The Drowsy Chaperone is such a fluff-filled piece of theatre, if it were an object of tangibility, it would simply collapse into a pool of bubbles, sunlight and rainbows. You have the glamorous stage actress giving it all up for marriage, a drunk (read: drowsy) chaperone whose only job is to ensure the bride-to-be doesn’t see her husband until wedding day, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, and a host of colorful supporting characters, complimented by a spit-take or five.
What I’m describing above is actually the musical-within-the-musical that resides within the 2006 Broadway hit by Bob Martin and Don McKellar (book), and Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison (music and lyrics, respectively).
For those unfamiliar with the show, The Drowsy Chaperone is the name of a fictional 1928 musical comedy. Our guide for the evening, known appropriately as “Man in Chair,” giddily shares the show’s cast album (an LP!) with us — his absolute favorite. The recording comes to life before our eyes in his Manhattan apartment, and he pauses the recording intermittently to give us witty back story on the actors. (In reference to one loopy character actress in the show, he quips: “She was actually as dumb as the characters she played onstage. In fact, the stage is the only place one can make a decent living being dumb.”)
Really, the backbone of this show is Man in Chair. He’s a bit of a homebody recluse who lives in his musical theatre fantasy land to escape the cold, harsh reality of everyday life. I think we all have a bit of Man in Chair in us. I know I do: there are times just want to hole up and pretend the world is one giant musical comedy. James Harms does a wonderful job capturing Man in Chair’s endearing personality, filling it with joy and a touch of melancholy and fragility. It’s a wonderful performance.
In the musical-within-a-musical, the cast is filled with amazing talent. Most notably, we have Tari Kelly as Janet, the star who’s giving it all up for love, and her drowsy chaperone, played by the absolutely fantastic Linda Balgord. These two pros know exactly what they’re doing and just the right approach to stretch the campy material as far as it will go before reaching the breaking point. The rest of the Equity-filled cast propels the zany action along nicely.
There are a few core problems, however. The show’s concept is difficult to wrap one’s head around. There were many people around me (a Sunday matinée crowd) who were confused as to why the show was being interrupted by this guy narrating it — they just wanted to see the singing and dancing (I could hear the mumblings around me at intermission). And forget about the underhanded quips by Man in Chair insinuating his closeted sexuality — those comments which I’m sure were met with hearty laughs in NYC flew over our audience’s head.
Also, Marc Robin does all he can to make an in-the-round staging make sense for a show that celebrates classic, proscenium-framed theatre. However, the show never really takes off like you want it to. It also doesn’t help when Man in the Chair talks about how he loathes shows that have actors in the aisles and abhors intermissions — both of which are in this production. (The actors in the aisles I can forgive due to staging challenges inherent with in-the-round; the added intermission is unnecessary).
It’s a fun, frothy production with a delightful cast, but I didn’t leave tapping my toes like I’m sure Man in Chair wanted me to.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” plays through June 27 at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire, Ill. More information here>