It’s the beginning of Act I. The lights just start to go down, and everyone begins to settle into their seats for the next two hours. Nothing seems out of the ordinary, and all look forward to the stage. But then we notice that as the other lights fade out, one remains in the back. Then we hear it from the back of the house: “I. Hate. Theater!” Loud and full of clarity, this man begins a monologue on the anxieties of sitting through a piece of theater. The complaints continue, and as the audience’s laughter intensifies with every joke, he gets up and walks to the front of the house to take center stage, thus creating a strong, hilarious start to the show we were about to experience.
The Drowsy Chaperone, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, is a play-within-a-play, and follows Man in Chair (Keith Tittermary) as he takes the audience through his favorite record – the original Broadway cast of The Drowsy Chaperone. While he sits in a chair off to the side playing his record, the ensemble plays out the musical before us on the stage. Starting with the Overture, he walks us through the story, which we soon find is a comedic love story about a couple of young lovers who are about to get married after having just met only weeks before. Over the course of the musical within the musical, this couple encounters obstacles involving gangsters (Justin Douds and Nick Cox), an anxious Producer ( David Fialkoff), a self-proclaimed Latin lothario lady’s man (Steve Cairns), and Man in Chair’s favorite, a Drowsy Chaperone (Liz Weber), who offers the bride-to-be questionable advice at key moments in the plot.
The script itself is strong and witty. Martin and McKellar created a hilarious spoof on musicals that pokes fun at all of the cliché tropes – while at the same time – celebrating the light-hearted fun. The Man in Chair embodies this element through constant commentary on the pros and cons of the script, and Tittermary’s excellent comedic timing shone through, especially during the number, “Bride’s Lament.”
At the beginning of the song, Man in Chair explains that we should ignore the lyrics, but also appreciate the message as a very true and real account of a bride’s nerves and conflicting emotions on her wedding day. Throughout the song, he would pause the music to excuse the outlandish lyrics with animal metaphors, or even join in and sing along during a particularly emotional part for him. Tittermary’s adorable approach to this show tunes fanatic elicited tremendous laughter from the audience.
Man in Chair pulls the strings of the entire production, and Set Designer Bill Brown embraced this concept in his design. The entire stage was Man in Chair’s apartment, from the red cushy chair off to the left with his record collection to the kitchen in the back. Throughout the play, various set pieces would roll on and off, as if the performers were putting on the musical in Man in Chair’s living room. Often times, Man in Chair would help move a set-piece, or even walk through a scene to get a cup of tea. The stage was Man in Chair’s playground, and Brown along with Director and Choreographer Kristina Friedgen utilized this concept in a successful and amusing manner.
The ensemble as a whole was strong, and presented us with a larger-than-life stage presence that is necessary for an over-the-top musical such as this. The group numbers were fun, especially in the way that they all played along with the concept of being on a record, when things went right and when they went wrong. Kudos to Musical Director Brandon Scott Heishman and his musicians.
Amongst the ensemble were also some standout soloists and performances. Jessica Bay Graber as Trix was only on stage briefly at a couple moments in the show, but her impressive belt rang throughout the theater during her moment in “Fancy Dress.”
Sigman (Janet) had a stellar vibrato that particularly made “Show Off” an exciting number to witness unfold, and Keegan (Robert Martin), utilized a great stage presence with his tap-dancing skills in “Cold Feet.”
Douds and Cox as Gangsters 1 and 2 showcased lovely stage chemistry, which made their number “Toledo Surprise,” depicting their step-by-step process on how to give someone an effective beating, absolutely hysterical.
Finally, Liz Weber as the title character, The Drowsy Chaperone, was fantastic. Her comedic timing made “As We Stumble Along” a laugh from start to finish, and especially added to her one-liners sprinkled throughout the show. And her duet with Cairns – “I Am Aldolpho,” was hilarious.
It was easy to see that she would be Man in Chair’s favorite character in the show, and Tittermary’s awe-struck reactions to her performance made these numbers even more fun to experience.
Funny and lighthearted, Damascus Theatre Company’s The Drowsy Chaperone makes for an enjoyable evening from start to finish.
Run Time: Two hours, with 15-minute intermission.
The Drowsy Chaperone plays through June 26, 2016 at Damascus Theatre Company and Arts on the Green performing at the Gaithersburg Arts Barn – 311 Kent Square Road, in Gaithersburg, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 258-6394, purchase them at the door, or online.