The Drowsy Chaperone

26814982_10155410248071859_8992390018830785394_nCMU Drama’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone is a high-energy fun-filled spoof of American musicals from the 1920s. It was created initially as a performance piece in 1997 for the stag party of two actual Canadian actors, Bob Martin and Janet van de Graaff, and made its way to Broadway in 2006.

The show opens in darkness with a man, Man in Chair (Jordan Blake Plutzer), who discusses his love for musical theatre as well as his dislikes of the genre.  As the lights slowly come up, the man is seated in his chair. He is isolated but surrounded by bookshelves of cast recordings (vinyl of course) and small desk center stage. We have been invited in to listen to one of his favorite shows; the (fictional) 1928 hit The Drowsy Chaperone, a show that he dearly loves, and yet has never seen! As he drops the needle, the fully realized production unfolds before our eyes, in his tiny apartment.

The first number, in the best tradition of musical theatre, tells us all we need to know about the characters and the plot. Dashing oil tycoon Robert Martin (Kevin William Paul) and Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff (Kate Margalite) are getting married today. She is to give up her career and adoring fans for married life.  We meet Mrs. Tottendale (Megan Forester), the absent-minded aging hostess and her loyal butler known only as Underling (Eric Wiegand). Robert’s best man, George (Christian Strange) serves as the wedding planner. Broadway producer Feldzieg (Christopher J. Essex) hopes to persuade Janet to forgo marriage and continue starring in his Follies.  Ditzy flapper Kitty (Myha’la Herrold) hopes to take Janet’s place in the Follies and in Feldzieg’s heart.  As a bonus we are introduced to two gangsters disguised as pastry chefs Jimmy Brewer and Kyle Decker) they are insurance to convince Feldzieg to keep Janet in the Follies.  Janet’s alcoholic Chaperone (Chantelle Guido) is supposed to keep her away from Robert until the wedding. Self-proclaimed famed Latin lover Aldolpho (Chase Del Rey) and Trix (Jada Mayo), the aviatrix round out the cast.

As the album plays, Man in Chair frequently lifts the needle, which freezes the action and provides him the opportunity to express his opinions about the story, music, actors, and life in general as he slowly reveals his inner self to us.

28235463_10155517867886859_5259603412506615804_oIf you’re following along here, by now you are asking, how does this work? There is a Broadway Musical in his apartment? It is Theatre Magic my friends, and there is no better magician than Director / Choreographer Marcia Milgrom Dodge. Her credits read like a history of the top musicals at the best theatre companies from Broadway to Kennedy Center to regionals and universities. Set Designer Chen-Wei Liao places the man in the chair at the center of a stylistically painted record on the stage floor; the apartment portion occupies the label portion, the exact center of this imaginary universe. Liao design places the record label on a lift, creating a variety of environments for the “actors†to circulate the Man in Chair and for him to weave in and out of the imaginary action which explodes across the stage of CMU’s Phillip Chosky Theatre.

Part of what makes this production The Drowsy Chaperone so enjoyable, besides the sheer camp silliness of the musical is the way Dodge seamlessly integrates it all together. The pacing flows from scene to scene, number to number, but never drags.  (The Man in Chair comments on the similarity of the conventions of pornography to those of musical theatre, it’s all about holding your attention between the “production†numbers.)

The CMU students provide Dodge a great talent pool to work with, and she brings out the best of each of them along with assistance from veteran Musical Director Thomas W. Douglas. The voices are vibrant; the dance steps sophisticated and well executed. The characters, correct to the period, are zany, almost slapstick in nature. The actors comedic timing consistently hits its mark. There are extra funny bits from the two Pastry Chefs and the confused Adolpho. Paul’s Robert Martin is the smiling not-too-bright super-star actor we all know. Forster’s semi-senile Mrs. Tottendale’s expressions pair well with the exasperated comic straight man Underling. Margalite’s Janet has those unbelievable leg extensions required of every Broadway leading lady along with an excellent voice for good measure.

Gina Cercone’s Costume Design authentically captures the sophistication of the 20’s while offsetting Man in Chair’s pajama-clad quirky character.

Yiran Zhang’s Sound Design is sublime and never overpowers. Thomas W. Douglas’ thirteen-piece orchestra envelops the voices without overwhelming them.

CMU’s The Drowsy Chaperone is pure entertainment taking “you to another world, and it gives you a little tune to carry in your head for when you’re feeling blue…â€

The Drowsy Chaperone at Purnell Center of the Arts, Carnegie Mellon University with Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar. Directed and Choreographed by Marcia Milgrom Dodge.  Performances run February 22nd to March 3rd. For tickets visit http://drama.cmu.edu/box-office/drowsy-chaperone/

Thanks to CMU Drama for the complimentary tickets.

Photo by YIjun Yang

Categories: Archived Reviews

Tags: , , , ,