The Drowsy Chaperone – Review by Tom Holehan

A deliriously daffy “Drowsy Chaperone” ends Goodspeed Musicals’ middling season on an exuberantly cheerful high note. After a dreary “Will Rogers Follies” and a pretty good “Oliver!”, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is easily the East Haddam theatre’s best offering this year and the perfect tonic for our troubled times.

A recent Broadway hit, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a theatre in-joke about a theatre queen, called simply “Man in Chair” (John Scherer, perfection), who talks directly to the audience about his love of the Broadway musical. He has a special place in his heart for the fictional 1928 work that serves as the musical’s title. It has the most mundane and one-note of plots concerning the wedding day of oil tycoon Robert Martin (Clyde Alves) and Broadway star of the moment, Janet Van De Graaff (Stephanie Rothenberg). Also introduced in the spiffy opening number, “Fancy Dress”, is old-money hostess Mrs. Tottendale (Ruth Gottschall), her long-suffering manservant (Jay Aubrey Jones), a pair of gangsters disguised as pastry chefs (uproarious brothers Blakely and Parker Slaybaugh), a saucy aviatrix who makes a grand return at curtain (Danielle Lee Greaves) and the title character, a lovable lush played by the merely fabulous Jennifer Allen.

Hunter Foster, an acclaimed Broadway musical star in his own right, directs the cheerful madness that is “The Drowsy Chaperone” with a firm hand and a company of performers who never disappoint. It starts with Mr. Scherer, note perfect as the agoraphobic Broadway fanatic, who manages to be both hilarious and touching in sharing his love of musical theatre. Clyde Alves, with Tim Falter playing his agreeable best man, whips up a frenzy of mesmerizing tap in the musical’s early show-stopper, “Cold Feet” and Rothenberg is a hoot and a half singing “Show Off” with every bell and whistle on display. Enough can also not be said about Jennifer Allen who stops the show early on with “As We Stumble Along”, a hysterical diva number that bulldozes the competition with benign confidence.

The winning music and lyrics are by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison while Bob Martin and Don McKellar’s hilarious book is both brisk and over-the-top in the best sense of the word. They’ve given those pastry chefs a string of truly awful bakery puns that had the audience in stitches. There’s also a thoroughly un-PC Asian production number that opens act two and is as jaw-droppingly tasteless as it is fall-down funny. Costumer Gregg Barnes provides a steady stream of magnificent 1920s frocks and Howard Jones’ portable and often amusing set pieces add delightfully to the stage merriment. Silly, supremely superficial and lighter-than-air, you’ll be hard pressed to find a more entertaining two hours in Connecticut. Boy, do we need it now!

“The Drowsy Chaperone” continues at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam through November 25. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

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