Sunday, February 10, 2013

Faulkner: "The Drowsy Chaperone"

Faulkner University has a hit on its hands in a solid production of the award winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and a witty book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar. Director Angela Dickson and Musical Director Marilyn Swears capitalize on the talents of a mostly veteran acting company and a fine off-stage instrumental ensemble that only occasionally threatens to overpower the singing.

Using a play-within-a-play format, a character known only as "Man in Chair" [Jason Clark South] invites the audience to share his infatuation with old-fashioned musicals by playing LP-records of his favorite 1928 hit (fictional), "The Drowsy Chaperone". -- Filled as it is with a predictably convoluted romantic plot, stock characters, disguises, and too-many-to-list contrivances of a now unfashionable art form, today's audiences can share his guilty pleasure and delight in the relative innocence of a bygone era as Man in Chair's dingy apartment transforms to the more glamorous sets of "The Drowsy Chaperone" and the play comes to life in his imagination.

In it, Broadway star Janet Van De Graff [Brittney Johnston] intends to give up her career and marry man about town Robert Martin [Allen Young] whose best man George [Daniel Harms] encourages the match and plans the ceremony; powerful impresario Mr. Feldzeig [Jason Morgan], abetted by his ditzy blonde girlfriend Kitty [Emily Woodring], is threatened by two Gangsters [Matt Dickson and Blake Williams] who, disguised as pastry chefs, make it clear that his life and money would be at risk if the marriage takes place and Janet leaves the stage. So, the "Drowsy" [read: tipsy/drunk] Chaperone [Mara Woddail] is conscripted to keep an eye on Janet and convince her to call off the marriage. Complicating matters, a self-obsessed Italian Lothario named Aldolpho [Brandtley McDonald] is brought in to seduce Janet; but he mistakes the Chaperone for Janet and succeeds in winning her affection. Meanwhile, wealthy socialite Mrs. Tottendale [Kari Kelly] remains oblivious to all the goings-on as she prepares a wedding reception with the assistance of Underling [Chris Kelly] her dead-pan butler.

As the story unfolds, Man in Chair periodically interrupts the action to comment on the characters, the actors' talents, his love of musicals, and his own attraction to the matinee idol leading man. It is his story more than those told in "The Drowsy Chaperone" that connect us to the real life issues of people whose dreams have never been fulfilled and who escape to the magic of a romanticized fiction.

Of course, all this is told through the clever musical numbers that showcase the assorted gifts of the company: a stand-out "Cold Feets" has Mr. Harms and Mr. Young tap dancing their way into our hearts as they nervously prepare for the wedding; Mr. McDonald lampoons the Latin-lover in an impulsive tribute to himself in "Aldolpho"; Janet's claim that she doesn't want any more attention in "Show Off" results in a fabulous ensemble production number; mistaken identity that almost breaks up the couple we know must be married by the end is a sweet "Accident Waiting to Happen" -- are among the best pieces that link the story together.

When all seems to be heading for disaster, Trix the Aviatrix [Brooke Brown] shows up as a literal deus ex machina to save the day and renders "I Do, I Do in the Sky" with the ensemble with such gusto that we are carried along for the ride.

This is a feel-good musical comedy at its best, and the Faulkner troupe are more than up to the task.