New York City Theater
"The Drowsy Chaperone"
“The Drowsy Chaperone,” a reminder of 20s shows (and spoofs of same like “The Boy Friend”), is so cheerful, sunny and eager to please that you may as well park any objections in the outer lobby.
First conceived as a wedding gift for Canada’s Bob Martin, who became the show’s lead and co-librettist (with Don McKellar), “Chaperone” became something else over time. The writers put a frame around it, giving it a back story.
Martin plays a modern-day musical comedy devotee whose only companions are recordings of old shows. “I hate theater,” he says before putting on a recording of one of his favorites. “It’s so disappointing, isn’t it? I just want to be entertained. Isn’t that enough?”
And so he is. And so are we as his apartment is transformed into the glitzy glamour of the Porter/Kern/Gershwin era. His refrigerator door opens to reveal an ecstatic cast in dazzling costumes who perform a plot so well-worn even moths would shun it. Mixups, mayhem, gangsters, lovers, butlers, rich dames and fun abound.
Like all who wallow in show music, Martin – or Man in Chair, as he’s identified – longs to be part of the action he so gleefully envisions. Kvelling at every song, chortling at every joke no matter how corny (“Have you ever spent time in a coma?” “No, but I have a cousin in Seattle”), racing his feet at every toe-tap, Man in Chair is our Everyman, our guide.
The score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison is hardly memorable, but gives each actor a chance to shine. “Show Off” is a show-stopper for the indefatigable Sutton Foster, playing a star who could be prevented from performing only by death or dismemberment. “I Am Adolpho” is a hilarious tango for Beth Leavel as the drunken chaperone and Danny Burstein as her exaggerated Latin lover, while “Lovely is Always Lovely in the End” is an ersatz love song for Georgia Engel as the dotty Mrs. Tottendale and Edward Hibbert as the daffily named Underling.
Although it runs out of steam in the second half, “Chaperone” is geared to giving the audience as much fun as the wonderful Martin seems to be having. Smashingly designed (Gregg Barnes’ costumes are alone worth the evening) and dynamically directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, the show is a tonic.
-- David Rosenberg
May 6, 2006