Maren Gosman & Greg Collier. Photo: Theatreworks of SOIN
The Drowsy Chaperone
Music & Lyrics by Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison
Book by Bob Martin & Don McKellar
Directed by Georgette Kleier
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents are copyright © 2019, by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
The Drowsy Chaperone allows you to have your cake and eat it too. It is both a satire of the hoary clichés of vintage musicals and an affectionate love letter to the escapism of such shows. It traffics in fourth-wall shattering modernism while indulging in broadly staged musical numbers that evoke Busby Berkley.
An unnamed narrator sits next to an old-school cabinet stereo record player. The Man In Chair (Greg Collier), explains his love for his vinyl collection of original Broadway scores by guiding us through his all-time favorite, The Drowsy Chaperone, a tale of the complications in the pending marriage between famous actress Janet van der Graff (Maren Grossman) and Robert Martin (Alex Roby), which include her producer, Feldzig (Mark Merk) being braced by two Gangsters (Neil Brewer & Riley Crapo) over gambling debts to stop Janet’s marriage so she can star in his next show.
Janet’s Chaperone (Carrie Chastain) is a boozy Grande dame who is full of sarcastic quips. The outrageous Adolpho (Max Gosman) arrives to tempt Janet and…do I need to go on? The whole thing is whipped into a frothy mélange of vaudeville, slapstick, stellar singing, and dancing that is pure and delightful silliness.
Except that there is an undercurrent of loneliness and despair in the Man In Chair that lends the soufflé a tart edge. It makes sense of his appetite for fantasy but is rather understated in the overall tone of the show. The Man engages freely with the audience, becoming our surrogate in a nostalgic reverie. Is Drowsy Chaperone about vintage musical theatre or is it about the American culture’s dependency on escapism?
Greg Collier and Carrie Chastain have played their roles before, and they are looser and more relaxed than ever. Mr. Collier’s work here almost feels like improvisation, especially the give and take with the audience, while Ms. Chastain has further sharpened her delivery on the barbed wit of her character. Although this is a new production, the confidence with which they handle these characters reflects a longer relationship with the material.
Maren Grossman is a winning Janet, with the requisite wide-eyed innocence and calculation. Her rendition of “Show Off” hits all the right notes and her voice was a well-disciplined instrument. Even if she doesn’t quite match Ms. Chastain’s vocal power, she has the character down.
The role of Adolpho demands that Max Gosman is a show-off, an unapologetic dandy trapped in his own vanity and peacock Casanova image. It’s an invitation to overplay but Mr. Gosman holds himself in check while still earning every laugh.
Alex Roby gleefully embraces the Ken-doll leading man framing of Robert and upholds the ingenue’s sense of humor of the bridegroom, and newcomer Deja Hatchett makes a good impression singing in her brief turn as Trix the Aviatrix.
And while I don’t fault any of the capable ensemble members, I found Caitlin Clemons’ take of the dim-witted blonde chorine Kitty to be sharply and joyfully realized. Kitty is a bundle of cliché but Ms. Clemons knows exactly how to find the most fun in her.
There is a fair amount of dancing, and choreographer Sara Drake Budd nicely builds traditional steps to reflect the period, which means everyone has to hoof with big, teeth-baring smiles.
I heard someone in the audience describe The Drowsy Chaperone as “enjoyable…but silly” which is not inaccurate, but I place a lot of value in silliness. It is an underrated descriptive that can be fairly applied to a great many “great” works of theatre. I think this show is the best kind of silly, and Georgette Kleier’s direction succeeds in bringing it out in full force.
Featuring Greg Collier, Sharon Grabowski, William Strauss, Carrie Chastain, Mark Merk, Deja Hatchett, Alex Roby, Maren Gosman, Max Gosman, Jason Effinger, Caitlin Clemons, Neil Brewer, Riley Crapo, Jody Held, Peighton Radlein, Anna Rogers, Brittani Shafer, & Kiersten Vinyard.
The Drowsy Chaperone
September 25 – 28 , October 2 – 5 @ 7:30 pm
September 29 & October 6 @ 2:00 pm
TheatreWorks of Southern Indiana
203 E. Main Street
New Albany, In 47150
Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, where he is Managing Editor of their Artebella blog, and host of LVA’s Artebella On The Radio on WXOX-FM 97.1/ ARTxFM.com. But spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.