Review: Lyric Stage Company's THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is an Irresistible Delight

The musical runs through May 12

By: Apr. 22, 2024
Review: Lyric Stage Company's THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is an Irresistible Delight
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Warning: the show being presented by the Lyric Stage Company of Boston through May 12 has been misnamed. “The Drowsy Chaperone” is anything but.

Under Larry Sousa’s wonderfully imaginative direction and with his choreography, a 16-person company of some of Boston’s brightest, most versatile performers is bringing the Canadian musical, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Gregg Morrison and book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, to dazzling life with delightfully silly production numbers aplenty and a well-served soupçon of heart-tugging emotion.

First produced in 1998 at the Rivoli in Toronto, followed by a 2005 run in Los Angeles, “The Drowsy Chaperone” opened its Tony Award-winning Broadway run on May 1, 2006, at New York’s Marquis Theatre. If you saw the show’s North American tour when it played Boston in April 2008, put that unremarkable production out of your mind and get your tickets to see this one before it’s too late. You’ll be very glad you did.

The story concerns an avid musical-theater fan who also happens to be a quirky loner, and who, feeling "blue,” settles in at home to play for the audience a carefully cared-for, vintage cast album of his favorite musical, the fictional 1928 show “The Drowsy Chaperone.” As the record plays, the show – an on-point parody of 1920s American musical comedy – springs to life onstage while the man drolly shares tidbits about the music, the story, and the characters, complete with detailed backstories about their portrayers.

As the Man in Chair – a pitch-perfect, sweetly funny, and divinely sharp Paul Melendy in his Lyric Stage debut – begins to relax, we’re reminded of the unique power of musical theater to take us away to another world. Although grounded in his wingback chair, the Man is an eager tour guide to the fantasy world he loves, yet he can also be wickedly candid in some of his commentary. “This scene could not be more ridiculous,” he observes at one point, while later commenting on why certain performers had seen their careers go kaput.

The gossamer-thin plot of the show-within-the-show concerns the doings around the wedding of oil tycoon Robert Martin (Jared Troilo) and Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff (a bubbly Joy Clark), who plans to give up her showbiz career to marry a guy she barely knows.

In a season that has already seen him in not one but two highly acclaimed productions – the Huntington’s “Prayer for the French Republic” and the Huntington/SpeakEasy Stage co-production of “The Band’s Visit” – the multi-talented Troilo laces up his tap shoes in this one to play the full-of-himself groom. Here his character’s appeal is demonstrated when the Man get ups from his chair to briefly get in on the action, literally crawling over Best Man George (Mark Linehan) to get nearer to the one he considers best.

Adding more mirth to the mix are Damon Singletary as Feldzieg, a Broadway producer wary that  his star’s pending nuptials might result in her retirement from show business and a loss to one of his mobbed-up investors, and KRISTIAN ESPIRITU as Kitty, his ambitious girlfriend whom he hopes to keep content and at his side.

Carolyn Saxon also delivers in her role as air-headed and highbrow hostess Mrs. Tottendale, as does Todd Yard as the quick-minded and fleet-footed Underling.

Other standouts in the stellar cast include Maureen Keiller. Rarely seen in full-out musical comedies, the performer proves here there’s not much she can’t do and do well, channeling no less than Carol Burnett, in her variety-show prime, for her terrific portrayal of the tipsy title character. While the chaperone may be a little wobbly, Keiller hits every note and every mark in “As We Stumble Along” and “Adolpho,” her duet with Cristhian Mancinas-García as the Latin lothario.

As the mobsters passing themselves off as pastry chefs, Kathy St. George (Gangster #1) and Ilyse Robbins (Gangster #2) are an irresistible comic confection who pair perfectly to score every laugh they can – with ratatat line delivery and sliding movements borrowed from either The Three Stooges or the Marx Brothers, or maybe both.

Keyboardist and music director Matthew Stern leads a crackerjack pit band – I mean, can you ask for anything more than the sound of a perfectly-played kazoo? And Cameron McEachern’s set is a well-designed wonder that includes a luxe Murphy bed built for two or more.

And finally, one more warning, this one to those shopping for fancy fabrics right about now: the bolts are likely lean as costume designer Seth Bodie has used everything from chiffon and sequins to lamé and multicolor brocade to create a fountain of fabulous finery.

Photo caption: Joy Clark, Maureen Keiller, and Cristhian Mancinas-García in a scene from the Lyric Stage Company of Boston’s production of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Photo by Mark S. Howard.


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