The Drowsy Chaperone: Wide Eyed and Wonderful

I’m so glad I didn’t buy the soundtrack before seeing the show. That may seem an odd thing to say about a musical — isn’t it the songs that make or break the production? In most cases that’s absolutely true, but not in the case of “The Drowsy Chaperone” — this clever, wise and endearing show puts the music in the straight man role, and lets the characters deliver the punches.

Scratching your head a bit? Okay, let me explain.

“Drowsy” is a show for people who like talking about musicals as much as watching them. Our host for the evening is known only as Man in Chair. He’s dressed in a frumpy cardigan and baggy cords — a little blue, he breaks out an old double album of a long forgotten, and completely fictional, Broadway show from the roaring 20’s to cheer himself up. He puts the needle on the platter, and suddenly his rather dumpy apartment is transformed into a loopy stage for an old school farce called, The Drowsy Chaperone.

With the fourth wall quickly knocked down for the count, the Man hits us with delightfully catty digs about theatre in general, and the fictional cast of Drowsy in particular. He loves the faded star who shoves the show’s ingenue aside to chew some scenery — he gives us the backstory of the show’s Latin lover, and his unfortunate demise with ravenous poodles present! Production numbers burst out in the Man’s apartment — the fridge making for an hilarious entrance point.
In many ways it’s the musical equivalent of an episode of “Seinfeld” — essentially about nothing, but really about everything.

The microcosm that is “The Drowsy Chaperone” centers on the Man … and Jonathan Crombie is SO the man. Like musical theatre itself, he’s profound at one minute, borderline absurd the next. He clings to Drowsy to keep real life from collapsing in on him — giving us just enough sass with the ennui to keep everyone pulling for him.

Nancy Opel is the other standout in the cast. Her drop dead hysterical delivery of the off the rails ballad “As We Stumble Along” is priceless.

Andrea Chamberlain pulls off the show’s signature number “Show Off” with deadpan glee. She plays Janet Van De Graaff, Drowsy’s spitfire starlet, and she has a terrific, and energetic foil in Mark Ledbetter as her dim, but plucky, rich boy fiance.

Yes, Georgia Engel is in the cast. The woman best known as Mrs. Ted Baxter ups the cute factor as Mrs. Tottendale. She’s a mostly pleasant diversion in a pretty forgettable role, but somehow she belongs in Drowsy’s skewed little world.
The writers of this show know their musical theatre — and then some. Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison craft songs that suit the moment, but don’t overwhelm it. Bob Martin and Don McKellar have delivered a witty script that lets the audience savor one joke, before slipping in the next. The smile never left my face from start to finish.

I began this review by saying I was glad I didn’t buy the soundtrack before seeing it — now I have to have it so I can relive it.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is playing at The Opera House until May 4th.

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