Posted on June 4th, 2008
6/4/2008 1:10PM CST
The Drowsy Chaperone
by John Garcia
*THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (National Tour)Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg MorrisonBook by Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Dallas Summer MusicalsDirected and Choreographed by Casey NicholawCostume Design by Gregg BarnesScenic Design by David GalloLighting Design by Ken Billington and Brian Monahan
*REVIEWED 06/04/08 PERFORMANCE THE DROWSY CHAPERONE
Musical theater is a unique, fickle, and engrossing art form. It runs the gamut in regards to emotion, originality, structure, and whether a certain musical is “art” or “commerce”. Suffice to say history has shown us both in abundance. Broadway and out of town tryouts is littered with the failures and successes in regards to putting a story set to music and dance, call it art, and make a buck in the process.
But then to create that special musical that is lavished with critical praise, awards, and sold out houses-well that takes a miracle. Many fail, so few succeed.
Personally I can sit through a dark, emotional piece like SPRING AWAKENING and savor the power of its message and painful, brutal raw honesty. But I can also sit back and enjoy the colorful fluff of LEGALLY BLONDE. The snooty naysayers will thrust their noses so high up into the air and with a cold response dismiss some musicals as “Pure dribble. It’s not art.” Jeez, loosen up those panties and just sit back and enjoy the fluff. What’s so wrong with that?
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE may be fluff-but oh what a delicious, scrumptious, and glorious piece of musical theater confection it is!
TDC opened at the Marquis Theater in May 2006, where it sipped champagne and tapped away for 674 performances, closing in December 2007. It would go on to receive 12 Tony nominations, winning five awards- including Best Book and Score. It would lose the Best Musical trophy to JERSEY BOYS.
The musical opens to reveal a man in his New York apartment, ready to cozy up to his record player and enjoy one of his favorite cast recordings ever-“The Drowsy Chaperone”. Serving as commentator and narrator, he takes the audience along a hilarious journey into the musical as well as provides wicked bon-bons of backstage stories and gossip of the various stars within the production. It’s a musical within a musical.
This is by no means an “internal” musical, everything is grand and over the top-which fits the piece beautifully. They play to the back of the house, wringing every last drop of laughter they can squeeze out of the material.
The book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar is full of wacky, zany set ups, outlandish subplots, and loaded with never ending jokes. Sure some of the punch lines and set ups are groaners, but you groan with a huge smile on your face. And yet so many of the tongue in cheek, “wink wink” jokes are absolutely hysterical and provide so much dazzling comedy to the piece. I will not spoil the riches of side splitting laughter here for you. But suffice to say you will leave with your face aching from laughing so much. Martin and McKellar even add towards the very end a wonderfully touching moment that does tug at the heart. It’s a solid book that pays off big time within the framework of this musical.
The loopy, toe tapping score is provided by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. Some songs work better than others. But many of the big, splashy company numbers are a sublime homage to those wild and over the top musical numbers from roadway’s golden age. Some of the best songs include “Cold Feets”; “Show Off”; “As We Stumble Along”; “I Am Aldolpho”; “Message from a Nightingale”; and “Bride’s Lament”.
Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography are spectacular in both areas. He knows when to allow the over the top wackiness go at full throttle, and then pull back for a heart warming moment. His marvelous choreography is full of eye popping dancing, from some grand tap numbers to delightful jazz flavored ones. The staging & choreography really glow brightly here.
From the design elements, it is David Gallo’s delightful sets and Gregg Barnes gorgeous costumes that serve as yummy eye candy. The main set is the New York apartment, but throughout the evening Gallo brings it set pieces, furniture, back drops, staircases, and so on to bring to life the musical within the musical theme. Barnes drapes his cast in magnificent, 1920s period costumes that are dripping in layers of beads, sequins, and rhinestones. His color palette is an array of blinding colors that actually add another level of energy to the stage. I did notice that some costumes have been designed differently for some characters. Such as the costume worn by the Drowsy Chaperone for her big solo. Nonetheless, these costumes are ravishing and will leave you drooling in your seats from its splendor.
The entire cast delivers outlandish, side splitting performances, with some who chew the scenery like famished wolves, with the audience savoring along with them every morsel.
Within the large company providing crowd pleasing performances include Georgia Engel (Mrs. Tottendale); Robert Dorfman (Underling); George (Richard Vida); twins Paul & Peter Riopelle as the Gangsters disguised as pastry chefs; and Fran Jaye as “Trix”, the female pilot.
Andrea Chamberlain gives the ingénue role of “Janet” equal amounts of sass and purity. “Janet” is a famous star who is willing to give it all up for marriage, and is wondering if her groom truly does love her. Chamberlain brings to the stage a sweet disposition with a lilting nightingale soprano that can belt with the best of them. Her facial expressions are priceless during some of the mad cap comedic scenes that’s she involved in. If you saw Sutton Foster (who originated the role on Broadway) on the Tony telecast perform Janet’s big solo “Show Off”, let me tell you that Ms. Chamberlain will make you forget that performance in a heartbeat with her hilarious characterization and divine singing voice.
As the groom to be “Robert Martin”, Mark Ledbetter taps like there’s no tomorrow in his big, show stopping number “Cold Feets”. His interpretation of his character’s voice reminds you a little of Dudley DoRight, which works perfectly within the framework of his hysterical characterization. A tall, handsome redhead, he sings beautifully and has wonderful chemistry with Ms. Chamberlain.
James Moye gives such a hilarious, scene stealing performance that he should be arrested! He portrays the Latin star “Aldolpho”, using a Spanish dialect that is just so, so bad, it has the audience rolling in the aisles. A tall, swarthy fellow who wears a pepe Le Pew skunk like hairdo, he commands and devours the stage with his comedic brilliance. I wish though his character had more than one song, because Moye’s performance is so downright hysterical, you want even more of him on stage.
Jonathan Crombie just wins the audience’s heart with his hilarious, yet moving performance as the “Man in Chair”. Sadly he has no major solo, but he serves as our guide into the musical. Crombie’s sublime comedic delivery, timing, and pace is jaw dropping amazing from beginning to end. Even the throw away lines create loud laughter from his hypnotic performance. Throughout the evening he glides in and out within the musical providing comments, quips, and gossip revolving around the stars and the show-which result in ear splitting laughter. But then towards the end, he touches the heart with a soft, melancholy approach to musical theater in regards to his life. Crombie is outstanding in this tour.
My first exposure to Nancy Opel was in the Broadway production of URINETOWN. The production had its entire original cast still intact, but it had a very special and significant position in my life. For you see I saw it in November 2001, less than two months after that horrific tragedy we know as 9/11.
It was on a cold, rainy, and grey matinee that I attended along with a friend. The previous day we went down to where the World Trade Center once stood. It was overwhelming emotionally to say the least. So quiet.
URINETOWN opened on September 20th, the first musical to open since 9/11. They thought about postponing the opening because of the tragedy, but New York would not allow that. The show must go on. So when I saw it, this cast gave it their all, leaving the audience laughing from beginning to end. Ms. Opel portrayed “Pennywise”, and had me crossing my legs to prevent me from peeing on myself from laughing so hard because of her comedic riot of a performance. She would go on to earn a Tony nomination for this role.
So when I opened my program last night and saw Ms. Opel’s name, I felt a soft ache in my heart, and I quickly wiped a tear from my face so that my friend who came along did not see me. The emotions of actually seeing ground zero when it was still so fresh (the outer skeletal frame of one of the towers was still there) and watching Ms. Opel give such a great performance all came back to memory for me right then and there.Opel portrays the title role and walks-no- runs away with the show! She again brings to the table that magnificent comedic timing, delivery, and pace that radiates from her talents like blinding gold. She is one of those true talents that even when she is standing there, doing nothing but reacting, she still generates ear shattering laughter. The role requires her to be a grand diva of the stage, even though she brings her own liquor cabinet (fully stocked!). Her big solo “As We Stumble Along” is a sublime, comedic, tour de force gem that sparkles exquisitely thanks to this comic firestorm of a lady. Opel gets some of the loudest laughs of the night and rightfully so! She is superb from the second her bejeweled pump touches the stage boards.
If you work in musical theater or if you love musical theater-this glittery bauble of a musical was created just for you! You will be kicking yourself non-stop if you miss this spectacular touring production. It is fresh, exciting, hysterical, dazzling, and fillsyour heart with song and laughter.
The man in chair says something that is so, so, so true. Musicals that are full of color, song, and dance allow us to forget the world outside, if just for a brief two hours.We are in the midst of an ugly war, soaring gas prices, food is now costing more, airfares are through the roof, constant politics on the news, earthquakes, tornados, and so forth.
Take it from me: Go NOW to the Music Hall, buy a ticket for THE DROWSY CHAPERONE and let this dynamic company take you away from all that for two hours. Trust me; it is worth every dollar of that ticket!