Sometimes a touring company production of a Broadway play can be a hit or miss proposition. The NETworks production of “The Drowsy Chaperone” hit the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts main theater stage and never missed a step or punch line the entire evening. A precision production of rat-ta-tat execution, this show steamrolled over the audience and they loved it.
The set-up is that a Man in Chair talks directly to the audience and “plays” for them his favorite Broadway cast album of the 1920’s musical “The Drowsy Chaperone.”
As he drops the needle on the record player, his New York apartment comes alive as this musical spills out of his imagination and his refrigerator. It is a unique format for a unique musical.
In actuality this was an all-new musical play, sweeping the 2006 Tony Awards, done in the spirit of a ditsy, breezy 1920’s musical. The show could be considered as an antidote to what the modern Broadway musical has become in the hands of such luminaries as Stephen Sondheim. “The Drowsy Chaperone” harkens back to a time when a musical did nothing more than entertain and entertain well.
Certainly this cast fulfilled that mission on Sunday, March 1, 2009 as a part of the SOPAA 2008-2009 season. Everyone in the cast rose to the occasion and sang, dances and mugged their way into the hearts of the audience. At curtain call it was hard to tell who received the largest response. However it seems notable that the largest hand in a musical was reserved for the character who did not sing or dance (really). John West’s portrayal of the Man in Chair was on stage for the whole two hours and was both laugh out loud funny but could also be heart-tuggingly sad in the space of a punchline. The entire show rests on this character’s shoulders and West’s shoulders were indeed broad enough.
Other notables in this gentle spoof of a musical include the clear and resonant voice of Elizabeth Pawlowski as soon-to-married Broadway star Janet Van De Graff. Her solo, “I Don’t Want to Show Off No More,” is funny as the timing of the song and dance must be on spot. Also Leigh Wakeford as the groom Robert Martin, is noted for being able to sing and dance on roller skates. Didn’t miss a step or note as he rolled around the set in tight circles displaying his precision gracelessness.
The depth of talent in this cast was on display when the convention of the play as a record was used to comic effect, such as a stuck needle or an immediate lifting of the needle and everyone would freeze in place and resume on note. It was remarkable.
Even if the show professed to eschew a message, it did remind of us that to go to the theater is a magical experience. Especially when in the hands of magical performers. The only thing left to be said after “The Drowsy Chaperone” is to wish for a revival of “No, No, Nannette.”
The SOPAA season continues with the classical guitar performances of The Romeros on Tuesday, March 24th at 7:30 PM followed on April 7th by the stage production of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Good seats are still available from the McKinley Box Office and Ticker Master.