Sunday, July 18, 2010

Theater review: Stage Door's 'Chaperone' delivers the daffy goods

The Broward Stage Door cast of The Drowsy Chaperone.

By Hap Erstein

Broward Stage Door Theatre has a tendency to overreach with its musicals,‭ ‬biting off a beloved,‭ ‬not-quite elaborate show and not quite delivering on the pleasures we once enjoyed with it.‭

Now,‭ ‬however,‭ ‬it is presenting a modest little show,‭ ‬the intermission-less‭ ‬The Drowsy Chaperone,‭ ‬a multiple Tony Award winner from‭ ‬2006‭ ‬that is bound to be new to most of its audience,‭ ‬and renders it very capably with just the right touches of affection and whimsy.

Much of the credit goes to the company’s former artistic director,‭ ‬Dan Kelley,‭ ‬who stages the production deftly with a perpetual wink as well as playing the show’s central character,‭ ‬known simply as Man in Chair,‭ ‬with complete commitment to his musical comedy world.‭ ‬Every now and then one sees an ideal match of performer and role like this.‭ ‬If Man in Chair were not written as a wedding gift for Bob Martin,‭ ‬one of the show’s co-authors,‭ ‬you would swear it was tailor-made for Kelley,‭ ‬fluttery hands and sly comic takes and all.

You see,‭ ‬Man in Chair is an avid fan of musicals,‭ ‬preferably from an earlier era,‭ ‬long before they were lazy copies of popular movies or before Elton John began attempting to pen theater songs.‭ ‬And when he feels a little blue,‭ ‬nothing brings him out of his funk like putting on a record‭ ‬--‭ ‬yes,‭ ‬a vinyl record‭ ‬--‭ ‬of a cherished,‭ ‬bygone,‭ ‬fictitious show from the‭ ‬1920s,‭ ‬like Gable and Stine’s‭ ‬The Drowsy Chaperone.‭ ‬And as he narrates and annotates the show,‭ ‬it comes to life in his otherwise drab apartment.

As students of musical theater know,‭ ‬shows from the‭ ’‬20s were one degree removed from vaudeville,‭ ‬a series of specialty numbers for variety performers that were barely connected to a storyline.‭ ‬Dramatic logic was beside the point and that is the world that‭ ‬The Drowsy Chaperone‭ ‬--‭ ‬the show,‭ ‬not the show-within-the-show‭ ‬--‭ ‬celebrates.

The plot,‭ ‬such as it is,‭ ‬concerns the imminent wedding of celebrated stage star Janet Van De Graff,‭ ‬who is about to make the supreme sacrifice of giving up her career for domestic life with her beau,‭ ‬Robert Martin.‭ ‬Trying to prevent the nuptials is her producer,‭ ‬who would hate to lose such a lucrative meal ticket.

For no particular reason other than daffiness,‭ ‬the groom is soon careening about the stage,‭ ‬blindfolded and on roller skates.‭ ‬Perhaps it is a metaphor for marriage.‭ ‬In any rate,‭ ‬the stage is soon filled with pun-slinging gangsters posing as bakers,‭ ‬the title tipsy matron charged with looking after the bride,‭ ‬a dense,‭ ‬but harmless Latin Lothario,‭ ‬a ditsy dowager prone to spit takes and a few other stray comic types.

The Tony-winning score by Broadway newcomers Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison is well attuned to the sound of the period and highly democratic in the way it provides everyone‭ ‬--‭ ‬even a barnstorming aviatrix,‭ ‬so tangential to the show,‭ ‬she should have bought a ticket to get in‭ ‬--‭ ‬with a spotlight number.

Among the standouts are Laura Oldman‭ (‬Janet‭)‬,‭ ‬who opening anti-want song,‭ ‬Show-Off,‭ ‬puts her through a dizzying display of narcissistic talents,‭ ‬from plate-spinning to snake-charming to ventriloquism.‭ ‬Matt Ban’s Adolpho is,‭ ‬by necessity,‭ ‬broad,‭ ‬but he earns his laughs with surprisingly precise comic timing.‭ ‬And Kelley is truly ideal as Man in Chair,‭ ‬holding together the mayhem with an effortless hand while supplying the show’s emotional heart.

The ever-inventive Chrissi Ardito supplies the vintage feel-good choreography,‭ ‬Ardean Landhuis gives solid support with his scenic design and lighting and David Nagy’s music direction is adroit,‭ ‬although the orchestra is pre-recorded.

The Drowsy Chaperone is not a great show for the ages.‭ ‬It seems unlikely that Man in Chair’s great-grandson will be listening to it‭ ‬80‭ ‬years from now.‭ ‬But it is a lot of fun,‭ ‬and Kelley’s production delivers on every wacky bit of schtick it contains.

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE,‭Broward Stage Door Theatre,‭ ‬8036‭ ‬W.‭ ‬Sample Road,‭ ‬Coral Springs.‭ ‬Through July‭ ‬25.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$38-$42.‭ ‬Call:‭ (‬954‭)‬ 344-7765.‭

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