THE DROWSY CHAPERONE WOWS 'EM AT BUSHNELL

By Tony Schillaci and Don Church

Who wouldn't love a musical that has songs in it entitled "I've Got a Monkey on a Pedestal" and "I Don't Wanna Show Off No More"? With narration by a character simply called Man In Chair (brilliantly played by Jonathan Crombie) this show begins to soar from the moment the man in chair puts on his original cast album of an imaginary musical from the 1920's.

So much cleverness in staging, writing, lyrics, and a string of rousing show-stopping numbers has gone into this show that it feels like all the great musicals of the last 100 years rolled into one.

Giving it a gay spin, the man in chair's love of Broadway is reflected in his personality, a shy kind of reclusive guy who comes alive listening to uplifting musical comedy numbers on his record player.

There is something about the Bushnell that breathes life into musical comedies. It may be the gorgeous red curtain, the imaginative lighting on the art deco walls, or just the lushness and grandeur of the auditorium itself. The audience on opening night, Tuesday February 19, certainly appreciated the fun that the cast of The Drowsy Chaperone was having on the brilliantly designed stage set.

The story of an upcoming wedding in a country house is a familiar one, but with so many fun new twists and spins that the laughter began from the first words of the man in chair to the boffo flying-down-to-Rio finale. The final ensemble number (oh wait, they're ALL ensemble numbers) lifted the audience out of its seats and into the cardboard clouds.

Georgia Engel, a veteran stage and TV actress (The Mary Tyler Moore Show) recreates her acclaimed Broadway role of Mrs. Tottendale, a loveable bubble-headed dingbat who owns the country house.

The title part of The Drowsy Chaperone, a champagne swilling lush who hilariously chews up the scenery is taken by Nancy Opel, and her blasting of the anthem of the show "As We Stumble Along" left us singing in the parking lot when we left the theater.

The greatest problem with hit shows at the Bushnell is that they do not stay long enough. The Drowsy Chaperone will most likely be gone by the time this review is published. These national companies need at least three weeks in a town like Hartford to draw audiences from all over the state, and with a show like this one, word of mouth should fill the theater. See the national company schedule on www.drowsychaperone.com.

One of the problems inherent in a very short run is that technical glitches don't have a chance to be worked out properly. The opening night performance suffered from too much treble and not enough bass in the body mikes, and some of the actors' dialogue sounded like it was amplified through airport announcement speakers. Additionally, the orchestra often drowned out individual singers, so that the lyrics could not be heard. Had the run been longer, these problems could have been overcome quickly.

Putting technical bads aside, the individual performances could not be faulted. Here is a company of players that injects enthusiasm and fun into each of their parts.

A very special bouquet of praises goes to Andrea Chamberlain, who, as Janet Van de Graaff (the bride), brings down the house in several of her numbers……"Monkey" and "Show Off" being two of them.

We were fortunate enough to have seen the Drowsy Chaperone in London this past June at the Novello Theatre. It has a very small stage, so when we saw the show on the bigger Bushnell boards the play went from being a great fun musical to a hysterically bigger-than-life spectacular….just what a musical comedy should be.

There is an opportunity here to make sure that shows of this caliber continue to play the Bushnell. Make it a point to buy tickets, whether subscribing to a full season, or just to an individual show. In a tight economy, sure it's tough to budget money for entertainment. But with a resource such as the Bushnell right here in our small state, it's an easy ride from anywhere (and with free parking, too) to enjoy Broadway at its best in Hartford.

For anyone who missed the Drowsy Chaperone, here's a tip: Don't miss the next show at the Bushnell….be part of delicious theater that is part of Hartford's creative and cultural scene. Log on to www.bushnell.org and order tickets for every upcoming show. You'll be part of the "in crowd", looking forward to your next night or matinee at another toe-tapping show!

© Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. Critics On The Aisle. criticsontheaisle@hotmail.com

(This review originally appeared in metroline Volume 35, Issue 3 Late February, 2008)

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