The show opens and proceeds for the first few minutes in complete darkness. A companionable male voice begins speaking. “I hate theater,” the voice says. “Well, it’s so disappointing, isn’t it?” This voice, which belongs to a lonely, and musical-loving divorcee called Man in Chair (rendered with an affable believability by Doug Caldwell), offers up a prayer as he always does before a play, “…let it be short… keep the actors out of the aisles… I just want to be entertained. I mean, isn’t that the point?” It so happens, I say pretty much this same prayer before any show too, and I can gladly report, that The Drowsy Chaperone at Center Point Legacy Theatre answers that prayer.
The lights come up and Man in Chair is revealed sitting, alone, in a humble studio apartment. Man in Chair, takes the audience on a journey through his favorite musical, as he imagines it to have been. You see, Man in Chair has never actually seen his favorite musical, only heard it. He puts on the vinyl recording of the 1928 smash-hit by Gable & Stein, The Drowsy Chaperone, and in his very drab-looking, studio apartment, the show comes to life, complete with original cast members summoned into being to recreate the production. The characters plucked from Man’s imagination enter by way of apartment door, cupboard and even refrigerator door. Caldwell is very likeable and humorous, and his narration (with the occasional side story here and there, including the backstories of each of the actors in the cast) keeps things moving along nicely. You do get just the slightest sense about three-fourths way through the show, of just how desperate and lonely this Man is as he obsessively escapes into this fantasy day in and day out, rather than face the miserable and sad reality of his life. There is no departure into the depressive sadness of his lonely life, though, just a surface glimpse of what might lie beneath.
The play within the play (which includes a vast array of colorful characters such as a bride who’s giving up the stage for love, her debonair bridegroom, his best man George, a harried producer, jovial gangsters posing as pastry chefs, and an aviatrix – what we now call a feminist- says the Man In Chair, by the way), centers on a young couple about to be wed. But, attempts to stop the wedding bring about all kinds of chaos, including mistaken identities and dancing monkeys (why not?).
Robert Martin, a former toothpaste spokes-model, played by Aaron Hales, and Janet Van de Graaff, a Broadway Starlet nicknamed “The Oooops Girl”, played by Michelle Robbins, portray the attractive couple. Hales, with his charming and charismatic smile, was impressive as he tap-danced and sang, and also as he roller-skated blind folded while dialoguing and singing, but often his singing got pitchy or was not loud enough to hear well, even with a mic. Robbins is incredibly beautiful and vocally talented; her portrayal of the attention-seeking starlet was just shy of spectacular, although, I have to say, I was a little disappointed that her big production number wasn’t delivered with quite the level of energy and ‘showiness’ you might expect from Broadway Starlet singing a song called ‘Show Off’, thereby divesting it of its appeal, which is, visual irony. I’m not sure if this was a directorial choice or something else, but with this number, you just can’t be over-the-top enough. I hope that it was just an off night for Robbins and that future audiences can count on the starlet showing off to the nth degree for them. As a couple, the two could have had a bit more chemistry, but they certainly looked good together and overall I enjoyed both of their performances a great deal.
Kate Ruefner as the titular chaperone was immensely enjoyable to watch. You may or may not know, that ‘drowsy’ is euphemism for tipsy. As it turns out, the “actress” playing The Drowsy Chaperone is Beatrice Stockwell; a legendary diva with a love of drink and for whom, Man in Chair has much adoration. As the chaperone gets drowsier and drowsier, she gets cheekier and funnier, her dry wit running to snarky. She doles out just the kind of advice one might expect to receive from a drunken auntie. Ruefner’s voice is rich and powerful as she sings her anthem “As We Stumble Along” and she is delightfully believable in this role.
Brandon Ruefner was very strong and dryly humorous as the cigar-chomping and mildly scheming, Fedlzig, Janet’s producer. Erin Crouch as the energetically adorable Kitty, Feldzig’s dim-witted girlfriend who desperately longs to a Broadway star, was a joy to watch and her delivery of lines, as well as comedic timing, was flawless. Danny Inkley as the gloriously stereo-typical Latin lover was outstanding. As Inkley peacocked through his scenes with his wonderfully over-affected accent, grandiose gestures, and vibrant yet pitch perfect vocals, the audience was taken to fits of hysterical laughing and applause. The audience seemed to enjoy the chemistry between the lovely and likeable Mrs. Tottendale, who seems to be one, or maybe two crayons short, of a full box, played by Carol Thomas, and her long-suffering butler, Underling, played by the charming and dapper, Michael Nielsen. A miscommunication betwixt the two about a beverage results in repeated spit-takes that cover Nielsen- and the stage- in sprays of water, much to the very apparent delight of the audience. They perform this vaudevillian act with gusto and later share a sweet duet as they realize they are in love. Two cast members I wish I could have seen and heard more of, were Scott Stuart as the best-man, George. He had a great stage presence and his vocal abilities were evident as he sang “Wedding Bells”. And Julie Silvestro Waite, who as Trix the Aviatrix had limited time on stage at the beginning and end of show, but from what I heard she’s got vocal chops.
Aside from a few minor technical difficulties that were well handled, the show went off remarkably well. Judging by the audience’s reaction, it seems clear they agree with me and that The Drowsy Chaperone does exactly what Man in Chair says a musical is supposed to do: It takes you to another world for a little while and gives you a little tune to carry in your head for when you are feeling blue. The show is double-cast, and I saw the M, W, F cast so I can only speak to their performances. Take into account all of the ‘freeze frames’ through the telling of the story, the stops and re-starts of certain scenes, the quick changes, the double casting, and you begin to appreciate just what director, Maurie Tarbox and her team, have accomplished. The choreography by Susan DeMill was wonderfully fresh and allowed the cast to fill the stage without overwhelming it. The set design by Dan Christensen, was very well designed and executed. I do have one thing that bothered me: the highly-place door and descending staircase. I’m sure it was designed this way to make the most of the space, but I’ve never been in a studio apartment where I walked down a long flight of stairs to get into it. Aside from that, I really loved the set and was quite impressed. And last but certainly not least, the costumes designed by Michael Nielsen, Kathy Seegmiller, and Lisa Safeer were glamorous, colorful, and authentic.
I must confess I’d never been to Centerpoint Legacy Theatre before, despite the fact that there have been many shows I’ve wanted to see there. Admittedly, I let the false notion of distance and inconvenience keep me from it, but that won’t be an issue for me going forward. I can honestly say, the show was excellent and if this is the quality of show I can expect from them, I’ll be there for the next show too. The drive up I-15 wasn’t as long as I’d imagined it would be and the theatre is in fact, conveniently located a short distance from exit 319. If you haven’t been to Centerpoint Legacy Theatre, there is no time like the present and The Drowsy Chaperone runs through March 31, 2012.
The Drowsy Chaperone performs at the Centerpoint Legacy Theatre, 525 N 400 W Centerville UT at 7:30 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays from now until March 31, 2012. Tickets are $20 for adults; $19 for seniors and students, and can by purchased by phone or online at 801-298-1302/ www.centerpointtheatre.org