Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Theatre Review - The Drowsy Chaperone

Last weekend, Lynette and I went to see The Drowsy Chaperone at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake. The play itself opened about 2 years ago on Broadway and picked up a number of Tonys. I picked up the soundtrack last summer and enjoyed some of the tunes but missed out on a lot of the humor brought in by the narrator and the physical humor on stage.

Going into the show, I knew only a little bit about the plot. I knew that it was a "play within a play" sort of show. The narrator is the "Man in Chair" who invites the audience into his apartment to listen to his records. Specifically, his recording of "The Drowsy Chaperone" which is a fictionalized play from the 1920s incorporating many of the standardized elements of musical drama of that era. As the record plays, the scenes come to life in his apartment. There's a great blending of past and present throughout and very creative use of the set to incorporate the 1928 stage setting with the city apartment.

Our "Man in Chair" was fabulous. Going back and comparing him with the narrator on the CD Soundtrack, I found our narrator to be much more personable and vivacious. Part of it likely comes from trying to bring the right energy into a recording studio, but I felt more like our live narrator was actually taking us through his apartment, while the recorded actor felt more like he was "phoning in" his performance at times.

Anyway, from the onset, "Man in Chair" draws the audience in. His satirical conversation with us right from the beginning sets the tone for the rest of the play. While we sit in the dark, waiting for the lights and then the curtain to go up, we hear his voice telling us what he does while he sits in the dark waiting for the play to start. He talks about the prayer he says before each performance, referring to his own pet peeves at the theatre. The one that immediately becomes ironic is his comment about hating it when the actors "break the 4th wall", something that he will do again and again throughout the night. His dry, sardonic sense of humor is fabulous and is performed with such deadpan enthusiasm that it was hard not to laugh.

The "musical inside the play" begins with a lively overture which transitions to an introduction song with each of the characters identifying themselves and the part they're about to play. In case you missed it, the "man in chair" gives a quick recap at the end of the song. The music in the play is a lot of fun. It's very much reminiscent of the early musical theatre sound that it is parodying. The characters themselves are stereotypical types portrayed in the common melodramas. Each character had his or her own musical theme and style that helped establish what type of character they'd be playing.

The lyrics were generally very over the top and cheesy. This was pointed out especially by our narrator on one song in particular. He explains that the leading lady is obviously in a lot of pain and is ready to pour her heart out. He lets us know that the song we're going to hear is one of the most beautiful songs and that its sound truly exemplifies her feelings...but that the lyrics are just awful and totally destroy the mood. The lyrics were definitely very hilarious, especially when paired with a romantically tugging tune.

As with any good musical melodrama from the early 20th century, there's a heavy blend of slapstick and other physical humor. Between "spitting" and "hitting" scenes and a fabulous tap scene, we also get an almost vaudeville performance as the lead actor spends a scene roller skating around the stage while blindfolded. To cap it off, the main cast ends up climbing aboard the wings of a biplane to soar off to happily ever after.

The show was a lot of fun. It made it very clear that it's not to be taken seriously. At the same time, as with any parody or satire, it made some great points about musical theatre and subtly made a statement or two. Mainly, it reminded us that there's nothing wrong with rehashing the same elements that have been around for decades or centuries as long as it's the RIGHT elements that we're reusing. Too many shows lately either try to completely reinvent the genre or they rehash the same tired and worn out elements that have bored theatre goers for years.

Drowsy Chaperone is a fresh and entertaining romp. It's everything that good theatre should be. Some of the jokes and innuendos may have gone a little far and may potentially offend some people (but those people are the ones responsible for the numerous empty seats anyway). A lot of the elements and potentially off-color jokes will go over young kids heads, but even still, this play is probably best enjoyed by a teenager or older.

I really enjoyed this play and would gladly go see it again if it came through town.

4 stars

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