For an evening of pure joy — a mindless, jolly, tuneful, funny evening – there may be no show around that fills that bill better than the joyful, mindless, jolly, tuneful, funny “The Drowsy Chaperone” at Goodspeed Musicals. About as weighty as a feather, the show is an affectionate tribute to the kinds of tippy-tappy musicals Goodspeed itself used to produce.
Framed by an anonymous musical comedy queen called the Man in Chair, it is both an entertaining piece in its own right and a primer on brainless musical comedies of the 1920s. The gimmick begins at once, and in the dark, as we hear the Man’s voice:
“I hate theater,” he says. “Well, it’s so disappointing, isn’t it? You know what I do when I’m sitting in a darkened theater waiting for the show to begin? I pray, “Oh please, dear God, let them give good show. (sic) And let it be short. . . . I just want a good story and a few songs that will take me away. I just want to be entertained. Isn’t that the point? Amen.”
When the lights come up, there, in a comfortable chair, an afghan blanket at his head, sits the Man. His apartment is non-descript, with show posters ornamenting the walls; a record player (yes, records) is at his side. When he’s feeling blue and anxious, he tells us, he likes to listen to his music. Tonight he’ll “disappear for a while into the decadent world of the 1920s, when the Champagne flowed and the caviar was chilled and all the world was a party.”
Which leads him and us into a musical comedy of that wild era, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a show with the usual trappings not only of the 20s but more contemporary times: A pair of comic gangsters with an interest in showbiz, here disguised as pastry chefs (“Kiss Me Kate”); a frustrated producer in danger of losing his star (“42nd Street”); a boy-meets-girl / loses girl / gets girl plot (“The Pajama Game,” etc.); an older couple finding romance (“The Boy Friend”); a Latin lover (“The Fantasticks”); an eager to be wed, dizzy blonde (“Guys and Dolls”).
Guiding us like a tugboat through the shoals, the Man in Chair gleefully comments on backstage secrets; on a show’s structure; on the temperamental Merman-like star; on careers gone awry, on the future fate of these performers. Witty at times (a dance is labeled “a little Busby Berkeley, a little Jane Goodall”), jokey at others (“There’s muffin you can do about it,” says one of the fake chefs), the humor is good natured.
Under Hunter Foster’s brilliant direction and Chris Bailey’s infectious, non-stop choreography, performers never lose their cool. Jennifer Allen, Ruth Gottschall, Jay Aubrey Jones (as Underling, the butler), Tim Falter, James Judy, Ruth Pferdehirt, John Rapson and, as the gangsters, brothers Blakely Slaybaugh and Parker Slaybaugh, play it straight, thus making everything funnier and, strangely, more believable.
As the romantic leads, Stephanie Rothenberg and Clyde Alves mock romantic pairs while also being attractive. As the deus ex machina, Danielle Lee Greaves commandingly belts her one number.
John Scherer is ingratiating as the Man in Chair. He projects a cheerful, devoted enthusiasm although implying he’s gay is a stereotype. (Are there no straight men out there who also love musicals?)
With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, what started out as a Canadian party entertainment soon morphed into a Tony Award hit. At Goodspeed, where Howard Jones’ clever sets, Kirk Bookman’s lighting and, especially, Gregg Barnes’ knock-out costumes hold sway, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is irresistible.