Thursday, February 10, 2011

THEATER: The Drowsy Chaperone

Photo/Bella Muccari
Robert Martin (Eric Weaver) is marrying Janet Van De Graaff (Whitney Branan), and it's the task of his best man, George (Colin Pritchard, doing a great Roger Bart), and her chaperone (Lorinne Lampert) to make sure that the two don't see one another before the ceremony. "That's it," announces Man-in-Chair (Craig Treubert). "That's the plot." That, in itself, would be humorous enough, as Greg Morrison and Lisa Lambert have nailed the jazzy numbers of the era they're paying homage to, and Bob Martin and Don McKellar have laced the script with enough puns and over-the-top characters to bowl anyone over. But that's only the plot of the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, which Man-in-Chair is listening to on his record player. The meatier "plot," which makes this a must-see for musical lovers -- even those who saw this five years ago on Broadway -- is the infectious way in which these simple tunes can uplift and potentially change the life of the listener. It's a romance -- as musicals tend to be -- but one that's between the musical and the audience, an entertaining clarification of the transporting love we hold for theater in the first place.

I missed the Broadway version, but given the imaginative nature of The Drowsy Chaperone, it translates well to the Gallery Players stage. Despite the lower budget, or perhaps because of it, director Hans Freidrichs embraces the cheesiness of some of his "spectacles" -- like the onstage airplane of "I Do, I Do in the Sky" or the synchronized swimming in "Show Off" -- and succeeds in making them all the more endearing. (The one exception is the off-stage orchestra, which, unfortunately, cannot leave its gaps up to the imagination.) Treubert, who played this role in the national tour, also aids in the off-off-Broadway translation: his meta-commentary, often delivered while perched giddily atop his chair or while dancing along, sweetly embraces even the foibles -- like an overly long spit-take scene that he abbreviates. In other words, by the design of the book, things go right even when they go wrong -- like when the record skips during "Toledo Surprise," causing the cast to repeat themselves, or when Man-in-Chair accidentally plays the opening number from a different musical during a disc change ("Message from a Nightingale"), taking the opportunity to remark on the limited range of some of its stars.

During a rendition of "Bride's Lament," in which De Graaff has a mini-breakdown that involves the ensemble wearing monkey masks with her face on the reverse, Man-in-Chair urges us to look past the absurd lyrics and to the heart underneath. This is the crux of The Drowsy Chaperone: it's a reminder that if you allow yourself to be entertained, there's no telling where you'll end up, or what significance you'll find in even the most cloying numbers. In that light, the vaudevillian gangsters (Aaron J. Libby and Trey Mitchell), in disguise as pastry chefs -- "I hope we have made ourselves perfectly eclair"; "I cannoli hope so" -- are a necessary evil. As the humorous icing on a B-plot involving the attempts of De Graaff's producer, Mr. Feldzieg (Robert Anthony Jones), and his ditsy assistant Kitty (Megan Rosenblatt), to sabotage the wedding, they serve as the dazzle under which Man-in-Chair can slide in his truisms about theater, especially the musical variety.

There's a reason, after all, why we applaud characters that are larger-than-life, like the scene-stealing "ladies' man" Aldolpho (Edward Juvier): can you blame us for occasionally wanting more out of life? And yet, Martin and McKellar are at their dramatic best when they sneak actual motivations into their characters: we learn that the actress (within the musical) who plays the Chaperone is an aging diva, which gives further context to her constant attempts to upstage her younger model, De Graaff, in the anthemic "As We Stumble Along." That's what makes Man-in-Chair such a potent character: he represents a link between the fantasy and the reality, giving us a touch of both the sublime and the tragic. His final, uplifting reprise is the same as the one you'll find overtly shouted on shows like Glee or fellow meta-musicals (like [title of show]): we can make that magic in the real world, too, if we dare to step outside and live a little.

1 comment:

city said...

thanks for share.