Thursday, March 28, 2019

Musical time travel

A musical that laughs at itself
By Alec Clayton
Published in the Weekly Volcano, March 24, 2019
The cast of The Drowsy Chaperone, photo by Kat Dollarhide
Tacoma Musical Playhouse is revising the tongue-in-cheek musical The Drowsy Chaperone from their 2010-2011 season with four of the actors from that earlier production: Mauro Bozzo as Robert Martin, John Miller as Mr. Feldzieg, John B. Cooper as Aldolpho, Nancy Hebert Bach as Chaperone and TMP Artistic Director Jon Douglas Rake at Man in the Chair.
With book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, The Drowsy Chaperone won five Tony Awards and seven Drama Desk Awards. And looking back over my files, I see that I gave it a rousing review in 2011. Now I can’t imagine why. Adjectives such as clever, entertaining, and sweet certainly apply, but I can’t now see that it deserved all those awards or the rave review I gave it. Could be I’ve become less easily pleased after reviewing a play or two a week for more than 15 years?
Chaperone is a send-up of 1920s musicals and, for that matter, all musicals. The narrator, billed as simply Man in the Chair, invites the audience into his apartment where he plays a cast album of a 1920s musical and talks about it and about musicals in general as the cast reenacts scenes that are playing on his turntable. The ironic humor resides in the fact that the musical does everything Man in the Chair makes fun of musicals for doing, and this is the play’s strongest merit as well as its greatest downfall. The sad thing is it’s practically impossible to make fun of a bad musical by performing a bad musical without it being bad, as Rake and company prove in this one — at least in part. Some of the musical numbers are outstanding, and others are over-the-top ridiculous, and the same is true for a lot of the comedic bits and for a lot of the acting.
The first thing Man in the Chair says is that actors should stay out of the aisles and not break the fourth wall, and then the fourth wall is shattered in just about every scene, even to the absurd point of having dancers in a “Chinese” dragon costume swoosh down the aisle.
In the play-within-a-play, it's the day of the wedding of Robert Martin and Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff (Emma DeLoye). She is going to give up her career for marriage, which doesn’t sit too well with her producer, Mr. Feldzieg, who desperately wants to stop the wedding. A couple of gangsters absurdly disguised as bakers (Sam Barker and Peter Knickerbocker) also want to stop the wedding, and a ludicrous Latin lover named Aldolpho is hired to put the kibosh on the wedding by seducing the bride. But he mistakenly seduces Chaperone — who is willingly seduced.
The silliness is beyond the pale, but is redeemed, somewhat, by the musical numbers. Besides, Man in the Chair points out that most scenes in musicals exist only as a means of getting from one musical number to another.
Rake is outstanding as Man in the Chair. It has been said that what an actor does when other actors have the stage is a sure indicator of how good an actor is. Rake’s physical reactions to what the other actors are doing while he sits and watches are precisely what such a character would do in such situations. He is so natural in the role you’d think it really is his story.
Bozzo as the groom-to-be and Josh Wingerter as his best man are both good actors and singers, and they play off each other well. Their tap dancing on “Cold Feets” is one of the highlights of the evening.
The best comedy skit is when Aldolpho tries to seduce Chaperone. This scene starts out with both of them chewing the scenery and then becomes so much more over the top it is hilarious, the operating principle seemingly being if you’re going to be silly, be really, really silly.
Bach has the strongest voice of anyone on stage. Her singing on “As We Stumble Along” is beautiful, as is Deloye’s on “Bride’s Lament.”
The Drowsy Chaperone is lighthearted and lightweight entertainment with a slew of inside jokes for theater aficionados. Despite Man in the Chair’s admonition that plays shouldn’t run over two hours, this one runs about two and a half, including a 15-minute intermission.
No one is listed as director, but Rake is credited as artistic director and choreographer.
The Drowsy Chaperone, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday through April 14, 31, $29 military, senior and students, $22 children 12 and younger, Tacoma Musical Playhouse at The Narrows Theatre, 7116 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.565.6867,

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