BWW Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE Takes You Back in Time with Comedy at the Virginia Samford Theatre
Great musical theater provides a wonderful escape into the world of Broadway. I say escape as to mean an uncoupling from the world, as we know it. We all share that felling of relief of getting home, and changing into those comfy sweats and t-shirt. For those who are fans of musicals (especially those of us whose musical collection is on actual LP's), getting to your spot on the sofa and cueing up that first track of your favorite Broadway soundtrack is pure bliss. The opening fanfare begins and instantly carries you away. "The Drowsy Chaperone" successfully captures this feeling and mixes with a fun, mad-cap story, rich with 1920's tropes and characters.
The plot of "The Drowsy Chaperone" is not the highlight of the musical, and that's the point. It's how the story is told that delivers memorable comedy and musical theater gold. The show opens in a small and simple apartment of "The Man in the Chair" (Jeff Walker), a milquetoast narrator who sets the show in motion. His fourth wall break to the audience is delivered with witty banter of the highs and lows in attending live theater. With a childlike glee he remises and offers to play his favorite record; the soundtrack of the 1920's comedy "The Drowsy Chaperone." The music builds and the simple set is adjusted to become the world of this musical from yesterday. One by one the characters enter in song with a comical zest of standard characters popular in the 1920's musicals. The 1# Hollywood starlet Janet Van Der Graaff (Sara James) is set to marry socialite Robert Martin (Alex Belli). Her life on the stage is about to end so she can become his homebody wife. Remember this a period piece comedy. Van Der Graaff's hurried producer Feldzig (Ryan Howard) is under the gun (literally) to put up her next show on Broadway. The money invested in the show from the mob is due a payback. Come to collect are two gangsters (Clark Maxwell and Gray Lackey) disguised as pastry chefs. Van Der Graaff is accompanied by her saucy and drowsy Chaperone (Mary Reid Howard). Her drowsiness is due to her heavy consumption of martinis. Toss in the mix the machismo European lover Aldolpho (Brad Steele), dimwitted wealthy heiress Mrs. Tottendale (Sarah-Morgan Steeley) and a slew of other cartoonish characters to round out this mad cap comedy.
The show loose structure allows for Man in the Chair (Walker) to jump in and out of scenes. The charm is found within its characters. The songs by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison have a signature in making each comical number a wonderfully exaggerated expression of those formulaic musicals from the 20's.
Choreographer Stefany Pat Keisler provides hot moves on a very restrictive stage. Unfortunately due to the seating, the people in the rear of the audience were not able to see any of the fantastic tap work at play. James, Steele, Howard, Belli filled the space up with solid and powerful voices. The other vocals were hit and miss sadly for projection and intonation was not consistent. The stage was on the smaller size for such a production. Walker's direction was a success in making it work.
Director and actor Jeff Walker shares why "The Drowsy Chaperone" was chosen. "Our group has been talking about doing this show for years. We love it. The story behind the show was so interesting and so great. The show was originally written for real actors Robert Martin and Janet Van De Graaff. It was a performance made for their wedding stag party. It then went on to be a very successful Broadway production. That back-story is just too funny. Making a fun musical for someone's bachelor party really feels like something that our theater group might do." Walker's non profit Brick by Brick Arts is host to many talented actors from his alma matter The University of Montevallo.
Sara James (Janet Van De Graaff ) is a Montevallo graduate of 2007. She shares how much she enjoys working with alum and students of her college, and the natural chemistry they share. "Most of the kids that are in the show have just graduated or are seniors at Montevallo. It's cool when you all come from the same background. Even though you don't know each other, you know the same people, went to the same school and played the same games. So, you kind of know each other before you start."
James went on to share what she loves in the role and show. "I really like how clever it is. I didn't know the show all that well when I auditioned. Some of the jokes I didn't get just reading the script. But when hearing somebody deliver the lines, I'm like oh that's really funny. I really love how it flips all those golden age musicals on its head and calls out the tropes."
"The Drowsy Chaperone" was a fun romp. The 4 day run played for sold out houses. Brick By Brick Arts delivered a very funny show. Hopefully the next selection will be able to run longer so more people can come out to enjoy their hard work.
Virginia Samford Theatre's Martha Moore Sykes Studio.