By Kay Kipling
For some regular Players audience members, the theater’s current production, The Drowsy Chaperone, may not be as familiar as other musical works. But if they’ll give it a chance, the Players should have a hit on their hands.
The Drowsy Chaperone is an affectionate look at the Broadway musicals of another era—1928, to be exact. It’s the title of a supposed production captured for posterity on one of the records (yes, records!) lovingly owned by the character who introduces it to us, the Man in the Chair (Michael Bajjaly).
He’s feeling a little blue, as he tells us, and so we can’t refuse to listen along with him as he puts his favorite record on his player. When he does, the characters of the play-within-a-play spring to life, entering through his refrigerator doors and promptly catching us up in the whirlwind romance of Robert Martin (Logan O’Neill), a handsome, wealthy, none-too-bright bridegroom-to-be, and Janet Van De Graaff (Jessica Tasetano), a star of the stage who’s about to give up her career to marry him.
That doesn’t sit well with her producer, Feldzieg (Tony Boothby), or the two goons masquerading as pastry chefs (Mike Phelan and Tom Palazzo) whose boss has an interest in keeping Janet’s current hit going, with her in it. (Every show of this era must have had goofy gangsters in it, right?) Throw in a doddering dowager, Mrs. Tottendale (Betty Robinson), who’s hosting the wedding although she can’t remember why; her devoted but long-suffering butler, Underling (Carl Bowman); the obligatory best man (Berry Ayers) and ditzy chorine (Amanda Heisey); a Latin lover (Chip Fisher) and the alcohol-swilling chaperone of the title (Nancy Denton), and you have a full complement of typical characters from that Broadway era.
That could be fun enough as a conceit, but The Drowsy Chaperone offers us more by having the Man in the Chair occasionally stop the action to comment on the show and its performers, or to give us a little insight into exactly why he’s feeling “blue.” And then there’s the show’s music (by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison), from tap numbers like Cold Feets to Janet’s bravura Show Off number (she can do everything it seems, from singing to gymnastics to escaping from that locked fridge, and Tasetano makes it look easy) to the show’s Act I ensemble closer, Toledo Surprise—described accurately enough by Robert as “infectious.”
Those songs and others are accompanied by choreography by Charles Logan that fits perfectly with the spirit of the time and the show. O’Neill especially shines on his dance numbers, even roller skating blindfolded in Accident Waiting to Happen. But there really are no weak links in this cast, directed by Jared E. Walker, with snazzy musical direction by Rick Bogner. Fisher and Denton wrings lots of laughs from their quasi-romantic pairing, Robinson and Bowman and those gangsters provide some vaudeville-style entertainment, and Heisey is just right as Kitty the chorine. And Walker’s costume designs are as fun and bright as the rest of the show.
The Drowsy Chaperone continues through Jan. 31; for tickets call 365-2494 or go to theplayers.org.