Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is Anything but Drowsy at MAD Theatre of Tampa

Jessica Berger Vitalo in the Title Role, and Doug Buffaloe as Man in Chair, lead a stellar cast through the Musical Comedy which must close October 30, 2022.

By: Oct. 29, 2022
Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE is Anything but Drowsy at MAD Theatre of Tampa

"That's what Overtures are... a Musical Appetizer... a poo-poo platter of tunes..." (Man in Chair)

"What kind of society do we live in, if we can't discuss the similarities between pornography and musical theatre?" (Man in Chair)

The Drowsy Chaperone is a musical comedy, about a musical within a comedy, featuring music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. With a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, this musical tells the story of a fictional 1928 musical. The story itself centers around a character, "Man in Chair," as he describes to the audience his trepidations in life and this overwhelming feeling of sadness and foreboding which he calls "Blue." So over the course of two hours the "Man in Chair," takes the audience on a journey using the only thing he knows that will cheer him up, his love of Musical Theatre tunes, specifically classics such as The Drowsy Chaperone.

Set inside the apartment of the "Man in Chair," our story finds our character at home alone and feeling blue, so he decides to put on a vinyl record of The Drowsy Chaperone and as the musical parody of the fictional story plays out in front of our eyes, the "Man in Chair," fills the void with quips and anecdotes of what the pieces of music mean to him, and leads us along what could be otherwise a very confusing story.

Set in a Two-Act structure, filled with zany characters and even crazier songs/dance numbers The Drowsy Chaperone, had the sold-out audience on its feet more than once in the evening. Chaperone opened on Broadway in May of 2006 and garnered a slew of Theatre West End and Broadway awards alike, taking home five Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards.

A little history of the piece, for those unfamiliar with its development. Upon its first staging, The Drowsy Chaperone was sans a "Man in Chair," the jokes were even deemed more risque. Before its debut at the Toronto Fringe, the character "Man in Chair," was created to act as the stories' Narrator. After its turn at the Toronto Fringe, many New York investors and producers were invited to see further iterations of the musical comedy, which led to a transfer to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in 2005, even more alterations to the show, The Drowsy Chaperone landed on Broadway in May of 2006. The show features a "show within a show" structure and dances around our "Man in Chair," playing the LP record throughout the show. Throughout the show he inserts personal anecdotes about his life in relation to what is happening onstage, and even fills the audience in on his extensive knowledge of the characters being portrayed onstage.

The Broadway production of 2006, was Directed by Casey Nicholaw and featured a cast of Bob Martin, Sutton Foster, Georgia Engel, Edward Hibbert, and Beth Leavel. Respectively Sutton Foster played Janet Van De Graaff, Bob Martin as Man in Chair, Beth Leavel as The Drowsy Chaperone, Georgia Engel as Mrs. Tottendale, and Edward Hibbert as Underling.

MAD Theatre of Tampa has assembled a top notch cast for this production. Under direction of Kari Ann Stamatopolos, this cast gives this zany musical everything they got and leaves it all on the stage.

As Janet Van De Graaff young Madison DeBrino is a standout. Stepping into the shoes once filled by Sutton Foster is no easy task, and Madison tackels the role with gusto. Her "Bride's Lament," following the opening of Act 2 is a stunning and moving song even if it is about a monkey! However, she throws all the cards on the table with her 11 o'clock hour number "Show Off."

As Mrs. Tottendale, Kate Holmes is hilarious in her moments with Underling played by Lee Holmes. The two work exceptionally well together, and as Husband and Wife, the two share the stage and take it by storm. The spit take in Act 1 is a hilarious moment, both deserve exceptional accolades for their work here.

Bernard McNicol as the Groom Robert Martin is exceptional in comedic timing. His dancing during "Cold Feet," is a rousing number that shines throughout the performance. However, I am unsure if the tap number took away from the vocals in moments.

As George, "everyone's Best Man," Neil Bleiweiss is a great addition to the company. A slightly smaller role, but he makes his presence known especially in numbers such as "Cold Feet." No stranger to the local stage arena, Neil is a great part of the stellar company and his character George helps move the plot along in comedic timing.

Jay Morgan as Feldzieg exceptionally portrays the distraught producer with the utmost of candor. It is always a joy to watch Jay onstage, and no stranger to MAD Theatre, Jay does a fine job here. His number, "Toledo Surprise" is a standout moment in Act 1.

Christen Preziosi plays Kitty with the utmost joy. Imagine if Karen from Mean Girls met Alexis from Schitt's Creek and was transplanted into the 1920s. Her zany antics garner a lot of laughs throughout the night, and she should be proud of her work here.

Ryan Farnworth and Dylan Fidler capture the spirit of the Gangsters with grandeur. The cooking puns seem a little over the top in moments, but when they share "Toldeo Surprise," with Feldzieg all bets are off. These two are hilarious at times often resembling The Three Stooges. So much energy is wrapped up in both of them, you cannot help yourself to steal a glance at what they will do next.

Robert Pelaia as the over-the-top Aldopho is hilarious. His entrances are larger than life, and the cape he wears almost becomes a character all its own. His moment with the Chaperone in Act One is exceptional. Robert is a great addition to the company.

As Trix, Patty Smithey is a wonderful addition. She commands the stage and is always on point when it comes to choreography. You can tell she is having fun with every moment she steps onto the stage. Her vocals in "I do, I do in the Sky," are unmatched here.

Rounding out the company Andi Laaker, Topher Larkin, Evan Lomba, Jenelle Vinachi, and Erica Vitelli make for an exceptional ensemble of characters. Most playing multiple parts, they each bring something different to the table. They fill the stage with so much energy, that the infectious feeling is felt in every dance number.

Best in show, for me, is shared by two exceptional performers.

As the Drowsy Chaperone, herself, Jessica Berger Vitalo is channeling her best Beth Leavel and Patti LuPone. She is stunning in every moment she takes the stage. Her 11 o'clock hour, "As We Stumble Along," for me is the highlight of the night. Jessica is exceptional here and should be extremely proud of her work.

Finally, the man of the hour, or in this case, "Man in Chair" played by the enigmatic Doug Buffaloe. Not very often do we sit in the dark in anticipation for the lights to come up on the evening's performance are we so encapsulated by the voice we hear from the shadows. Doug pulls the audience in from the first moment, and doesn't let them go, even when he has to at intermission. Imagine being held in a theatrical choke-hold, of the non-threatening kind anyway. Never singing a note till the final number, Doug captures our attention and takes us on a story-telling ride that is exquisite from top to bottom. He is hilarious in moments and sincere the next, all rounding out an outstanding performance and one he should be exceptionally proud of.

Director Kari Ann Stamatoplos and Musical Director Megan Zeitler assembled an exceptional company and together created a world in which the audience could escape their troubles, and just laugh. Laughter is the best medicine after all. Kari Ann steers the ship with the finest of hands, and under Megan's musical direction the cast sang through the score with ease. I commend MAD Theatre for the use of a live band, so often we hear canned music and it doesn't give the same thrilling feeling as sitting in a room with musicians and hearing the score firsthand. For me, canned music, or tracks, tends to leave little to the imagination and takes the magic out of the moment. I always get nervous when a live band is inside the walls of an intimate space such as the Shimberg, but in this instance, no worry had risen as the band blended perfectly with the performers onstage. Choreography by Mandi Barron allowed for moments especially group numbers to be filled to the brim with energy, though it seemed as if some were into it more than others.

Technically speaking The Drowsy Chaperone is a labor of love. Scenic Design by Kit Hastings, and Costumes by Deb Lastinger blend together seamlessly to tell the world of the story in which these characters reside. Sound Design by Mitchell Samuelson and Lighting Design by Jayce Bertucelli evoke the right feeling of the time period. As far as issues that arose the only small things I noticed were mic issues specifically in moments in which the ensemble was singing behind a principal specifically in "As We Stumble Along." The other small mic issue occurred during "I Am Aldolpho."

I had a conversation with someone just yesterday as a matter of fact about, The Drowsy Chaperone, in the general sense. The show itself tends to lean a little more toward the overdone side of the spectrum. Such as Mamma Mia, and Jekyll & Hyde. The person then proceeded to say that The Drowsy Chaperone tends to be one of those shows that can get lost on certain audiences. Full of quips and misgivings about musical theatre in general, that if you find yourself not a fan of such an art form, the jokes can often get lost.

However, if you're not a fan of musicals, then in that sense, theatre is subjective and you can determine which you choose to see. Again all of this is speaking in a general sense.

I will say that for me, the subject matter of The Drowsy Chaperone, itself is a funny, laugh till you're crying antic filled musical. Yes, the jokes can be slightly dated, and sometimes material doesn't age well. At the same time, its meant to make you escape. Kari Ann states it best in her Director's Note by saying,

"At first glance, the show appears to be a piece of fluff, but then it sneaks up on you, and once you start working on it as we have, you realize there is much more than meets the eye. For me, it itsnt about the music and the story as much as it is about the strong characters and how they react to life, and I think the real genius of the show is that we can all identify with our main character, Man in Chair. He reminds us that we all have that "thing" we go to when we are down, and musicals are his.

As Human beings, some of our basic desires are comfort, happiness, and peace. Sure, most of us believe these may be achieved by having a nice home, car, or dream job, but what fuels us daily is usually something simpler...grabbing your favorite coffee, texting a friend, doing a little binge-watching, or putting on your favorite tunes. We've all done it, and this is what we have in common with our Man in Chair. Common ground whether you are a fan of musicals or not. Genius."

Kari Ann, my sentiments exactly.

The Drowsy Chaperone is onstage only through October 30th, 2022. What are you waiting for? Head to the Straz Center's website, for tickets to the final three remaining performances of this hit production! Don't wait too long, shows have been selling out, and this is one show you do not want to miss!

"It's not a perfect show, but it does what a show is supposed to do..." (Man in Chair)

"It's better to have lived, than left, right...?" (Man in Chair)

Photo Credit: Chaz Dykes

RELATED STORIES - Tampa/St. Petersburg

Embracing Our Differences Will Stage 2024 Exhibitions in Sarasota and St. Petersburg and R Photo
Embracing Our Differences Will Stage 2024 Exhibitions in Sarasota and St. Petersburg and Reveals Winners

For the first time in 21 years, Embracing Our Differences (EOD) will be displaying its international outdoor exhibit in St. Petersburg as part of its 2024 exhibition season.


Miracle on 34th Street is an American Christmas comedic/drama from 1947 that was produced by 20th century Fox. Based on the story by by Valentine Davies, the film was directed by George Seaton and features Maureen O’Hara, John Payne, Natalie Wood, and Edmund Gwenn. Winning three Academy Awards, Miracle on 34th Street takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, and the events that transpire when a Department store Santa Claus claims to be the real Santa.

Review: THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE BAKEOFF is Sugar-Filled Holiday Fun at StageWorks Theat Photo
Review: THE GREAT CHRISTMAS COOKIE BAKEOFF is Sugar-Filled Holiday Fun at StageWorks Theatre

The Great Christmas Cookie Bakeoff is a one-act Holiday musical created by Rick Hip-Flore. Featuring a cast of 8 talented students and 4 adults, this whimsical musical is the perfect sugary delight to usher in the Holiday Season.

Previews: DR DAVID AND FRIENDS perform benefit concert for the New Tampa Players Penguin P Photo
Previews: DR DAVID AND FRIENDS perform benefit concert for the New Tampa Players' Penguin Project and Ampersand Theatre

The collaboration between Dr. David and the Penguin Project/Ampersand Theatre for this benefit concert has a heartfelt origin. The doctor's daughter, Naomi, has been a peer mentor for the Penguin Project since its inception in 2018.


A Very Broadway Christmas in Tampa/St. Petersburg A Very Broadway Christmas
Duke Energy Center for the Arts - Mahaffey Theater (12/15-12/15)Tracker
Hedwig and the Angry Inch in Tampa/St. Petersburg Hedwig and the Angry Inch
American Stage Theatre Company (5/15-6/16)
Peter Pan (Non-Equity) in Tampa/St. Petersburg Peter Pan (Non-Equity)
Straz Center [Carol Morsani Hall] (4/30-5/05)
acts of faith in Tampa/St. Petersburg acts of faith
American Stage Theatre Company (11/21-12/17)
Scrooge MacBeth in Tampa/St. Petersburg Scrooge MacBeth
The Off-Central (12/07-12/17)
The Book of Mormon (Non-Equity) in Tampa/St. Petersburg The Book of Mormon (Non-Equity)
Straz Center [Carol Morsani Hall] (4/16-4/21)
Mrs. Doubtfire in Tampa/St. Petersburg Mrs. Doubtfire
Straz Center [Carol Morsani Hall] (4/02-4/07)
I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change! in Tampa/St. Petersburg I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change!
Richey Suncoast Theatre (1/19-1/28)
The Rocky Horror Show in Tampa/St. Petersburg The Rocky Horror Show
Jobsite Theater (7/10-8/04)
Girl From the North Country in Tampa/St. Petersburg Girl From the North Country
Straz Center [Carol Morsani Hall] (4/02-4/07)

Recommended For You