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Subject: The Drowsy Chaperone

Written By: velvetoneo on 05/01/06 at 9:04 pm

Review: 1920s Musical Comedy Celebrated
AP Drama Critic

NEW YORK - If you want to get some idea of what it means to be over the moon for musical comedy, pay a visit to Broadway's Marquis Theatre, where a disarming, delightful souffle called "The Drowsy Chaperone," is making a strong case for song-and-dance obsession.
We are in the world of the true believer, in other words, a fan, a fellow simply called Man in Chair (portrayed by the engaging Bob Martin), who champions the world of musical theater.

"I just want a story and a few good songs that will take me away. I just want to be entertained. I mean, isn't that the point?" he says directly to the audience at the beginning of the evening.

Well, yes. And "The Drowsy Chaperone," delivers, not only as sparkling entertainment but, on another level, as a touching tribute to those often lonely folks out there in the dark who cheer on their favorite shows and stars.

In this case, the show within the show is called "The Drowsy Chaperone," a fictitious 1928 musical that comes to life when our cardigan-wearing narrator, sitting quietly in his dumpy apartment, lovingly puts the original-cast album on his record player.

One of things that makes this production so enjoyable is that it is unexpected. We haven't seen anything quite this original in a long time. "The Drowsy Chaperone," co-authored by Martin and Don McKellar, began life as a small fringe show in Toronto, gradually getting bigger before it was expanded for a production late last year in Los Angeles by the Center Theatre Group.

Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw must be a Broadway baby because he has captured the giddy (some might say silly) world of 1920s musical theater, a time before shows got serious and often self-important.

"Drowsy," which has music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, revels in the cliches of the era, its characters a parade of stock figures out of what theatergoers expected in those frivolous days before the Depression.

Its story is pure escapism. A theater star is getting married, much to the chagrin of her producer, who wants to stop the wedding. A slightly tipsy older woman - OK, now you know where the title comes from - is on guard to look after the young woman. Add, among others, the debonair bridegroom, his tap-dancing best man, two gangsters posing as pastry chefs, an over-the-top Italian matinee idol, a dotty wealthy woman, her supercilious butler, the producer's dimwitted girlfriend and an aviator and you pretty much have the whole cast.

Nicholaw has directed the show with affection, using performers who can sing, crack bad jokes and cope with his gloriously inventive choreography. In one absolutely dizzy production number, the stage star, played by Sutton Foster, decides she no longer wants to be a showoff on stage - and then precisely does just that.

Foster, brassy yet sweetly vulnerable at the same time, demonstrates why she is a complete musical-comedy performer, one who can do just about anything - including a one-handed cartwheel. Broadway-cured ham is delivered by Danny Burstein as that scenery-chewing Italian Lothario and Beth Leavel, as the musical's title character, a liquor-swilling queen of the slow-burning retort.

But then everyone gets their moment to shine, whether its Georgia Engel and Edward Hibbert doing a moldy vaudeville routine, leading man Troy Britton Johnson crooning a smooth ditty called "Accident Waiting to Happen" while roller-skating blindfolded or Eddie Korbich hoofing his way through a snappy tune called "Cold Feets," which is anything but frigid.

Even the look of the musical is fun. Designer David Gallo's drab apartment magically transforms into the perfect musical-comedy setting. And Gregg Barnes' costumes are not only gorgeous visually but witty as well.

While all this frivolity is going on, Man in Chair gleefully watches the proceedings. He sings along, mimes dance routines and occasionally gives us personal histories on some of the performers who starred in that 1928 production, including one whose unfortunate demise involved a couple of man-eating poodles (don't ask).

Man in Chair clearly loves what he is listening to. It takes him out of the dreary real world that occasionally intrudes on the show he is celebrating. He wants us to enjoy "The Drowsy Chaperone" as much as he does. You know what? We do.


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