note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
In April 2008, when the touring company of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” came to Boston’s Opera House for two weeks, starring wispy-voiced, doe-eyed star, Georgia Engel, as lovably daft socialite Mrs. Tottendale, it was a 90-minute, non-stop rollicking hoot.
When “Chaperone” originally appeared on Broadway with Engel in 2006, it won five Tonys, seven Drama Desk Awards, including Outstanding Musical; four Outer Critics Circle Awards; and others.
The SpeakEasy Theatre Company production, directed and choreographed by David Connolly, currently at the Roberts Theatre, is even more enjoyable, featuring an all-Boston star-studded cast. Its high energy wackiness draws non-stop laughs and enthusiastic applause.
This spoof on musical theater is a play within a play, narrated by Man in Chair, (Boston’s award-winning Will McGarrahan). Initially, seated in the dark, he welcomes us into his drab, shabby apartment, decorated with stars’ photos and posters, (nicely designed by Jenna McFarland Lord). The lonely musical theater lover is especially enamored of a 1928 musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone”. He never actually saw the play, he says. His mother only bought him the record – yes, a real LP record, he adds, while playing it for us. He points out the highlights, scenes and characters he likes best, sometimes freeze-framing the action to capture that moment. He says when he’s blue, he likes to play it, because it lifts him out of his depression.
Relaxed, lulled into musical theater euphoria, he narrates, infusing quips and anecdotal gems. His room suddenly recedes, bursting into a Broadway set, as the cast gloriously spills onto the stage, garbed in Seth Bodie’s dazzling costumes. He smiles broadly, gleefully.
SpeakEasy’s superlative cast, starring award-winning actress Karen MacDonald in the title role, along with her former American Repertory Theater co-star award winner, Thomas Derrah, as lothario Aldolpho, are hilarious as unlikely lovers. So are Kerry A. Dowling, who as dowager Mrs. Tottendale is also ditsy, but more blatant, flamboyant, than the low-keyed Engel, and Robert Saoud, who’s a hoot as her patient, gentlemanly butler, Underling.
The real spotlight stealer here is beautiful young newcomer McCaela Donovan as bride-to-be Janet Van de Graaff, the “oops” girl, who enchanted audiences in New Repertory’s “Hot Mikado,” and SpeakEasy’s sumptuous production of “Nine”. In “Chaperone,” Donovan unleashes her perfect sense of comedic timing and admirable vocal range.
Donovan’s co-star, groom Robert Martin (David Christensen), shows his fancy footwork in a great song-and-dance routine, Cold Feets,” but he’s equally nimble when dancing blindfolded and on roller skates. The plot to this whacked-out recreation of an imaginary vintage music theater hit is the basic, frothy theme of a showgirl’s decision to leave her career and marry for love; while producer Feldzeig, (J.T. Turner) and his gangster financial backer thwart her wedding plans. Feldzeig’s bubble-headed blonde girlfriend, Kitty, (Sarah Drake), hopes to replace Janet on stage. Man in Chair admits the plot is goofy, but, oh, the songs, the scenes, the characters....... he sighs.
Music Conductor Nicholas James Connell on keyboard and his four musicians sound like a full orchestra, while sound designer Aaron Mack ensures every word, note, and special effect is punctuated.
The story ends happily, as does Man in Chair. He has chased his blues away –and ours - by sharing it with us.
BOX INFO:One-act, 100-minute musical comedy, music, lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, book by Don McKellar and Bob Martin, appearing through June 5 with SpeakEasy Stage Company, at the Roberts Studio Theatre, Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, 527 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Performances are Wednesday,Thursday, at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, 8 p.m.; Saturday, 4,8 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.; no performance, Wednesday, May 25; added performance, Sunday, May 29, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $30-$57; senior discounts. Under 25 tickets, $25 at all times; student rush (with valid ID) an hour before curtain, $14. Call 617-933-8600 or visit www.SpeakEasyStage.com.