The Drowsy Chaperone

  • Review by:
    Polly Wittenberg

    Music & Lyrics by: Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison
    Book by: Bob Martin & Don McKellar
    Directed by: Casey Nicholaw
    Cast: Danny Burstein, Georgia Engel, Sutton Foster, Edward Hibbert, Troy Britton Johnson, Eddie Korbich, Garth Kravits, Jason Kravits, Beth Leavel, Kecia Lewis-Evans, Bob Martin, Jennifer Smith, Lenny Wolpe, Linda Griffin, Angela Pupello, Joey Sorge and Patrick Wetzel.
    Synopsis: To chase his blues away, a modern day musical theatre addict known simply as 'Man in Chair' (Martin) drops the needle on his favorite LP � the 1928 musical comedy The Drowsy Chaperone. From the crackle of his hi-fi, the musical magically bursts to life on stage, telling the tale of a pampered Broadway starlet who wants to give up show business to get married, her producer who sets out to sabotage the nuptials, her chaperone, the debonair groom, the dizzy chorine, the Latin lover and a pair of gangsters who double as pastry chefs.
     

     

    The consensus of critics seems to be that The Drowsy Chaperone, the fluffy new musical which recently opened at the Marquis Theater, is major competition for the current (and my) fave, Jersey Boys, for this year�s Tony award for Best New Musical. I beg to differ.

    Send-ups of musical conventions like this show are not unknown to New York audiences. The annual productions of Forbidden Broadway have been doing it brilliantly for years. What is new (?) about The Drowsy Chaperone is that it is a send-up of the conventions of musicals of 80 years ago, with a few current issues (like the scourge of cell phones) thrown in for good measure.

    Such subjects may be entertaining for folks who have never seen revivals of the numerous old shows that have been semi-staged at the City Center�s Encores series or fully-staged at nearby theaters like the Paper Mill Playhouse or Goodspeed. My impression on the night I saw it was that the audience at The Drowsy Chaperone was just bathing in the familiarity of it all. This is not what makes Tony Best Musical material or a positive commentary on the future of this American art form.

    The music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison are neither memorable nor especially witty. The title of the show�s major anthem, �As We Stumble Along,� seems particularly apt. The direction by Casey Nicholow is professional but predictable.

    Which is not to say that the production hasn�t got its plusses. Bob Martin, who stars as the narrator in a moldy old cardigan, has wonderful comic timing and holds the whole evening together with his warmth and charm. He�s also co-author of the book with Don McKellar and, in that role, I would give him lesser marks.

    I can�t give many kudos to the rest of the cast because every one of them is made to play a cartoon-like type and spends 100% of the evening merely going through the appropriate motions. For example, Georgia Engel as a ditz is not an original idea. Ditto for Beth Leavel as the title character, a siren with a heart. Troy Britton Johnson is slickly good-looking in the role of the romantic lead but only moderately good on roller-skates in a limited space. And we don�t get to see nearly enough of the star (and she is one), Sutton Foster. Her main contribution is to reveal some previously unknown gymnastic ability and to prance through a big star turn uttering just-plain-stupid lyrics about monkeys.

    The set by David Gallo, in which all scenes take place inside the frame of the narrator�s run-down gated-window pad, is particularly clever. And the costumes by Gregg Barnes are colorful and fun.

    Normally, when a show is really good, two hours aren�t nearly enough. After the one hour and 40 minutes of this intermissionless performance, I was delighted to be outside in fresh air.

     

     

    What the critics had to say.....

    BEN BRANTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says �Small and ingratiating musical...it is not any kind of a masterpiece.�

    CLIVE BARNES of THE NEW YORK POST says "I understand that this little, horrifyingly pastiche musical started life in someone's living room in Canada. It should have stayed there."

    HOWARD KISSELL of the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says "It's full of wit and high spirits, so entertaining you can overlook the fact it came from Los Angeles."

    MICHAEL SOMMERS of the STAR-LEDGER says "An adorable salute to musicals of yesteryear."

    ELYSA GARDNER of USA TODAY says "Plenty of bubbly moments. In the end, though, I got little kick from this champagne."

    ROBERT FELDBERG of THE RECORD says "The show is absolutely charming -- the sweetest, cleverest and one of the most purely entertaining productions on Broadway."

    LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says "Gets a little tiresome and, even at 105 minutes, a bit overextended. But it also is sweetheart of an escapist musical that celebrates the foolish magic of escapist distractions."

    MICHAEL KUCHWARA of the ASSOCIATED PRESS says "If you want to get some idea of what it means to be over the moon for musical comedy, pay a visit to Broadway's Marquis Theatre, where a disarming, delightful souffl� called "The Drowsy Chaperone," is making a strong case for song-and-dance obsession."

    FRANK SCHECK of THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER "The happiest surprise of the Broadway season."

    External links to full reviews from newspapers

    New York Times
    New York Post
    New York Daily News
    USA Today
    The Record
    NewsDay
    Associated Press
    The Hollywood Reporter