The Drowsy Chaperone, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellerson, music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. Directed by Bert Bernardi.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Toledo Surprise with Trey Compton, Nicole DiMattei, Allen Phelps, and Judah Frank, watched by Jerielle Morwitz, Ryan Halsaver, and Keisha Gilles; photo provided
"...what a musical is supposed to do."
Thereís just too much fun taking place in New Lebanon these nights. The 2006 Broadway musical, "The Drowsy Chaperone" - a musical within a play - has taken up residence in the region and the silliness and loveliness of this absurd, Tony Award winning Canadian show is tickling the funny bone and assaulting audiences with luscious melodies, over-the-top lyrics and so much on-stage talent that humming is being heard on both sides of the Taconic range as late as midnight every night.
It doesnít matter that the 1928 musical that is being conjured up in a small New York City apartment by Man in Chair is trite. He knows itís trite. Trite is just right when his mood goes decidedly Ďblueí and he needs a dose of his favorite show to get through the long and lonely night. It doesnít matter that the songs have lyrics that are so forgettable when the music alone has the power to conjure up a mood. And the stars - there are loads of stars from the silent screen, from the Broadway scene, from streets both mean and rude. Itís the attitude that counts, that sense that a musical can cure your ills, so much better than booze and pills, so much more than a few cheap thrills. Janet van de Graaff will marry Robert Martin. Trix, the aviatrix will play her part in the marriage vows plot and Mrs. Tottendale, the hostess, who cares a lot, will tolerate each guest, and for all the rest, thereís the chaperone herself, Kitty the chorus-girl elf, two gangsters disguised and a Broadway producer along with a man whoís a self-acclaimed seducer. Thatís the show, but it really is Man in Chair about whom we care.
Craig Treubert plays the role of Man in Chair. It is his journey we take as "folks in audience." (No, weíre not named that in the program, but we could be.) Treubert plays a man who lives in a world of self-delusion. He cannot hide behind a facade. He is who and what he is and even if he wonít define himself, or resign himself to being who he is, he still has a way out of those personal blues. Treubert manages to make all of this feel absolutely reasonable. His performance is much more involving than the original, Bob Martin, was allowed to be in the role. While existing outside the plot of the "show" the play is his alone and he handles it nicely.
The rest of the cast exist only as physicalizations of voices on a long-playing record of the old musical. They are sometimes exaggerated in their playing, sometimes genuinely touching. They are: Lara Hayhurst as Janet, Jerielle Morwitz as the Chaperone, Matthew Daly as Aldolpho, Allen Phelps as Feldzieg, Tom Garruto as Robert Martin, Amy Fiebke as Mrs. Tottendale, Nicole DiMattei as Kitty, Judah Frank and Trey Compton as the Gangsters, Keisha Gilles as Trix, Danny Blaylock as Underling, Ryan Halsaver as George. Iíll try to do each of them justice.
Hayhurst is adorable. Her show-stopper "Show Off" fulfills its promise in her hands. Halsaver is delicious tapping his heart out and singing with large, broad gestures that deserve a larger stage. Blalock is fun as the servant who works his way up the social ladder. Morwitz is both glamorous and a vocal standout as the Chaperone and her comic skills are put to good use as well. Daly is a confection as he grinds, bumps and swirls his way about the stage in his best latin-lover role to date, a sugarplum in satin shirts come to life on the stage. Gilles sings her way into your heart as she marries the marriagable and pilots them all into the finale. Compton and Frank are triple-threat killers on the loose with song, dance and pastries to everyoneís taste. Garruto does a fine job in the role of a bridegroom whose lips cannot stray too far from home and his dancing is lovely too. Fiebke is a confection in pink and fun to watch and listen to while DiMattei takes things to another level including the split-level with fun and a mischievous attitude. Phelps is mesmerizing, all the light on the stage bending in his direction as he sings and dances his heart out in a Toledo Surprise.
Thatís the cast.
Bert Bernardi turns in one of his finest combinations here as director and stager. The choreography is elaborate enough to make the musical numbers work and also to show the inspired imagination of Man in Chair who must imagine all of this from the sounds on the recording. As far as his direction of the play is concerned it seemed, watching the show, that much more time than is allowed in two-week stock theater had to have gone into this event. Period movement has been worked into the actors interpretations to perfection. Poses and attitudes are idealized accurately. Each part played by the list above seems to have been in the actorsí experience for much much longer. In short, Bernardi has turned in a nearly perfect show for the Theater Barn and their audiences should understand how difficult that is in such a tight schedule.
Abe Phelps has reduced the large Broadway production nicely to fit on the New Lebanon stage and it all works. Alyssa Couturier has created an extraordinary pallette of colors in the costumes and, in addition to those, every appearance by Janet, in costumes by John White, is lovely. Janet may not "want to encore no more," but the designers have made it possible for her to change costumes more often than the rest of the company actually enter the stage. Allen Phelps has managed to light the show to a fare-thee-well while playing a principal role on stage. Where does this man find the time to do both jobs and still sell raffle tickets in the lobby?
If you havenít heard of "The Drowsy Chaperone" before it really doesnít matter. This is a musical treat, a large bon-bon you donít have to unwrap in your seat - it comes to you ready to consume care of the Theater Barnís producers. It has too short a run, for my money, and I may have to spend some to see it again while I can. Iíll look for you at the theater.
The Drowsy Chaperone plays at the Theater Barn located at 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, New York through September 4. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989.