The Drowsy Chaperone | Fox Theater

play_drowsy_sm.jpgMusical theater, he says, "takes you to another world, gives you a little tune to carry in your head, something to help you escape the horror of the dreary world, a little something when you feel, blue, you know?"

 

 

I love just about all Broadway musicals, but comedies are my by far my favorite. I was therefore tremendously interested to see The Drowsy Chaperone in its St. Louis debut, on its first national tour since sweeping the 2006 Tonys, winning more awards than any other musical on Broadway (not to mention seven Drama Desk awards, including Outstanding Musical).

I’ll admit that, walking into the Fabulous Fox Theater, I knew little about The Drowsy Chaperone, which bills itself as a "musical within a comedy," but I was excited nonetheless at the prospect of a night at the theater. Not only was I not disappointed, I was pleasantly surprised, as this was truly one of the most delightfully entertaining shows I have seen.

Chaperone is filled with my favorite kind of humor: sarcasm. It is witty, thoughtful and hilarious while simultaneously mocking and celebrating the history of musical theater itself. Its opening lines, delivered in complete darkness by a character known only as "Man in Chair" set the tone and the framework in which the audience will enjoy the madness shortly to ensue.

"I hate theater," the Man’s voice says. "You know what I do when I’m sitting in a darkened theater waiting for the curtain to rise? I pray. Dear God, please let it be a good show. And let it be short, oh Lord in heaven, please…"

play_drowsy.jpgAnd from that moment, we are drawn into this Man’s world—as he sits alone in his small, shabby city apartment, harkening back to the heyday of musical theater through his dusty record collection. The seemingly homosexual, obsessive musical theater fan (expertly played by Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie, reprising his Broadway role) listens to musicals from days gone by as an escape from his dreary life. When he pulls out his favorite recording of a 1928 Broadway musical called The Drowsy Chaperone, we escape with him as the story bursts to colorful life right in his living room.

This is where the genius of this little gem comes in. The audience experiences this overly acted, traditional screwball musical comedy (which on its own might seem intolerable) through the eyes of the dry and slightly crazy Man in Chair, who interjects his thoughts on the story, the characters, the 1920s "actors" playing the characters and musical theater in general throughout, creating a completely original framework in which to experience the show.

The story of The Drowsy Chaperone centers on the impending nuptials of self-centered, sexy follies showgirl Janet Van De Graaff (Andrea Chamberlain) and Robert Martin (Mark Ledbetter), an annoyingly innocent young man who swept her off her feet on a cruise ship, much to the dismay of her producer, Feldzieg (Cliff Bemis).

With an incredible supporting cast including Georgia Engel (of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Everybody Loves Raymond) reprising her Broadway roles as "Mrs. Tottendale, the hilarious Nancy Opel as "The Drowsy Chaperone," James Moye as "Adolpho," Marla Mindelle as "Kitty," brothers Peter and Paul Riopelle as the hilarious "Gangsters" and Robert Dorfman as the wonderful butler "Underling," they lead us through a predictable musical romp, all the while poking fun at the conventions of early theater. They also exhibit an amazing talent to stop/start and rewind the action at the whim of our narrator, who pauses the "show" frequently to interject or simply take a snack break.

While the music itself in this musical is less compelling and memorable than most (it’s more silly, a vehicle for laughs and mockery of the genre), it is forgivable in light of Crombie’s stellar performance as "Man in Chair." He is the true star of The Drowsy Chaperone with some of the best lines ever written for the Broadway stage. Crombie’s "Man" makes us laugh, makes us think and reminds us all the while why we’re here.

Musical theater, he says, "takes you to another world, gives you a little tune to carry in your head, something to help you escape the horror of the dreary world, a little something when you feel, blue, you know?" Yes, I do. Thanks for the trip. | Amy Burger

The Drowsy Chaperone runs through Nov. 11 at the Fox Theater. The show is performed without intermission. Curtain time: 8 p.m. Tues. – Fri; 2 & 8 p.m. Sat.; 2 p.m. Sun. There is also a weekday matinee on Thurs., Nov. 8 at 1 p.m.

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