If you love musical theatre, you'll absolutely fall in love with The Drowsy Chaperone, the fun and frothy show now holding sway in Andrew Jackson Hall at Nashville's Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Winner of five Tony Awards (more than any other musical in the 2005-'06 season), The Drowsy Chaperone plays like a love letter - a true valentine, if you will - to that uniquely American art form, the musical comedy. Could anything be more apropos during this season of hearts and flowers?
The winter winds were blowing frigid and freezing down the Deaderick Street corridor on Tuesday night (not unlike opening nights on the Main Stem during the heyday of George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern and all the other luminaries of American musical theatre) as the national touring company brought this wonderfully witty production to Music City USA. While the audience may have seemed a bit subdued (and underdressed by classic Broadway opening night standards - in a town where women still love to wear fur, where the heck were they on that freezing cold Tuesday night?), most likely due to the icy roads and spitting snow earlier in the day, they quickly warmed to the tune-filled and hilarious work, brought so imaginatively and creatively to life onstage with such heartfelt ardor.
Craig E. Treubert, totally charming and neurotic as The Man in Chair, presides over the evening's entertainment as he welcomes the audience to his dark and dingy apartment to listen to the Broadway original cast album (don't you just love original cast albums?) from his favorite show from 1928 - Gable and Stein's The Drowsy Chaperone, a lighter than air confection about the impending nuptials of the beautiful and glamourous Feldzeig Follies star Janet Van De Graaff (Elizabeth Pawlowski, whose terrific "Show Off" remains my favorite number from the show) and handsome financier Robert Martin (Bradley Allan Zarr), who are getting married after a brief shipboard romance.
The show's whole "circa 1928 cast" is on hand as the show springs to life in the apartment (taking over every square inch to present a Broadway spectacle), including the nebbishy best man (Erik M. Christensen, who's quite the hoofer); the ditzy socialite and her major domo (Kristin Netzband and Matt David) who are hosting the nuptials; the requisite musical gangsters (Dennis Setteducati and Marc De La Concha); the peroxided chorine (Lindsay Devino); the producer (Britt Hancock) trying to keep his star from walking; and an aviatrix named Trix (Deidra Grace) who arrives just in time, however inexplicably, to fly the whole company down to Rio.
And then there's the drowsy (it's prohibition, so that's code for "tipsy") chaperone (Patti McClure) and an amorous, broadly accented and stereotypically caricatured European (Roberto Carrasco). It's all completely unbelievable and archly stagey...but it's musical comedy, remember: When the going gets tough, the tough get to dancing and singing and cavorting about! While wearing sparkly costumes and tap shoes! With good lighting! Chorus boys and girls! And more exclamation marks than you can shake a stick at!
The Man in Chair is so much more than a mere narrator of the piece - although he does serve that purpose splendidly - because he is the real heart and soul of the production, capturing the audience's attention and its collective heart with his loving tribute to everything that makes musical theatre such a uniquely engaging art form. The character's genuine affection for musicals and the transformative nature of them is so completely endearing that his enthusiasm is infectious. His running commentary about life in general, and musicals in particular, is trenchant and illuminating, touching on a myriad of subjects that people, particularly those who love live theatre, find both intriguing and pertinent.
With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, that ideally captures the tone of shows on the Great White Way during the '20s, this non-union touring production features choreography by Tiffany Haas and direction by Jay Douglas, re-creating the original Broadway staging by the supremely talented Casey Nicholaw. David Gallo's original Broadway set design is recreated, as well, as are Gregg Barnes' delightful costumes.
As The Man in Chair intones, what makes musical theatre such a treasure and a treat is how it can spirit you away to a beautiful, heretofore only imagined, world for a couple of hours (two hours is just enough, thank you; three hours is too long) and when you leave, you have a nice tune in your head to remind you of the show you just saw. That is the magic of live theatre and that is exactly what The Drowsy Chaperone gives you. It's like writing a love letter - or sending a Valentine - to your first and truest love.