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BWW Reviews: Raleigh Natives Shine in NC Theatre's THE DROWSY CHAPERONE

It's an old-fashioned musical - with a twist. NC Theatre's current production is the 2006 Broadway musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, subtitled, "A Musical Within a Comedy." The show's premise is that the narrator, named simply Man in Chair, guides the audience through his favorite show album (on vinyl, of course), the fictitious 1928 The Drowsy Chaperone. In a tongue-in-cheek look at the musical comedies of Broadway in the 1920s, the Man in Chair provides modern-day commentary on the things that make such shows at once laughable and wonderful. The show-within-the-show tells of a star, Janet Van Der Graaff, about to give up life on stage for marriage. Of course, no classic musical would be complete without its own off-the-wall subplots. The Drowsy Chaperone includes everything from a spit-take obsessed butler/hostess pair to pun-loving gangsters disguised as bakers, as well as Van Der Graaff's chaperone who has her own romantic entanglements with the hopelessly clumsy Adolfo. The premise is what makes this show work - the modern-day lens creates a show which is accessible without sacrificing on humor.

Raleigh native Beth Leavel, who won a Tony for playing the same role (the title Chaperone) on Broadway, makes it clear why she won almost every award in New York for this role - she was born to play it. Funny and engaging from the moment she sets foot on stage, Leavel is flawless from her showstopping voice to her undeniable charm. Her big number, "As We Stumble Along" is one for the ages. To get a performer of her caliber on a regional stage in Raleigh is quite the coup for NC Theatre, and audiences should take advantage of the opportunity while they can.

Another Raleigh native also graces the stage in this production - Clay Aiken in the surprisingly non-musical role of Man in Chair. The show's narrator, Aiken serves as the audience's adept guide through his favorite record. Although perhaps a little young to be playing an old-timer who reminisces over pre-Depression Era shows, Aiken manages to pull it off. He has the right attitude for the character, and the punch lines go over very well. His character is the bridge between old and new, and he sets the tone to create a show that is likable for people of all generations, with a little extra punch for those of us who have a particular affinity for musical theater.

The rest of the cast completes the ensemble nicely, particularly Paige Faure as Janet Van Der Graff, Johnny Stellard as Rbert Martin, and David Josefsberg as Adolfo. The show, performed without an intermission, flows smoothly, thanks to a sophisticated set which slowly transforms from Man in Chair's apartment to the world of The Drowsy Chaperone. The set works well in the space at the Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. Aside from a few moments in which the microphones should have been louder, the technical elements of the show are well-executed. Overall, the production is as high a quality as you're likely to see in a regional theater. The experienced cast and great orchestra together bring some NYC magic to right here in Raleigh.

The Drowsy Chaperone runs through May 12. For tickets and more information, visit

Photo credit: Curtis Brown.

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