Why don’t they write American musicals like they used to? Not an uncommon question for fans of the Golden Age in musical theatre – when shows were being churned out at a rapid pace by some of the country’s best composers. Often times these shows would spawn radio hits; a trend that left the theatre a long time ago (excluding the album turned musical American Idiot). The complaint from fans of more modern musical theatre is that these shows were music focused with a plot loosely thrown together. It is that interesting balance of great music and loose plot that is at the heart of this whimsical show. Using charm and genuine love of musical theater to tear down the fourth wall, the narrator, ambiguously known as ‘the man in the chair’, introduces the audience to his favorite musical of all time (the fictional) The Drowsy Chaperone.
Drowsy Chaperone Brings Back ‘Golden’ Hilarity
HE SAID: This show has been on my must see list for a long time. Not only did it win several Tony Awards but the hype in the theatre community for how hilarious this show is was so strong that I had to see what all the fuss was about. I get it now. The show is incredibly witty as it both pokes fun at and celebrates the whimsy of the musicals of olden day – complete with archetypal characters played with stereotypical exaggerations and bouncy peppy music. But the show is not just an homage to the escapist wonder that is theatre. No, there is wonderful commentary throughout – provided by our narrator – that taps into the humanity underneath the whimsical facade. It is an interesting balance to achieve and it does better in part than in others, but overall is very successful.
SHE SAID: I’d also never seen it before, and overall I see why there was a buzz when it first came out. The overall tone of the piece is going to be most appealing to folks who love musicals. The syrupy, cheesy nature of the musical-within-the-musical might turn off people who are only interested in fresh, edgy musical theater. But it does have a modern sensibility (and pace) and a lot of the cheese is very tongue-in-cheek, which helps a lot. It also throws in a lot of quips making fun of these kinds of musicals, which totally helps.
Norber Takes ‘Man’ Out of His Chair and Places Him in Our Hearts
HE SAID: The Man in the Chair states that the show The Drowsy Chaperone is a simple show. I believe he referred to it as largely two-dimensional and it is because that is how a lot of shows were back then (and arguably now). So the burden of heart and meaning in this show largely rests with him to bring it back home and land a deeper connection to the humanity of the piece. Well, Brian Norber nails it every time. His timing was immaculate and simply they way he communicated his character’s love for the show was infectious and probably had a lot to do with audiences overall acceptance of the piece.
SHE SAID : Everyone in the cast was clearly very talented, but honestly the performance-within-a-performance isn’t the best environment to let really wonderful performers shine. As the Man in Chair notes at the start of the show the performances were not supposed to be subtle or nuanced. Like you said, Norber, who is allowed to be multi-dimensional, was an absolute joy to watch. His connection to the show was touching to watch, and he had several points of real comic genius as well. But the performance that really swept away the entire evening was Seth Caikowski as Adolpho. He managed to take a character just as two-dimensional and flat as the others in The Drowsy Chaperone and turn it into a cramp-inducingly character that combined the best of both Hank Azaria and Pepe Le Pew . I could barely sip my coffee at intermission for fear of snorting at the mere memory of his mentioning ‘pajamas.’
Caikowski and Cast Bring Never-ending Laughs
HE SAID: Absolutely. Caikowski’s performance is the funniest thing I have seen in the longest time and damn near stole the entire show. His wig. His accent. His perfectly precise physicality. Every element of his performance was pure brilliance. But, like you said, the whole cast was amazing. Katie Ulrich’s performance of “Show Off” was marvelous and the two vaudeville duos – Wayne Kennedy/Michael J. Duran and Cindy Lawrence/Bob Hoppe – added another bout of rapid fire of comedy.
SHE SAID: Other production elements reinforced these strong performances to really take the show home. The design elements were cleverly appropriate, and included a rotating piece center that helped transition quickly from the Man in Chair’s apartment to the sets of The Drowsy Chaperone. My favorite set piece was a Murphy bed that frequently raised and lowered with actors on it, which must have been tricky to execute. The costumes were fun, and delightfully appropriate for the period. There were so many quick transitions between the Man in Chair’s apartment and The Drowsy Chaperone that I lost track of whether the lighting shifts were tightly following them, but overall I don’t think it was ever confusing which world we were in.
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BDT Shows us Everything The Drowsy Chaperone Has to Offer
THEY SAID: In the New York Times review of the Broadway production of The Drowsy Chaperone, the reviewer commented that “Without its ingenious narrative framework and two entrancing performances… [the show] would feel at best like a festive entree at a high-end suburban dinner theater.” The writer was using the comparison to dinner theater as a negative criticism, but the reviewer might change their tune if they saw the regional premiere at BDT. It is solidly funny, well performed/designed/produced, and ultimately a memorable night at the theater, dinner or otherwise.
For more information on The Drowsy Chaperone, see the wikipedia page.The Drowsy Chaperone plays through May 13 at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre. Click the banner above for tickets and more information.