Catholic University spoofs musicals everywhere in a hilarious production of The Drowsy Chaperone, the show-within-a-show that lovingly satires the best and worst in musical theater and the people who love it. The music and lyrics are by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and the book is by Bob Martin and Don McKellar.
The anchor of the show is the “Man in Chair” (Matt Miller) who lives alone circa 2006 when the musical debuted and listens to a record on the phonograph for the fake 1920s show, The Drowsy Chaperone, which comes to life on the stage behind him. This clever musical is something to behold. A chorus girl is getting married to a man she just met and as the man in the chair points out, the entire plot hinges on the fact that they can’t see each other on their wedding day. To add to the madcap action, there is an agent, an aspiring vaudeville actress, two mobsters dressed as pastry chefs, a drunken old lady and her underling, and an aviator dressed in gold. The songs are ridiculous and the characters are over the top. It’s a pretty brave choice of show since it requires deliberately making the kinds of mistakes onstage that lesser theater departments make by accident all the time, like when the stage crew gets caught in the lights or one of the actors crashes into a tree. This cast pulls it off with aplomb and with gigantic belly laughs from the entire audience.
They get some serious assistance from Choreographer Kim Schafer. Jimmy Mavrikes (Robert Martin) and Lance Hayes (George) heat up the stage with a tap dance duel in the fabulous number “Cold Feet” and when the ensemble dances together, they hit the perfect note between the ridiculousness and impressive skill that the play demands.
Director Jay D. Brock had a lot to do since the staging is so complicated because so much of the comedy depends on perfect timing between the Man in Chair with his records, telephone, and power problems and all that happens onstage between these crazy characters, dashing on and off stage, sometimes on roller skates. There wasn’t a missed beat or a flat moment.
Matt Miller as the Man in Chair steals the musical. The irony of the earnest performances onstage juxtaposed with his biting comments makes this musical exceptional, which means he has to hold his own against an entire chorus of amazing dancers and singers and he does. It sometimes felt like a stand up comedy routine and he hits it out of the park as this sad and lonely man who gathers his dignity in his love of musical theater.
The actors in The Drowsy Chaperone are an excellent foil for his ramblings, delighting in their characters’ craziness, but respecting the show enough to sell it. Jimmy Mavrikes (Robert), the fiancé is animated and hilarious and is also pretty good on a pair of roller skates. Sarah Biddle (Janet Van de Graaff) shines as his fiancée in such varied numbers as “Show Off,” which involves four onstage costume changes and “Bride’s Lament,” a heartfelt ballad which ends with the entire chorus in monkey masks. Beth Amann as The Drowsy Chaperone makes the most of this role in which she sleeps through a lot of it, but her big number “As We Stumble Along” is the closest the play within a play came to any sort of dignity and she works it. It takes some serious skill to play as bad an actor as the character Adolpho (Matt Hirsh). Every move he makes on stage is met with laughs. Ms. Tottendale and her Underling, (Katie Furtado and Drew Stairs), have great chemistry in their unusual pair and their dedication, judging by the number of spit takes they had to do to each other, was impressive. The two gangsters/pastry chefs (Luke Garrison and Alex Alferov) are great with their comedy routines and ridiculous puns and JP Sisneros and Kayleigh Brennan as the desperate agent and dumb blond are just plain funny.
The costumes by Cheryl Patton Wu fit the play perfectly, in a 1920s over-the-top ‘sheik’ look. The two gangsters in banana yellow suits were a stand out, as well as the aviator in sold gold jeans. The man in the chair’s clothes fit his awkward character perfectly with silk pajama pants, a sweater, and a black scarf.
Music Director Denise Puricelli did great with the songs and every singer on stage was strong. There was not a weak note among them. The band behind them was likewise passionate, delving into these quick, jazzy, 1920’s-inspired songs with enthusiasm. The acoustics of the old stage were sometimes difficult and the singers did get overwhelmed by the orchestra a bit, but they made it work.
The set by JD Madsen is simple but effective, with the all-important chair just before the first row of seats, surrounded by boxes filled with records from classic musicals. The band sits at the back of an empty stage and simple lounge chairs and benches are brought on to conjure a board room or a park where you can bump into your blindfolded fiancé on roller skates. The main feature is two rows of bright lights around the stage to conjure up the old Broadway glory in the lighting design by Robert Denton.
It you have been subjected to any musical…ever…you will delight in the hundreds of little winks and nods to the theater, but even without this background, this is a truly hilarious musical and for all the laughs, is quite a production to pull off with its big musical numbers, it’s duel sets, it’s lightning quick comedy and the dangers of breaking all the rules of musical theater ever invented.Catholic University’s The Drowsy Chaperone is a joyful and hysterical time. You might get drowsy from all the laughing.
Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.
The Drowsy Chaperone plays through Saturday March 2, 2013, at Ward Recital Hall at The Catholic University of America – 620 Michigan Ave N.E., Washington, DC. For tickets, purchase them online.