The Drowsy Chaperone – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

If you love musical theater, a special treat is waiting for you at Goodspeed Musicals until Sunday, November 25 so don’t be caught napping. To guide you on this journey of discovery, you first have to make the acquaintance of The Man in Chair, a truly delightful character who is most anxious to share his love for the genre and guarantee that you love it as much as he does. John Scherer couldn’t be more charming and personable as our host as he serves as commentator, putting on a phonograph record of his favorite show from 1928, an homage to the Jazz Age, stuffed with magical characters, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” His little apartment suddenly morphs into the show as it comes to life before our unbelieving eyes. Wow!

As it delightfully spoofs the musical comedies of the past, we learn we are participating in the wedding of the century, when Robert Martin (Clyde Alves) meets the sparkling show star Janet Van de Graaff (Stephanie Rothenberg) on a cruise and instantly falls in love. The nuptials are slated to take place immediately, with best man George (Tim Falter) as wedding planner. Unfortunately Janet’s producer Feldzieg (James Judy) can’t afford for her to retire from show biz and plots to stop the couple from saying their “I dos.” To motivate Feldzieg a little more, there are two gangsters at the house, a comic duo (Blakely Slaybaugh and Parker Slaybaugh), who are posing as pastry chefs and threaten him at every turn.

In desperation, Feldzieg employs a Latin lover Aldolpho, a slickly sauve (not!) John Rapson to seduce the bride-to-be but he mistakes her chaperone (Jennifer Allen) for Janet and woos her into submission. “The Drowsy Chaperone” began its stage life as an entertainment for a stag party for the wedding of theatrical couple Bob Martin and Janet Van De Graaff in Canada and has grown, after several reincarnations, into the show the Goodspeed is presenting so wonderfully. Hunter Foster directs this joy stuffed musical adventure, with glorious costuming by Gregg Barnes, a remarkable set by Howard Jones and clever choreography by Chris Bailey.

With book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, winner of two Tonys for best score and best book and four Drama Desks for outstanding musical, book, lyrics and music, this is a show-within-a-show, centering around a conceited showgirl who decides to marry a man she’s known for two New York minutes and a producer who sees his meal ticket waltzing away. The show depends on every campy device known to musical comedy and happily exploits them all. Meanwhile The Man in Chair comments as he tries hard not to jump into the action and save the day and the damsel.

Eccentric and memorable characters lead us on a merry parade to the wedding day, with wannabe stars (Ruth Pferdehirt), dowager ladies (Ruth Gottschall), Trix the Aviatrix (Danielle lee Greaves) and even the butler (Jay Aubrey Jones) insinuating themselves into the bride and groom’s big day and into the pleasure filled plot.

For tickets ($29 and up), call the Goodspeed Musicals, East Haddam at 860-873-8668 or online at Performances are Wednesday at 2 p.m. and at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select 2 p.m. shows), Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. (with select 6:30 p.m. shows).

Come to the wedding and no gifts are required on your part. You’ll be the recipient of a gift of laughter and joy and musical merriment as “The Drowsy Chaperone” bursts into life magically before your eyes. If you are like I am, you’ll want to take The Man in Chair home, with his phonograph, to introduce you to more of his favorites. What fun!