. Heck, I’d eat “Paparazzi Pizza,” Manic Manicotti,” “Bridesmaid Brisket,” “Songstress Spumoni,” or Perfect Pitch Peach Pie,” wouldn’t you? While I understand the limited budgets many theaters have to work with, this could add a level of interactive fun to the already interactive motif that is “dinner theater.”
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is truly a gay, show-within-a-show romp for the ages. At first I was like "What gay holy hell is this?!" From the opening number, Fancy Dress, it’s obvious the show is going to be over the top and delightful, but over the top-ness is necessary to do the show justice – it takes place within the imagination of an agoraphobic shut-in, after all, who has lots of time on his hands. The script is sarcastic, funny, and melodramatic, and the ensemble does a marvelous job mining this rich material. Speaking of which…
I must dedicate an entire paragraph to Brian Norber, who is spot on as the lonely, hyper-critical, antisocial Broadway fanatic simply referred to as Man in Chair. Man in Chair, in searching for a cure for his “non-specific sadness,” spins his favorite record and the musical stories come alive right there in his living room. Although so much is going on around him, Norber commands and holds the stage. His character is relatable as both narrator and mocker of all things musical. He ridicules the music, the songs, the era, the plot, the characters, and even the actors playing the roles. And it’s delightful. In Act II reality begins a slow creep and eventual crash into the tiny apartment, and the ultimate reality of Man in Chair’s existence is revealed. As the music relates lyrical stories, more of Man in Chair’s personal life is unveiled, and heart wrenchingly so. Man in Chair’s shut-in life illustrates the effects of long term isolation and could be regarded as a lesson about being true to who you are, while at the same time recognizing that it could be extremely difficult for people of any generation to embody and demonstrate all aspects of their identities. As the music swirls around and through Man in Chair, it becomes obvious that his life did not turn out the way he had hoped and that love is something to be coveted from a distance. Man in Chair is a good example of how deep the closet can be for some. His retreat-and-hide approach speaks to the difficulty many encounter in trying to find their way out in a society that continues to slam the door in their face and lock them in. There are good reasons some bury themselves in the closet – that’s exactly why I encourage everyone (gay, straight, in-between, whatever) to see this play. On a basic level, Man in Chair is all of us, and Brian Norber taps into the universal human experience of fear and loathing and the need for self-protection.
Katie Ulrich shines bright as the star of the living room musical, Janet Van De Graaff. Her performance is downright acrobatic and absolutely adorable. Alicia Dunfee is a crowd pleaser as The (basically drunk) Drowsy Chaperone. She’s sooooo melodramatic and fabulous. Seth Caikowski as Adolpho the Latin lover is laugh out loud funny. This guy grasps the value of nonverbal gesture and expression and how to employ the most nuanced physical cues in subtle and hilarious ways. Joanie Brosseau is wholly endearing as Kitty, and Brian Jackson is sweet and innocent as Janet’s fiancé, Robert. Both Jackson and Matthew D. Peters (as George) are terrific dancers, as showcased in their show-stopping number, Cold Feets. Cindy Lawrence as Mrs. Tottendale and Bob Hope as Underling are perfect together in their mutual hammy-ness. Wayne Kennedy and Michael J. Duran as gangster-bakers (yes, bakers who are also gangsters) are entirely entertaining.
Director Michael J. Duran (who also performs in the show and is uproarious), brings out the best in this talented cast. Music director Neal Dunfee does a fantastic job supporting the plotline with extraordinary, era-specific music. One interesting thematic ploy was Man in Chair’s record skipping, perhaps symbolizing an interrupted life, a stuck-in-the-rut mentality and existence. Choreographer Alicia Dunfee (also in the lead role as The Drowsy Chaperone) really dances out the Jazz Age. So energetic and fun! Set designer Amy Champion offers up a homey and very much lived in apartment. The transitions between (and within) Broadway musical and lonely apartment are smooth and fluid. The costumes by designer Linda Morken are colorful and era appropriate, moving with all the moving bodies onstage. Sound design by Wayne Kennedy and lighting design by Rachael Dugan work well together in this tricky, fast paced production. The blackout scene is a nice touch, again possibly symbolizing Man in Chair’s internal conflict (closets are dark).
This show is chalk full of crazy characters – from the kooky engaged couple to the lush of a chaperone, gangster bakers, vaudevillian couple of Mrs. Tottendale and Underling, quirky Adolpho (who had the audience in stitches), and squeaky cute Kitty. In regards to Kitty, I only have one critique – I would like to have seen more of a reaction from the ensemble when she broke out of her squeaky clean voice with those amazing powerhouse vocals in Toledo Surprise. Damn, girl! Where did that come from?! As We Stumble Along and I Am Adolpho are musical highlights not to be missed. Act II begins with an odd number called Message from a Nightingale and the whole twist prompted thunderous applause from my particular audience. Bride's Lament (aka Monkey) is an odd, outrageous, and wonderful number. As musical theater geeks, we often prepare for everything to be wrapped up with a nice little bow at the end of the show, and this show does that, but there’s also a hard dose of reality that will bring a tear to your eye as we finish on a hopeful note.
So I challenge Denver and Boulder (and everywhere in between and beyond) to find the grumpiest person you know, or someone who is having a really bad day, bring them to THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and dare them not to smile, at least once. THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is a bona fide hit for Boulder's Dinner Theatre, a true delight that will put a smile on your face. Seriously. Take my challenge. It'll be worth it. THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is toasting audiences now through May 13th in Boulder, CO. For tickets or information, contact Boulder's Dinner Theatre at 303-449-6000 or online at www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com. Cheers!
The company of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
Michael J. Duran and Waybe Kennedy as the Gangsters
Alicia Dunfee as the Drowsy Chaperone and Seth Caikowski as Adolpho