CENTERVILLE — Have you ever gone to Disneyland with someone who loves all things Disney? The excitement and the anticipation they build lasts for weeks before your trip commences. They plan out every moment of your trip, research when and where and how to make each moment magical as possible. Once you are in the park, they excel at making even the ordinary extraordinary. “Did you see the Mickey Mouse towels in the bathroom?” “I think I heard the janitor humming ‘It’s A Small World!'” With a person like that by your side, it is impossible not to have a wonderful time. At the end of the day, even though you have stood for hours in line, paid way too much for food, and been around way too many people, you leave with a sense of magic and happiness thanks to your companion.
Well, The Drowsy Chaperone provides such an experience for attendees of the musical. The Drowsy Chaperone is a relatively new musical, having its debut on Broadway in 2006. The story starts out with The Man in the Chair, played masterfully by Doug Caldwell. The Man in the Chair is a guy who is afraid to be in crowds and public places; however he loves Broadway Music. He listens to the albums of his favorite musicals to take away his sadness. As he pulls out a record of The Drowsy Chaperone and begins to listen, the audience watches as his living room is transformed into the wonderful performance he sees in his mind.
The production started with just the sound of the Man’s voice, talking about the anticipation of waiting for a show. He asked if we ever pray “Please God, let this be a good show. Amen.” I admitted to myself that many times I had prayed just that. The Man in the Chair continued to explain that when he feels his “non-specific sadness” he puts on a record of his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.
At this point of the evening, I was enthralled by Caldwell as the Man in the Chair. I felt he is like a dear old friend, sharing with me something he deeply loves. The more he talks about the overture, the music, the cast, and everything about the show, the more I look forward to seeing it.
The set is quite impressive and full of surprises. Set designer Dan Christensen should be commended for his imagination and the skill he used to bring that imagination to life. The show started in the Man in the Chair’s apartment where there is a kitchen area as well as a sitting area where he listens to his record. As the show music began to play, actors and actresses as well as set pieces and props start to enter through different areas of the apartment. The Man got more and more excited as each character comes in. During the opening number, “Fancy Dress,” the audience was introduced to the main characters. All the while, the man is popping in and out of the scene to explain different facts about the show, such as the actual actors who played in the original production of the fictional musical, and his opinions regarding each scene. His comedic timing is genius, and I commend Caldwell for being extremely entertaining and capable of making the audience believe that he has transported us into the musical.
The story of the play within the play is that Janet and Robert are to be married later in the day. Janet, played by Michelle Robbins, is a star of the stage, and quite a famous one at that. She claims to be giving up her life on the stage in order to marry Robert, played by Greg Dowse. The story continues with a lot of twists and turns, and of course a happy ending. One of the best lines in the show comes from the Man in the Chair when he said, “Everything always works out in musicals. In the real world the only people who burst into song are the hopelessly deranged.”
Director Maurie Tarbox, music director Anthony Buck, and choreographer Susan DeMill all produced impressive creative work. All of the musical numbers and staging were supremely entertining performances. A few stand outs are songs such as “Cold Feet,” sung by Robert (Greg Dowse) and his best man, George, played by Scott Stuart. The song quickly turns into a tap dance routine by all cast members, and the choreography wass excellent. The cast members work well as an ensemble, and I truly enjoyed themselves.
Although all the performers are doing well, I find myself drawn consistently to Caldwell as the Man in the Chair. He does such an amazing job of portraying the love of the musical, and I am particularly pleased when he begins to sing and dance along. All of us who love musicals have memories of performing along to CD’s in our dorm rooms, or trying to engage our roommates with useless trivia about which Broadway star won a Tony for the show that is currently playing.
The character of the Drowsy Chaperone, played by Kate Rufener, was the Man in the Chair’s favorite character in the play. When she sang the song “As We Stumble Along,” I can see why the Man would love the song so much. Rufener does an outstanding job of playing a woman who knows how to steal a show and command attention. Another impressive song was “Show Off,” song by Jane (played by Ms. Robbins). I felt that Robbins’s performance was instrumental in helping me great time. I also felt another great moment with Robbins was during the “Bride’s Lament,” which showcased the Man in the Chair and his talents.
There were several extremely amusing parts of the show, such as when the record skipped, or the Man in Chair would choose to replay a certain part of the show. I commend the actors for being able to play the same scene over and over again, and be able to really make us feel that the record actually had a skip in it. That takes a great deal of precision to pull off. It was done so well that the audience seemed to be laughing and clapping from beginning to end.
Of course, the show wasn’t perfect. There were sound issues, microphones that did not work correctly, places where lines were forgotten, and overall a story that was a little predictable, as far as musicals go. Having said that, I loved every minute of The Drowsy Chaperone. That is because it did what the Man in the Chair says musicals are supposed to do: take us to another world, so we can forget the dreariness of the world we live in for awhile. As a theater lover, I felt this was a creative musical that celebrated the love of music and theater, and I found it a wonderful escape from every day life.