The Drowsy Chaperone, Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. Directed and choreographed by Todd Underwood with the assistance of Maddy Apple. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
(l-r rear) Colin Pritchard, Jordan Bunshaft, Joe Ventricelli, Katie Luke, Amy Fiebke, James Hunsaker (l-r, front) Gabe Belyeu, Monica M. Wemitt, Kristen Clark Bielefeldt, Jamie Grayson; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
"It does what a musical is supposed to do. . ."
How do you answer your fiance when he asks you where you're from - he's blindfolded and on roller skates and you are assuming a daring French accent and calling yourself Mimi? "I am from ze. . .middle part," she answers him and he accepts that as a valid response. We are in the middle of a musical comedy from 1928 as heard on a long-playing record (remember the 33 1/3 rpm days?) when this dialogue takes place and it is much much funnier than it reads. Janet Ven Der Graff is lying to the man she is supposed to marry that same afternoon and Robert Martin is buying into it, even if Mimi's kisses are so much like Janet's. For Man-in-Chair, the main character of the comedy that contains the musical, it's a wonderful moment, one he has relived countless times and one he is thrilled to be sharing with us.
Everything in this musical comedy has relevance to the life and opinions of Man In Chair. It is his apartment we're visiting and he is playing his favorite 1920s show for us on a much cherished LP while wearing his dead mother's sweater. Contrary to how this sounds he is not a pathetic figure. This is a man with strengths and convictions and a more fascinating personal history than we realize at first. He is also obsessed and his complete absorption into the sound of this show allows him to visualize it right down to the fabulous dance routines that smack of Busby Berkeley and the Ziegfeld Follies. He can warn us about faulty lyrics so we don't turn off when the song is sung. He can move the needle forward to spare us a lengthy comedy routine that involved spit takes. He can enlighten us on the private lives of the myriad of stars in the show. Even though he's blue (a condition he explains early on) he has the presence of mind to keep us entertained through his total and thorough immersion into the experience of "The Drowsy Chaperone." We fall in love with Janet and Martin, sympathize with Feldzieg, empathize with Kitty, wish the best for George and pray for Mrs. Tottendale. Why? And who are they? Stay tuned.
Mrs. Tottendale and her manservant Underling are hosting a wedding at her Long Island mansion. She is a widow, vague about most things, and endearing as played by Amy Fiebke. James Hunsaker plays her long-patient servant. They are wonderful together in their two songs and in their scenes. They don't end up where we think they will but then who ever really said that love and marriage were any different from a verdict of guilty of murder one.
Chorus girl Kitty and producer Feldzieg (it's a joke - think about it) are played expertly by Kristen Clark Bielefeldt and Jordan Bunshaft. Their Act One finale song - Toledo Surprise - is begun by a terrific comedy team of pastry chefs (read Gangsters) played with absolutely wonderful comic timing by Lee Cohen and Marc de la Concha. Best Man George is an uneven creation as played by Colin Pritchard. I liked him most of the time and didn't like him some of the time. His motives seemed unusually selfish and I wasn't sure why as I'd never heard him that way before.
Jamie Grayson is a perfect Man In Chair. Never still for a moment, his concentration is a delight to watch as he listens to his show and reflects on life today, yesterday and much longer ago. Here is a man with no tomorrow to contemplate. For Grayson's man, every day is the last day and every spin of the disc is the final hearing. At the end of the show we watch a man in despair find ultimate salvation and acceptance and it made me cry.
Katie Luke is a dynamic Janet who doesn't want "to show off no more" but can't help herself, she exudes so much more talent than anyone else alive. Luke plays this for all she can wring out of it and she gets her laughs, our sympathy and the leading man. Luke lets us in on the secret that a girl can have it all and still eat cake when she wants. In her hands Janet is a very special, if monkey-focused, lady. As Robert, her intended, Joe Ventricelli sparkles. He seems to be an actor who can make a conceited man loveable. In his hands Robert is a hero without a banner to wave, a conqueror without a kingdom. Winning Janet back is a delight as Ventricelli plays out the script's convoluted logic.
Erica Durham is a vocal and visual gem playing Trix, the Aviatrix, a downed flyer who accidentally saves the day and must be applauded for doing so with a grand display of music and mayhem. Gabe Belyeu plays the gigolo Aldolpho who cannot help but sing a virtual duet with his virtual self, and then repeat it with the Drowsy Chaperone brought to ecstatic life by Monica M. Wemitt. Matching these two roles, bizarre and crazed, with these two actors was a stroke of absolute genius. They are both funny and ridiculously endearing at the same time.
Everyone in this show within the show is playing an actor playing a role and they almost never reveal any layer but the top one - the character in the show. However, do not miss the top of the second act as two of the stars appear in something quite unexpected and different. Man in Chair will enlighten you further in the theater; I will not.
The director(s) / choreographer (s) Todd Underwood and Maddy Apple have done an almost perfect conversion of this show into the round (for the uninitiated the Mac_Haydn Theatre stage is a circle surrounded by audience). It is a large company of players including the chorus and sometimes there seemed to be a bit of chaos on the platform, but it always worked out in the end ("Love is Always Lovely in the End" as you will learn).
The company wears the exquisite costumes designed by Jimm Halliday and they are lit beautifully by Andrew Gmoser on excellent sets designed by Erin Kiernan. Josh D. Smith leads his small music ensemble superbly.
For my fourth foray into the 2006 Tony winning musical I can honestly say that this show never gets boring. It has emotionally satisfying moments and, though it begins in darkness, it ends with a bright prospect for all. The Mac-Haydn Company are presenting as fine a realization of this show as humanly possible and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. I don't even think a war could have stopped me from loving this one.
Joe Ventricelli and Katie Luke as Robert and Janet; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Jamie Grayson as Man in Chair; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
Monica M. Wemitt, Gabe Belyeu as Chaperone and Aldolpho; photo: Jesse DeGroodt
The Drowsy Chaperone plays through June 14 at the Mac-Haydn Theatre, located at 1925 Route 203 in Chatham, New York. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-392-9292 or go on line at www.machaydntheatre.org.