The Drowsy Chaperone makes Stages St. Louis’ 2016 30th Diamond Anniversary season three for three in the hits department.
For its 30th Diamond Anniversary, Stages St. Louis brings back a St. Louis favorite, The Drowsy Chaperone. The last time the company staged the show, in 2009, it garnered 11 Kevin Kline Award nominations earning five wins. 2016’s production re-creates the sparkle, the laughs, and most of all the outstanding charm of the 2009 production.
Paying homage to the big campy musicals of the ‘20s, The Drowsy Chaperone is a show within a show. The main lead of the show, called Man In Chair, guides the audience through one of his favorite Broadway shows, The Drowsy Chaperone. As he dusts off his LP, he laments about the long gone days of legendary musical theatre. As the soundtrack plays, characters from the show are introduced as Man In Chair fills the audience in on trivia about the characters and the show. There is the starlet, Janet Van de Graff, her fiancé (the token leading man) Robert, wealthy widow Mrs. Tottendale and her servant called Underling, the Latin lover, Aldolpho, producer Mr. Feldzieg and his ingénue, Kitty, a couple of menacing gangsters; and of course the Chaperone herself who is drowsy from all her drinking.
As you can tell by the list of colorful characters, the show’s story is larger than life. Combine that with a magnificent list of show tunes—each one deserving the title of showstopper—and The Drowsy Chaperone is a show that will keep you laughing and humming along.
I will get to the performances in a moment, but this score deserves a moment to shine. The production numbers are all highly spirited, colorful, and ebullient. From the narcissistic “Show Off” in which Janet gets one of her moment to shine; to the Chaperone’s campy, “As We Stumble Along” to the side-splitting “I Am Aldolpho” every song in this production is flawless. The list goes on and on. “Toledo Surprise” is an ensemble achievement, “Bride’s Lament” is ingenious, and “Accident Waiting To Happen” is a sight to be seen. Bravo to the cast and musical director Lisa Campbell Albert for creating such a musical masterpiece.
Now onto the performances—where to start? Pick one, any one, of the performances and I can say nothing but fantastic things about this ensemble cast. Ryan Alexander Jacobs and Austin Glen Jacobs were hilarious as the gangsters. Their comedic timing was absolutely delicious. Steve Isom, as Mr. Feldzieg, was his usual comedic genius, and Dana Winkle in the role of Kitty keeps the crowd in stitches with her dumb blonde “act.”
As Mrs. Tottendale, Kari Ely turned in another flawless comedic performance, and as her Underling, John Flack stole the show with his nuanced facial expressions and expert ability to land a joke. Andrew Fitch, as Robert, was every inch of the dashing leading man he needed to be as he skated his way into the audience’s heart.
Edward Juvier—reprising his role from the 2009 production—as Aldolpho, was brilliant. Being funny is hard. Being sexy is hard. But being sexy while being funny is a masterful skill that Juvier does with great success. This talented actor is a theatrical force to be reckoned with and this performance should earn him a statue for his mantle.
In the title role, Corinne Melançon gave a wickedly hilarious performance as The Drowsy Chaperone. This talented actress is the definition of triple-threat as she excelled in acting, dancing, and singing—most of the time while holding her martini glass and never spilling a drop. Her rendition of “As We Stumble Along” will stay with me for some time, a theatrical moment I will treasure.
Laura E. Taylor as Janet Van de Graff sizzled in each of her performances. Her performance as the wide-eyed, deceptively naive starlet was simply magnificent. Her vocal performances on “Show Off” and “Bride’s Lament” were remarkable. She lit up the stage each time she flashed that million-watt smile. I also appreciated her ability to work seamlessly with the ensemble. She is clearly one of the stars of the show, but she knew when to turn it on and when to blend into the background—a virtue of a truly talented actor.
Let me give you actors all a bit of advice: If you are going into an audition for the role of Man In Chair and David Schmittou walks in, just leave. Nathan Lane was born to play Max Bialystock, Idina Menzel was born to play Elphaba, and David Schmittou was born to play Man In Chair. Schmittou was brilliant in the 2009 production and is equally as brilliant in this production. The role fits him like a glove as he shines in every aspect of his performance. While it is easy to appreciate his dancing and singing, I thoroughly enjoyed his ability to just sit in his chair and marvel at the production as it happened in his brownstone. His joy and exuberance in every line he delivers is the highlight of the show. Schmittou’s performance is one for the theatrical history books and deserves every accolade he receives.
Congratulations to Director Michael Hamilton and his entire technical team for creating such a fun world for the actors to shine. Both sides of the company worked in seamless tandem to create a truly memorable production. Special congratulations to costume designer Brad Musgrove. I am a sucker for the small details and yours were fabulous. Any man that can make me want to wear spats again deserves special recognition.
The Drowsy Chaperone makes Stages St. Louis’ 2016 30th Diamond Anniversary season three for three in the hits department. Be sure to reserve your tickets for this one folks. This show is one not to be missed. Truly a spectacle of epic proportions, The Drowsy Chaperone is the (air-conditioned) hit of the summer. Can Stages make it four for four with Sister Act in October? That remains to be seen, but if these first three shows are any indication, Stages St. Louis 2016 season is shining bright like a diamond. | Jim Ryan
Photos: Peter Wochniak, ProphotoStl.com
The Drowsy Chaperone runs through August 21. For ticket information, visit http://www.stagesstlouis.org/.