Carrie Chastain & Valerie Canon in The Drowsy Chaperone. Photo courtesy Clarksville Little Theatre.
The Drowsy Chaperone
Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar
Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison
Directed by Janet Morris
Review by J. Barrett Cooper
Entire contents copyright © 2017 J. Barrett Cooper. All rights reserved.
Friday night at the Clarksville Little Theatre, a small but vocal audience was treated to two hours of merry and romantic mayhem, performed by a game cast that was a mixture of competent, but eager, to out-and-out fantastic.
The Drowsy Chaperone opened on Broadway in 2006. The book is by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. It is at once a parody of the 1920’s musical comedy and homage to everything musical theatre.
The story, in a nutshell, is a show-within-a-show that takes place in the dingy apartment of the reclusive and nebbishy “Man in Chair” (Greg Collier), who is our narrator for this evening. He sits alone trying to chase away his “blues” with old Musical Theatre albums (yes ‘albums’) of which “The Drowsy Chaperone” is his favorite. He has every facet of it memorized; every song and dance number, every character, and every bio of the actors from the “original” cast recording! He can tell you other films and theatre pieces they’ve done and their personal history. He worships this musical. Mr. Collier is physically and vocally perfect for this role and although there were a few line bobbles due to opening night jitters maybe, he proved to be a splendid host for what ensued.
As he puts the needle on the album and the music begins, the story comes to life right there in his apartment, with characters being introduced in the first number, “Fancy Dress,” and setting up the story we’re going to see: a rich oil tycoon Robert Martin (a capably vacuous John Riley Billings) is getting married to a popular, beautiful showgirl, Janet Van de Graaff (played by the illuminating Valerie Canon). A host of characters are coming to the wedding: Mrs. Tottendale (a flighty Carol Dines). Her butler Underling (a stolid and solid Jeff Magnum), who takes the brunt of a “spit-take” scene that, for those who enjoy, as this reviewer does – cheap laughs, will get their fill! Mr. Feldzig, (a well-cast Jason Potts) the theatre owner and producer who does not want to lose his star to marriage (note his name, Feldzig= Ziegfeld), and his quintessential dumb blonde flapper girlfriend and up and coming chorus girl Kitty (a splendid Bridget Renee Harrington), two Gangsters posing as pastry chefs (humorously played with gusto by Dustin Behr and Holden Craig), the best man George, (the amiable Paul Stiller) who, with strings tied to his fingers, plans the wedding and looks after the groom. There is, for good measure, an Aviatrix named, Trix (Jess Harris Stiller) who we will meet later, much later in the show.
And then…well then…we have two characters who really get this party and show started. The titular Drowsy Chaperone (Carrie Chastain), a care-free, hard drinking confidant to the aforementioned showgirl-bride-to-be Janet. Charged with looking after Janet, she spends the evening downing Gibsons, and not necessarily doing a good job of chaperoning. At one point, she actually sends Janet to look for Robert, because she wants to lie down because she’s “drowsy”. The ensuing scene is one that I won’t forget for quite some time. Adolpho (a shameless, physically gifted comic performance by Jeff Ketterman), a famous Latin lover of stage and screen that has been hired by Mr. Feldzig to ‘make love’ to the bride in order to break up the marriage, arrives in the room, and mistakes the Drowsy Chaperone for the bride. “I Am Adolpho” is one of the most entertaining numbers I’ve seen in years. This bizarre wooing scene between Adolpho and the Chaperone, is a showstopper. Ms. Chastain’s’ dynamic voice and strong presence and Mr. Ketterman’s timing and ability to play every last movement and moment to the hilt, is a masterclass in physical comedy. These are two performances that won’t be forgotten for quite some time and quite literally are worth the price of a ticket.
The main characters are supported by a solid ensemble of actors/singers/dancers, who bring a nice radiance to the Company numbers: Mary Stuart Price, Shelby Gray, Katie Kinman, Olivia Martin, Sam Couch.
The show is a beautiful homage to everything musical theatre. And being a Romantic Comedy, ends happily with not one wedding, but four!! The tunes are easy on the ears. Most notable are: “Show Off,” performed by radiantly by Ms. Canon & Company, executing what seems like a thousand costume changes. Ms. Chastain handles with great aplomb, “As We Stumble Along,” a ditty about alcoholism. “Toledo Surprise,” by the comedy duo of Mr. Behr and Mr. Craig, with the help of good strong voices of Mr. Potts, Ms. Harrington, and Ms. Dines, is a lot of fun. “Love is Always Lovely In The End,” performed by Ms. Dines and Mr. Mangum, is syrupy sweet, until you look at the subtext! And then we have Trix, the Aviatrix (a strong voiced Jess Harris Stiller), the Deus-ex-Machina of the show, who sings “I Do, I Do In The Sky”. The top of Act II begins with “Message From A Nightingale,” and although I prefer not to give anything away, is one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long, long time. Ms. Harrington really shines in this number, supported by Ms. Chastain and Mr. Ketterman.
The book is as clever and as well written as anything that’s come along in years, harkening back to the team of Burt Shevelove and Larry Gelbart. The use of vaudeville rhythms and puns with some visual gags with blindfolds, roller skates, rolling pins, an airplane, a murphy bed that comes in and out with ease, had me almost in the aisles. At one point I laughed so hard, my jaw popped. Take that as a compliment.
Janet Morris directs this cast so well that her hand could not be seen anywhere. Effortless and well done. Choreographer Sara Drake Budd leads her cast admirably through numbers, using their talents to great effect, notably Ms. Canon, in a graceful ballet turn with Mr. Billings on roller skates (“Accident Waiting To Happen”) and Ms. Harrington in “Toledo Surprise” The small combo was led by Musical Director Doug Jones.
As The Man in Chair tells us, sometimes theatre is just meant to entertain, and musical theatre of the old days with popular music can do that. It is simple and pleasant and takes our minds off of the troubles at hand. Pure escape.
The Drowsy Chaperone
May 12, 13, 14, 19, 20 at 8:00pm
May 21 at 2:00pm.
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E. Montgomery Avenue
J. Barrett Cooper is an actor, director, instructor, and fight director. In Louisville, he has worked for Actor’s Theatre, Kentucky Opera, Kentucky Shakespeare, Bunbury Theatre, Walden Theatre among other, and was the Founding Producing Artistic Director of Savage Rose Classical Theatre Company.