The Drowsy Chaperone: A Real 'Show Off'
The plot is a story within a story. To chase away his blues, a musical theater addict simply known as "Man in Chair" drops the needle on his favorite LP- the 1928 musical comedy, The Drowsy Chaperone. From the scratchy crackle of his record player the musical magically bursts to life in his humble little apartment. We are taken into the zany tale of a pampered Broadway starlet who thinks she's ready to give up show business for marriage; her producer who sets out to sabotage the ceremony, her over the hill saucy and sauced chaperone, the handsome, nervous groom, a Latin lover and a pair of bumbling pastry chefs with connections to the mob. As mad cap as "Noises Off" an equally insane Broadway comedy, Drowsy Chaperone is almost too much fun on one stage!
Casey Nicholaw's ambitious direction and choreography simply sparkles and David Gallo's wildly clever scenic designs transform pure magic of a production that never leaves a dreary, crowded one room apartment.
Of course none of this unique creativity would be realized without an amazing cast of talented actors and there is not weak link in this touring cast; all posses the ability to capture the crowd with zany characters that feed off each others energy.
Leading the ladies, Andrea Chamberlain plays Janet Van De Graaff as adorable and glamorous as any rising star can reach. Her show stopping "Show Off" is a high energy workout for the entire cast. Chamberlain belts her number to the back of the balcony. In contrast, Georgia Engel plays the ditsy, darling and yes a bit daffy Mrs. Tottendale, who is just happy there will be wedding. But it's Nancy Opel the Drowsy Chaperone who holds the audience at bay with every crooked smile, every stumble, every Gloria Swanson moment, not to mention her ability to deliver songs to rattle the rafters. Nancy's "As We Stumble Along" would be the envy of Ethel Merman. James Moye thoroughly enjoys his role as the narcissistic Latin lover Aldolpho. Twin actors Peter and Paul Riopelle pull off their half vaudeville/half gangster shtick as smooth as pair of creamy little cannoli. Mark Ledbetter, more of a "quadruple threat" plays a debonair, dancing, skating, singing, confused groom- tobe who enjoys cutting a rug with the wise guy best man Underling, (Robert Dorfman) a quirky little lovable character. "Man in Chair" Jonathan Crombie's narration of his favorite show breathes life and color into the piece as he sheepishly warms up the crowd putting the show on freeze and re-wind at will and tickling the crowd as well.
It is this combination of creative magic and a stellar cast that delights the audience with the show's goofiness. Yet the clever intelligence of the piece is undeniably the hook that grabs your heart in this over the top fun loving show.
The music and lyrics of Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison are a comfortable fit suited for both the 1920's and the appeal of a modern audience. And as most romantic musical comedies conclude," Love is Always Lovely in the End".
Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie, who is widely known for playing Gilbert Blythe in the popular "Anne of Green Gables" movies, plays the musical-loving Man in Chair. Georgia Engel ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show" and "Everybody Loves Raymond") will reprise her role of Mrs. Tottendale for the tour. Joining them are Cliff Bemis (Feldzieg), Andrea Chamberlain (Janet Van De Graaff), Robert Dorfman (Underling), Fran Jaye (Trix), Mark Ledbetter (Robert Martin), Marla Mindelle (Kitty), James Moye (Aldolpho), Nancy Opel (The Drowsy Chaperone), Paul Riopelle (Gangster #1), Peter Riopelle (Gangster #2), and Richard Vida (George). Rounding out the cast are Kevin Crewell, Taylor Farrell, Tiffany Haas, Alicia Irving, James Patterson, Chuck Rea, Mason Roberts and Jennifer Swiderski.
Drowsy Chaperone plays at the Academy of Music, Philadelphia Pa. from Nov 27-Dec. 2, 2007. For tickets and information: www.kimmelcenter.org
Photos by Joan Marcus