Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE Centers on Taming a Pampered Starlet on Her Wedding Day
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, offers audiences a toe-tapping trip back to the golden age of musicals, and took Broadway by storm, winning five Tony Awards. It spoofs musical-comedy fanatics and the genre itself, often called one of the wittiest, craziest shows ever to hit Broadway. The very entertaining production at Santa Monica's Morgan-Wixson Theatre through October 13 is directed by Kristie Mattsson, produced by Michael Jackson Heimos, with music direction by Daniel Koh, and choreography by Niko Montelibano.
The show opens as a modern-day musical theatre fanatic, called the "Man in Chair" (Michael Heimos) tries to chase the blues away by playing his favorite cast album - the fictional 1928 smash hit, "The Drowsy Chaperone." From the crackle of his hi-fi record, the musical magically bursts to life in his living room, and he is suddenly immersed in the glamorous and hilarious tale of a pampered Broadway starlet Janet Van de Graffe (Holly Weber whose energy knows no bounds) who wants to give up show business to get married to a man she just met, handsome Robert Martin (Christopher Tiernan with a glowing white smile and impeccably entertaining stage presence), while her producer Feldzieg (Richard R. Rosales) plots to sabotage the nuptials so he won't have to replace her with his latest bubble-headed bombshell Kitty (Mirai Booth-Ong).
The Man in Chair stays onstage throughout the show, often assisting with set changes and even dancing in a few of the big production numbers, while it's very apparent his albums are his prize collectibles, and you can be sure before a needle touches any of them that he has painstakingly dusted any possible hazardous material from the surface. Younger audiences may not understand the reverence he feels, but those of us who grew up cherishing our albums certainly will chuckle at the recurring bit. And Heimos emanates his ardor for the show, its music and actors from every pore of his being as he takes us from scene to scene, giving background on each character and storyline with great reverence in Biblical proportions.
Director Kristie Mattsson and choreographer Niko Montelibano, create a most interesting way of splitting reality and fantasy by having the actors freeze in place whenever the Man in Chair is speaking to the audience about them or the storyline. I especially enjoyed watching every single actor in the production, each of whom really mastered the technique as there was not one bit of movement during any of these many freeze-frame scenes, other than an occasional and totally understandable eye blink.
Adding to the uproarious wedding day mayhem is a cast of colorful characters including the starlet's tipsy chaperone (Janet Krajeski), over-the-top Latin lover Aldolpho (Aric Martin who physicality adds much humor to the role), a pair of uproarious gangsters disguised as pastry chefs (Steve Weber and Deonté Allen who manage to steal every scene in which they appear), and an aviatrix (Jenáe Denise Thompson) who drops in for no other reason than to fill in for the missing preacher. The comical show within a show is enhanced by the outrageously adaptable set designed by Tristin Griffin and fanciful costumes designed by Mattsson and Elizabeth Cox Hludzik.
Holly Weber is especially engaging with her dancing and athletic abilities, used to perfection in her "Bride's Lament," but it's her opening number "Show Off" which proves she deserves the spotlight. It's a place Ms. Weber is perfectly suited to as she displays the many useless talents which seem to make her all the more valuable to her producer.
Christopher Tiernan is a riot as the groom-to-be Robert, blindfolded on roller skates in "Accident Waiting to Happen," while he and his best man George (Estaban Hurtado) spectacularly tap their way through "Cold Feets." A cleverly humorous moment takes place during this number when Underling (Daniel Koh, also the production's Musical Director) appears to wait on them, tapping his way across the stage in unison - a musical theater spoof at its best!
Janet Krajeski and Aric Martin share a few ridiculously sexy moments as the Chaperone seduces "Aldopho," whirling about until finally disappearing together atop a Murphy bed, lifted up by the Man in Chair to further the story. Both talented actors handle their over-the-top characters with just the right mix of absurdity and humor.
Vaudevillian couple Mrs. Tottendale (AnnaLisa Erickson) and the Underling (Daniel Koh) provide much comic relief throughout the show with charming dancing duets and many spit takes involving ice water and/or vodka. Even this couple proves that love is always lovely in the end, when the off-and-on again wedding of Janet and Robert takes place with many more couples tying the knot with them.
And kudos go out to the hard-working and ever-changing ensemble members who also move set pieces to keep the action flowing, including (in alphabetical order): Jake Asaro, Chris Clonts, Devin Dimitri Dominguez, Audrey Pennington, Serenity Robb, and Krystyna Rodriguez.
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE presented by Santa Monica's Morgan-Wixson Theatre, 2627 Pico Blvd., continues through October 13, 2019 on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m., and is recommended for ages 12 and up. Adults $30, Seniors $26, and Students $23. Visit www.morgan-wixson.org or call (310) 828-7519. Easy, free parking is available a block west of the theater. And then get ready to step inside a fantasy confection to Broadway musicals of a by-gone era!
Photo credit: Joel Castro/JDCPhotography