Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Drowsy Chaperone"

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entire contents copyright 2011 by Tony Annicone

"The Drowsy Chaperone"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The fourth show of the 78th season of Theatre by the Sea is the five-time Tony Award winning musical, "The Drowsy Chaperone". The show first opened on Broadway on May 1, 2006 and starred Georgia Engel as Mrs. Tottendale and won Tony Awards for Best Book and Best Score. The hilarious show-within-a-show begins when a die-hard musical fan decides to play his favorite cast album, a 1928 smash hit called The Drowsy Chaperone and the show magically bursts to life right in his apartment. Audiences are instantly immersed in the uproarious wedding day with a Broadway bride, a celebrity groom and of course a "drowsy" chaperone.The plot centers on Janet Van De Graaff, a showgirl who plans to give up her career in order to marry an oil tycoon, Robert Martin. However Janet is the star of "Feldzieg's Follies" and her producer is being threatened by two gangsters employed by his chief investor. Disguised as pastry chefs, these two-pun happy thugs want Feldzieg to stop the wedding and he enlists the help of Adolpho, a bumbling Latin Lothario to seduce Janet and spoil her relationship with Robert. Meanwhile, Janet is having doubts about her groom and disguises herself as a French woman, tempts him into kissing her with a massive misunderstanding taking place. The ensuing plot incorporates mistaken identities, dream sequences, spit takes, a deus ex machina,(a plot device where an inextricable problem is suddenly solved with contrived intervention) an unflappable English butler, an absent-minded dowager, a ditzy chorine, a harried best man and Janet's "Drowsy" meaning tipsy Chaperone, played in the show-within-a-show by a blowzy Grande Dame of the Stage specializing in "rousing anthems" and not above upstaging the occasional co-star. Director Michael O'Steen picks the best 17 performers for these wild and madcap roles, winning his cast a thunderous ovation at the close of the show.

Ocean State Theater Company, the not for profit producing entity at the historic Theatre by the Sea hires topnotch technical people for this show. Michael O'Steen not only directs the show but choreographs it, too. Some of his sensational dances include Charleston, tap, tango and Busby Berkley type dances to name a few, especially impressive is the one on roller skates while blindfolded. His performers move in perfect unison to them. Michael is aided in his task by Aaron McAllister as the musical director. He not only conducts his seven piece orchestra but plays lead keyboards. Aaron taught the beautiful 1920's type score to the cast and he and his musicians supply gorgeous accompaniment to the cast. Leading this cast in the pivotal role of the Man in the Chair is Theatre by the Sea favorite, Lennie Watts. He returns in triumph to the theatre after 11 years. He narrates the show, keeping the plot moving along as well as delivering an enormous amount of dialogue with ease. The man in the Chair weaves in and out of the scenes in a very hilarious manner. Lennie commands the stage in this role, making many comic references along the way. He joins in on "Bride's Lament", the finale of Act 1 and the end of the show, showing the audience he can sing and dance terrifically with the rest of the cast. Bravo on your spectacular return to TBTS.

Erin West is marvelous as Janet from her first entrance. Her singing and dancing as well as her acting and expert comic timing are topnotch in this role. Erin is a beautiful gal who mesmerizes the audience in her songs "Show Off" which begins as a torch song, builds into a belting number where she does high kicks and acrobatics. It is reminiscent of a number from "Gypsy". She also sings "Bride's Lament" which is about comparing her boyfriend to being like a monkey on a pedestal. Sean Montgomery is tall, dark and handsome as her suitor, Robert. He is fantastic especially in "Accident Waiting to Happen" where he dances blindfolded on roller skates which has to be seen to be believed. He also does an excellent song and dance routine to "Cold Feets" with Kevin Loreque as George the best man. Their tap dancing in this number is fabulous and it stops the show with their expertise. I last reviewed Sean as Bobby Child in "Crazy for You" at TBTS in 2009. Kevin uses his strong tenor voice in the "Wedding Songs".

The biggest scene stealer in this show is Happy McPartlin as the drowsy chaperone. She is hilarious, performing the clever shtick Michael gave her to do while guzzling from her flask. Happy enters several scenes while laying on a Murphy bed that Lennie pulls out from the wall. She uses her terrific voice in "As We Stumble Along" which refers to her drinking. She is also comical in "I Am Aldolpho" where she seduces the Latin lover with a tango and "Message from a Nightingale" which sounds like "Western People Funny" from "The King & I". It has rhyming words like Asian and Caucasian. Happy does the latter song with Aldolpho, Kitty and the two gangsters and it leaves the audience in stitches. Another scene stealer is the Latin Lothario played by Tony Castellanos. He has dark swarthy looks and he uses a smarmy charm to win over the audience as this character. His "I Am Aldolpho" is hysterical with a comic tango as well is his wooing of the Chaperone who he mistakes for the bride-to-be. Tony's funny antics wins him many accolades from the crowd and he stops the show when he delivers his name in a deep mysterious foreign voice.

Ron Sarro is very comical as Feldzieg, the producer. He wears a mustache. Ron shows off his singing voice in "Toledo Surprise" where he and the whole cast do a rousing Charleston. Some of his best moments come when he does a slow burn with the gangsters as they threaten him continually. Another scene stealer is Arielle Kook who plays his girlfriend, Kitty who wants to replace Janet in the show. The only thing the character is dumb blonde. shows off her dancing prowess in "Toledo Surprise". Two more wacky characters are the two gangsters well played by James Wells and Derek Johnson who disguise themselves as pastry chefs. They have many puns about cooking and are reminiscent of the two thugs from "Kiss Me Kate" James and Derek get to show off their fabulous voices in "Toledo Surprise" and "Message from a Nightingale". Their scene stealing antics are priceless and their dancing prowess is remarkable, too. Playing the eccentric dowager, Mrs. Tottendale is Phylis Lynn whose character has the audience rolling in the aisles with laughter at her ditsy portrayal. Phylis has a funny bit with her butler who brings her vodka when she says ice water since it is prohibition and liquor is illegal. She spits in his face several times winning much laughter. Her faithful comic British butler, Underling is played by Mark Colbenson whose deadpan delivery reminds you of Tim Conway on "The Carol Burnett Show". Their duet "Love is Always Lovely in the End'' is well done. Asha Brownie-Gordon plays Trix a mysterious woman who solves the problems facing the cast in the finale. She sings a song called "I Do, I Do in the Skies" while everyone does a fantastic dance during it. I last reviewed her in "George M" in 2008. Kudos to the entire cast and crew especially to costume designer, Patrick Bevilacqua with all the 1920's outfits and to Kimberly Powers, set designer for her ingenious design of the show within an apartment setting. I ate a delicious home cooked dinner at the Bistro by Duane Crowe and his lovely wife, Karleen. It was melt in your mouth Sole Francaise, with steamed zucchini and mashed potatoes and Key Lime Pie. So for a fun filled evening of song and dance in a brand new show that resembles a 1920's smash hit, be sure to catch the tongue in cheek, "The Drowsy Chaperone" at Theatre by the Sea."

"The Drowsy Chaperone" (17 August - 4 September)
@ 364 Cards Pond Road, MATUNICK RI

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide