BWW Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at Candlelight Music Theatre
Lerner and Loewe created MY FAIR LADY from Bernard Shaw's "Pygmalion". Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted the 1909 Ferenc Molnar play "Liliom" and transplanted the setting from Budapest to the coast of Maine in CAROUSEL.
That's generally how musicals are birthed. Not so with THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, which makes its nascency the more intriguing and Broadway fanciful. In 1997 some very creative friends of eventual co-writer Bob Martin created a spoof of old musicals for his stag party. They dropped a lot of the risqué jokes and entered it into the Toronto Fringe Festival. Opening on Broadway in 2006 it garnered many Tonies.
One such a luminary as Denzel commented that casting is 80% of the success of the show. Director/Choreographer Peter Rios grabbed the brass ring for this production at Candlelight. His casting was sublimely superb. The wondrous result is that this is an ensemble of leads. Every named character has his day to showcase his talents.
A pitch-dark stage. The Man in Chair (Connor McAndews) voice opines "I hate musicals". (Not exactly the comment that the audience who came to see a musical comedy wants to hear). Lights up and we are confronted with a dingy apartment and this Man In Chair, dressed in a cardigan and whom we eventually will characterize as an agoraphobic musical fanatic who reminds us of Mr. Rogers.
Man in Chair expounds,...'musicals take us to another world...with music and color and glamour". He then spins his vinyl of his favorite musical, the fictional DROWSY CHAPERONE, and the doors, refrigerators, etc., swing open to take us exactly there with the opening number "Fancy Dress", introducing us to all the colorful characters. Man in Chair provides a running commentary throughout although he is on the audience side, breaking the 4th wall. McAndrews is simply a delight. As I looked around the audience there were fixed smiles on everyone's face. But that was consistent through this entire gleeful production.
The ensemble pairings are a hoot. The bemused, aging Mrs. Tottendale (Lindsay Mauck) enters with her ever-present Underling (Anthony Connell). Both are wonderful comedians and play off one another like Burns and Allen. (Oh, my! 95% of the actors on stage have no clue about Burns and Allen. Resolution? Check YouTube). Tottendale was Dan Ackroyd doing Julia Childs. Underling's droll 'takes' on her comments are classic. Their 'ice water' sequence is a comic highlight. To a teensy-weensy extent, I feel sorry for the Underling having to suffer the indignities. But not all is lost, a lot of people are still chuckling about the bit.
The 'crisis' at least in the manipulating Producer Feldzieg's eyes, (Frank Schierloh) is that his leading lady Janet Van de Graff, the infinite triple threat (Audrey Simmons) wants to leave show business to marry the rather self-absorbed (but rich oil tycoon) Robert Martin (Kevin Dietzler).
Robert may be experiencing "Cold Feets" about the nuptial. He and friend George (Shaun Yates) do a rousing tap number which genuinely surprised the packed house.
We meet The Drowsy Chaperone (Tiffany Christopher), her 1920's bobbed wig perfectly chosen by Lisa Miller Challenger. All the wigs were great. The Chaperone's anthem is "As We Stumble Along". Christopher nailed this number. It reminded one of another Broadway anthem, "And I Tell You I'm Not Going". That is how well Christopher belted. Her postures and her fluid use of gestures were akin to a toreador in a bullfight.
Being a spoof on the musicals of the '20's, it is requisite there be a scenery chewer. Cue Adolpho (Topher Layton), the self-described Latin Lothario and King of Romance. Layton does not merely chew scenery, he devours it. Each time he appeared and affected that 'romantic, charismatic' pose (see picture), dear sister Liz and I were on the floor. His physical comedy with his cane (a la Harpo Marx), his antics with The Drowsy Chaperone (which at one point had her rolling off the bed), his high-pitched screams emitting both dismay and wonderment, his rolling 'R's' and his Ricky Ricardo "jyesssss's' brought spasms of laughter from the audience. And, with all this, he was romancing the wrong woman!
We certainly need gangsters. They were there to intimidate Feldzieg to ensure Janet would be in his 'Feldzieg Follies'. Tori Healy and Max Redman, posing as bakers for the upcoming wedding, were as delicious as the confections on their trays. They worked so seamlessly together in song, dance and fast paced pastry-based repartee, I was reminded of their fellow gangsters from KISS ME KATE in 'Brush Up Your Shakespeare. Both duos danced quite well and both sported Brooklynese accents. The two commenced "Toledo Surprise", the production number ending Act 1.
I sometimes make comparisons of a performer on stage to a Broadway or movie star. If there are any directors out there lamenting an Adelaide for an upcoming GUYS AND DOLLS, look no further than Kitty (Christina Fuscellaro). Kitty, who was told emphatically by Feldzieg that she 'was terrible in the chorus' was relentless in her pursuit to take over Janet's leading role if the latter got married. Wide-eyed and delightfully bubbleheaded, Kitty was a force of nature.
Trix (Tiara Green) exhibited a powerhouse voice while piloting a bi-plane, an impressive multi-tasker. The ensemble, including Elias Rivera, Faith Sacher and Erin Waldie, among others all had great singing and dancing chops, especially in the existentially-provocative, intellectually profound "Monkey, Monkey", described by Man in Chair as 'a little bit Busby Berkeley and a little bit Jane Goodall'.
The show is full of improbable twists and eccentric turns, part of the fun. Act II opens with Man in Chair putting the vinyl on the phonograph. He excuses himself, exclaiming he must pee. (He actually goes to Candlelight's rest room, a laugh in itself). Unfortunately, he had placed the wrong record on the turntable and the scene goes to the opening of THE ENCHANTED NIGHTENGALE, not DROWSY. (The fictional NIGHTENGALE was set in 2nd century China).
Effusively apologizing to the audience, he explains that the plot of NIGHTENGALE was centered around demanding the invading Mongol horde pay for the Chinese Wall. This comment elicited hoots from the audience. The authors were throwing shade on our naked Emperor President; the spineless, lying, adulterous miscreant who this weekend sequestered himself in Mar A Lago while millions of outraged marchers were on the streets demanding gun control. Beware, you dangerous fool, storm(y) clouds are gathering. Man in Chair is correct, "musicals (like DROWSY) let us escape the dreary horrors of the outside world".
Great period costumes by Timothy Lamont Cannon (especially those of Janet), a challenging set design by Jeff Reim (aforementioned revolving doors and refrigerators), wonderful lighting by Mike Cristella and consistently professional sound design by Dennis Mahoney.
These last two shows at Candlelight have been an absolute joy.
Through April 22. CandlelightTheatreDelaware 302.475.2313
Next Up: Boeing, Boeing May 12