BWW Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at Theatre Baton Rouge

BWW Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at Theatre Baton RougeIf you're one of those people who doesn't enjoy musicals because folks just don't start singing at the drop of a dime, Man in Chair feels your pain.
"The only people who break out into song in real life are the truly deranged," says the narrator of the musical comedy "THE DROWSY CHAPERONE," currently on stage at Theatre Baton Rouge. Full of snark though he is, and very aware of how ludicrous musicals can be, Man in Chair is still a great lover of the genre because musicals provide the escape from reality that he desires.
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE stars Terry Byars as Man in Chair, the heart, and soul of the show. Man has happened across a long-ago recording of a (fictional) Broadway musical, "The Drowsy Chaperone," his favorite musical. It just so happens to contain every Broadway musical cliché you can imagine - the rich suitor, the Broadway diva who must choose between romantic love and her love of fame, a money-grubbing producer, comical gangsters, a drunk, an aspiring starlet, a wealthy showbiz enthusiast and a happily-ever-after. He puts the record on a turntable, and as the music begins, actors fill the stage, performing the piece in the landscape of his mind.
But, wait for it. Really, wait for it. Because Man in Chair does a running commentary on the show, with the players freezing in place as he walks about, giving his opinions, perching on the edge of a sofa inside the set, sometimes acting out the scene and explaining what the show, life, and love are all about. And Byars does this so smoothly, so naturally, so genuinely that you honestly feel you've stumbled into his living room and are actually conversing with him.
Brimming with music that inspired the Jazz Age during the 1920s, "THE DROWSY CHAPERONE," directed with a great eye and ear for the material by Jenny Ballard, is what a musical would be like if you could turn on DVD-style commentary by its biggest fan. The intentionally thin story has vaudeville starlet Janet Van De Graaff leaving the stage to marry Robert Martin, a good-looking, well-off nobody she just met. ("We spooned briefly, then he proposed.")
The impending nuptials cause trouble for Janet's producer, Feldzeig, who must face the mob's muscle with the dreadful news that he's lost his show's biggest draw. Meanwhile, it's the Chaperone's job to ensure that the bride and groom are kept apart before the wedding. But with her penchant for knocking back cocktails and taking naps, it's unlikely this swinging gal will be able to stop any wedding shenanigans.
And shenanigans are not in short supply.
Convinced that his honor has been besmirched, Aldolpho, the self-proclaimed "king of romance," decides to seduce the bride - but stumbles on a different target instead. Meanwhile, Janet and Robert deal with a case of mistaken identity during a garden tryst.
Several members of the cast are TBR's top actors: Jennifer Johnson as the melodramatic, wealthy stage door dowager Mrs. Tottendale; Bill Corcoran as her obedient, adoring Underling; Robert Wilson as the frenzied producer Feldzieg; Celeste Veillon as the tipsy Chaperone with an angel's voice; Garrett Smith as George, the frantic, tap-dancing best man; Marion Bienvenu as Janet Van De Graaff, the darling of 1920s Broadway and Albert Nolan as the lovable lothario Aldolpho.
Add to that with the talents of Austin Ventura as Robert Martin, the handsome rich guy with the incredible voice; Jamie Leonard Brubaker, a real crowd-pleaser; and Carole Moore as the ambitious ditzy Kitty with perfect moves and nasal accent - plus Collin Smith and Clay Donaldson as the Gangsters - and you have a cast without a flaw.
The old-timey material works best when it's placed into humorous contexts, like the aggressively bright and cheery opener "Fancy Dress," which over introduces the players and sets up the story to an over-explained degree.
Other songs stand on their own. Bienvenu brings a natural flair for comedy to "Show Off," in which she claims she doesn't want to "show off no more," but proceeds to do everything from flaunting her good looks to playing exotic instruments to "singing" while drinking a glass of water. The tap dancing extravaganza "Cold Feets" is a showcase for and Ventura and Smith. Veillon delivers an over-the-top version of the show's theme song of sorts, "As We Stumble Along."
The show goes on a sentimental note at its conclusion, but that's kind of like trying to slap a very special ending on a sitcom. THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is at its best when it's a simultaneous send-up and celebration of musical theater, and to its credit, the TBR's crowd-pleasing production plays that interesting angle to a T. Be sure to catch this flawless production while you can.

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From This Author Tara Bennett

Tara Bennett Tara Bennett is a Jill-of-All-Trades who currently serves as the head Arts & Entertainment writer for DIG Magazine in Baton Rouge, as well as the (read more...)

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