THE DROWSY CHAPERONE a ditzy, glitzy mega hit at Goodspeed Musicals
By Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Critics On The Aisle
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, winner of 5 Tony Awards, is treating theatergoers to mayhem and hilarity on the Goodspeed stage in East Haddam, CT through November 25 – giving you just enough time (to indulge yourself and everyone you know who needs a good laugh) to see this rambunctious romp.
With unbridled merriment, corny but funny gags, delightfully delicious wacky songs (music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) and sprightly explosive dances (choreographed by Chris Bailey), Goodspeed Musicals proves, as it always does, that “there’s no business like show business.” (No, that song is not in the current show!)
Spoofing the inane Broadway musicals of the 20’s and 30’s, a rumpled narrator sits by his record player in his sparse apartment. Known only as “Man in Chair”, he gives the audience highlights of his favorite old original cast album, the fictitious tune-filled vintage musical THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. The cast suddenly comes to life in his living room as he explains the silly plot and ditzy characters while they sing, dance, pratfall and recreate the high-spirited general ridiculousness of the story.
John Scherer* immediately clicks with the audience as Man in Chair, and his unapologetic enthusiasm for the album he’s playing is delightfully infectious. With his exuberant body language, expressive eyes and direct address, Mr. Sherer creates the illusion that he’s talking to only you, while he gleefully interrupts several show-stopping production numbers to let you in on some gossipy nuances of the paper-thin plot or to name some old-time obscure ukulele-playing actress. His ebullient energy and brilliant comedic timing will have you laughing-out-loud.
This is a musical comedy fan’s musical. It’s a light-as-a-feather inane story which Man in Chair explains in gleeful detail: There’s going to be a wedding in a country house. The hostess, Mrs. Tottendale, a dithering matron, is comically underplayed with an eternally startled expression by delightful Ruth Gottschall*. Her long-suffering butler, Underling, (played with snooty elegance by Jay Aubrey Jones) shows utter distain for his mistress, but she takes no notice. The future groom, Robert Martin, is a vapid young man with a sparkling toothy smile. Clyde Alves* plays this part in tandem with his best man, George (Tim Falter*). These two actors shine in a brilliant tap dance number “Cold Feets” that brings down the house. Later, Mr. Alves roller skates blindfolded with great skill. He’s “An Accident Waiting To Happen.”
The not-too-nervous bride, Janet Van de Graaff, star of a Ziegfeld-style show, is retiring from show-biz once she’s married. Stephanie Rothenberg* as Janet has a big lustrously clear Broadway voice which can be heard as far away as Hartford. Her magnificent notes in “Show Off” and “Bride’s Lament” exemplify her range as both a singer and a razor-sharp comedienne.
Tasked with watching out for the bride and keeping her away from the groom on the wedding day is the Drowsy Chaperone herself, played to perfection in a vodka-soaked, slightly-slurred caricature by Jennifer Allen*. The chaperone is a martini-loving fading star famed for her anthems and expresses her crazily positive attitude about life in “As We Stumble Along” – which is a musical toast to brightly showcase Ms. Allen’s tremendous talent.
In an uproariously predictable mistaken-identity moment, John Rapson* as the smarmy European lover, Adolpho, seduces the all-too-willing Chaperone. Mr. Rapson’s outrageous scene-chewing physical comedy combined with his basso voice, euro-trash accent, and screeching pronunciation of his name makes his performance a standout.
Looking to step into Janet’s onstage shoes is the vapid showgirl Kitty. Devoid of any semblance of a brain, Kitty epitomizes the ‘dumb blonde.’ Played with wide-eyed lunacy by Ruth Pferdehirt, her big number is “Toledo Surprise” in which she is accompanied by The Gangsters, Producer Feldzieg, and the company.
The gangsters? The producer? Where did they come from? More mayhem ensues. Real-life brothers, Blakely Slaybaugh* and Parker Slaybaugh* are outrageously menacing as the tough-as-jello Small brothers – small time thugs disguised as pastry chefs, sent by the mob to make sure the wedding does not take place. These two comedic talents, with their synchronized dialogue and dead-pan expressions, steal every scene in which they appear. If you met them in a dark alley at midnight, you’d laugh.
James Judy* as Feldzieg (a Ziegfeld clone) seems to be having such a good time as the exasperated producer that he’s not even put off by the gangster’s threats. His voice booms, as all producers boom in these Jazz-age musicals, and kowtows to the whining, demanding Kitty, his wannabe star and lady love.
After briefly introducing the character of Trix, the Aviatrix, in the opening scene, Danielle Lee Greaves* reappears, thankfully, in the final big number “I Do, I Do In The Sky.” This song not only gives Ms. Greaves the spotlight she so well deserves for her resonant voice but spotlights her outstanding stage presence in a homage to the wacky movie, Flying Down to Rio. The rousing finale/curtain call is a magnum of the finest champagne-popping chorus numbers. The “Wedding Bells”, “Stumble Along” pastiche tops an all-too-short two-hour romp of sheer fun.
Throughout THE DROWSY CHAPERONE four talented ensemble performers appear in every production number: Abby Church*, Brian Thomas Hunt*(Dance Captain), Evan Meyer*(who also plays the tough building superintendent) and Gabi Stapula*. The Swings Hallie Brevetti and James Spencer Dean are waiting in the wings for their chances to bounce onstage. Well-deserved cheers and applause to all these talented up-and-comers.
The exquisite costumes by Gregg Barnes are a joy to behold (he’s the 2006 Tony Award winner for the Broadway costume design of The DROWSY CHAPERONE). The Chaperone and Janet are always bedecked in elegant wraps and gowns. Kitty’s brilliant turquoise frock is partnered with shoes worthy of Manolo Blahnik. Trix looks stunning in her magnificent bright white flying machine bespoke uniform. The Chinese Emperors’ robes and headdress, and the outfits of his “oriental” court are stunning. (You’ll have to see it to believe it.) Mark Allen Rampmeyer has done it again with his wig and hair design – Kitty’s blonde locks, Janet’s brunette bob and Mrs.Tottendale’s outrageous big red hair are outshone only by Adolpho’s lothario white streak and mile high wave.
Some of the most imaginative scenic design in a Goodspeed musical has been created by Howard Jones in this, his 9th Goodspeed show. The drab apartment is transformed into an awninged poolside terrace; an elegant garden; a Chinese palace; bridal bedrooms and mansion hallways – all in an instant.
Directed with breezy fast-paced skill by Hunter Foster (with his associate Greg Santos), and enhanced by Chris Bailey’s inspired Charleston-era choreography (with his associate Beth Crandall), The DROWSY CHAPERONE is a roller-coaster ride of laughs. Its naughty, bawdy and sometimes blatantly irreverent stereotypical depiction of gender, race and nationality is totally disrespectful but somehow, isn’t offensive. As described to us by one theater professional “….the humor is outrageous. It goes right up to the line but doesn’t cross it.” Mr. Foster’s directorial expertise will continue with Goodspeed in the upcoming 2019 season.
A musical candy box of lively songs, the 2006 Tony-Award winning Best Musical Score is conducted by resident musical director (27 seasons!) Michael O’Flaherty. Assisted by William J. Thomas and orchestrated by Dan Delage, the superb orchestra (with alternates) employs up to 18 fantastic musicians.
Kirk Bookman’s lighting brings colorful splashes and brightness to this sunny production. Jay Hilton’s sound is once again designed to let the anthems and full company numbers make the rafters ring. Getting the cast and all the scenery, props, monkeys, gorillas and pedestals on and off the stage in record time without any “stage waits” are Bradley G. Spachman* Production Stage Manager; Naomi Anhorn* Assistant Stage Manager; and Production Manager Erica Gilroy. Hard working but oft overlooked General Manager Rachel J. Tischler sees to it that all audience members are out of the theater bar and back in their seats before the second act!
There aren’t enough accolades to award to this cast. The astute eye of Paul Hardt of Stewart/Whitley Casting chose the perfect person for each role. How refreshing that this team of “wedding guests” are perfectly wedded to this musical.
Executive Director Michael Gennaro and Producer Donna Lynn Cooper Hilton have given audiences the gift of fun…in these otherwise troubled times. Sit back, relax, get ready for a whirlwind ride, a wild wedding, a nutty party, and a laugh-a-minute escape from reality. Even the intermission is funny!
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE runs through November 25, 2018. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.). Tickets are available through the Box Office (860) 873-8668) open seven days a week, or online at goodspeed.org. Goodspeed is on Facebook, Twitter @goodspeedmusicl, Instagram and YouTube.
*indicates Member of Actors’ Equity Association