Review: 'Goodspeed's 'The Drowsy Chaperone' Is The Great Escape
The show: The musical ‘The Drowsy Chaperone” at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam
First impressions: In the midst of torrential rains and torturous testimonies, this silly valentine to the long-ago world of quaint musical comedy is just the uplift we need in a production that is bright, sweet and satisfying.
You said “long-ago” world. Meaning…?: Before contemporary musicals became dark and deep and — yes, richer, they were a means to put vaudeville performers in classy shows, a vehicle for escapism, and just an excuse for a bunch of melodic songs and pretty costumes. (Think “No, No Nanette.”) These show are best remembered — and are kept alive — through their original cast recordings, treasured by musical fans. And there’s no one more reverential than the gentleman in this show known simply as “Man in Chair.”
What’s it about?: Man in Chair — divorced, isolated, rather pathetic really — lives a lonely and perhaps even alcoholic life in his sad little apartment. What pleasures he now has in life comes from listening to his Broadway albums. Tonight, he’s in the mood for this faux 1929 musical “The Drowsy Chaperone,” which literally comes alive in his apartment and transforms the place — and him — elevating this gentle man into the world — and safe haven — of musical comedy.
What’s ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ about?” Not much. It’s a silly frolic involving an upcoming wedding, a producer who wants the bride to return too the stage, a case of mistaken identity (several really), a daft hostess, a Spanish lover, a roller skating groom, a dim chorine, and a martini swilling chaperone.
Quite a gang: It’s just an excuse for some lovely tunes, smart staging and some swell performances. The pastiche songs are by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. But what’s really clever is the book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar.
In what way?: The Show Queen in Chair, I mean Man in Chair, is played with just the right amount of sweetness, pathos and joy by John Scherer, whose character actually enters the world of the show that has landed in his apartment through his imagination. (I did miss the cast entering through his refrigerator from previous productions. Having the characters enter from his bedroom and front door is just kind of creepy.)
But what keeps the slight fake period musical aloft are the Man’s asides about the show, commenting on the musical,, the state of the theater, hell, about life itself — particularly his not-so-great life. In the end, the audience shares his understanding of the need for such melodic Ativan.
The production is deftly staged by Hunter Foster, balancing the twee with some snap and post- modern winks, and allowing for just the right amount of ham. I especially liked Clyde Alves’ oblivious groom, Ruth Pferdehirt’s show biz bide, and a very funny John Rapson (who starred in the tour of “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder”) as the lothario. Jennifer Allen has the big belt needed for the Chaperone’s very funny anthems.
But oddly what delighted me most was the almost inconsequential roles of the two gangsters, played by real-life brothers, Blakely and Parker Slaybaugh. Their tandem performances captured the true zany — and almost surreal — spirit of these period shows . Also a nod to Gregg Barnes’ costumes which range from the Man’s sagging sweater (nice touch) to an Oriental fantasia. Chris Bailey choreographed the splashy numbers with pizazz.
But in the end it’s how we identify with the gentleman in the chair and here Scherer does honor to all of us who love musicals, making the case to cherish even the little imperfect nuggets for the joys that remain on the record and the flights of fancy it gives us. You might even wipe away a tear in the end.
Who will like it? Fans of old time musicals. Nostalgia buffs. Those with turntables
Who won’t?: Those looking for an edgier kind of musical.
For the kids?: If they sing along to “42nd Street,” yes. “Hamilton,” less likely. But even some of the Ham-fans might break into giggles at some of the scenery chewing and spit-takes.
Twitter review in 140 characters or less: The joys of musical comedy are de-constructed in this clever charmer of a show. It’s the perfect feel-good, escapist musical.
Thoughts on leaving the parking lot?: This show, in a way, is so right for the Goodspeed Opera House which built its reputation for pressenting — unearthing really — the “Princess musicals” of an earlier era. (They were a short-lived series of intimate musicals that played at New York’s Princess Theatre between 1915 and 1919.) .Shows like “Tip-Toes,” “The Five O’Clock Girl” and “Very Good Eddie” — all of which I saw at the Goodspeed Opera House — made Goodspeed Musicals what it is today. “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a sweet 21st Century nod to the theater’s beginnings, tipping its hat to this musicals while putting a modern twist to them at the same time
The basics: The show is currently in its long period of previews. The official opening is sometime next month. The show runs through Nov. 25. information at goodspeed.org .