Regional Theater Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Coronado Playhouse in Coronado, CA)

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by Milo Shapiro on November 11, 2011

in Theater-Regional

SWEET AND WITTY SPOOF IS A CURE-ALL FOR THE BLUES

The playbill cover for Coronado Playhouse’s highly charming production of The Drowsy Chaperone describes it as “A Musical Within A Comedy,” which is partly true: it’s also both a take-off and homage to old-fashioned Broadway musicals (book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison).

The show begins in the apartment of a sixty-something loner whose greatest pleasure in life is his LPs, which are out-of-date and often obscure musicals.   Breaking the fourth wall, this narrator asks the audience if he can share one of his favorites − a treasured soundtrack of a long forgotten minor hit from 1928.  The Drowsy Chaperone - Coronado Playhouse in Coronado CA – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroAs he puts the needle of his record player down, the characters appear in performance in his living room, singing and dancing as the fictional musical The Drowsy Chaperone is “played” on the turntable.  Any time he lifts the needle, though, the action on stage freezes so that he can share his thoughts – usually about that moment in the musical, but sometimes about his life (his commentary is the aforementioned comedy that the musical is within).  Indeed, most of what is funny about this production is in the remarks of this quirky, witty, and musically-impassioned recluse, wonderfully portrayed by Jim Williams.

The inner story itself is trite and predictable, but it is intended to be so; its raison d’être is almost entirely to be a foil for the narrator’s observations.  In fact, some of the best fun of the show is hearing his frustration with parts of the musical that don’t work for him, such as when he announces, “I hate this scene.  I’m just going to jump ahead.”  He lifts the needle, forcing the actors behind him to react to wherever in the musical he places the needle.  At other times, he tells the audience what became of these 1920s actors later in their lives.

The Drowsy Chaperone - Coronado Playhouse in Coronado CA – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroThe internal musical’s plot is a schlocky tale about wedding plans gone awry.  Since the highly farcical and gag-oriented show was “written” in 1928, the highly stereotypical characters spring authentically to life, delightfully overacting under the playful direction of Thomas Fitzpatrick.  Some of the Jazz Age numbers are infectiously enjoyable, like a pleasantly performed tap routine by the groom and best man (William Henry and Nicholas Williams), or the number with clever wordplay of gangsters disguised as bakers (Alan Aguilar and Kyle Young).  When the musical is painfully bad, like the melodramatic blustering of the “exotic European” Aldolpho (Danny Ingersoll) – from no particular country, of course – the narrator’s commentary is particularly hilarious.  Jennie Gray Connard is so wonderfully and persistently icky as Kitty – a talentless wannabe star who clings to a producer (Michael Van Allen) – that it’s a joy to watch Connard’s acting while the narrator cringes.

The Drowsy Chaperone - Coronado Playhouse in Coronado CA – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroFor a community theater production, one of the not-to-be-forgotten heroes here is costume designer Carol Whaley, who time and again delights us with beautiful 1920s-style clothing that flatters both genders. In particular, she repeatedly makes a sparkling knockout of bride-to-be Janet with period fashions that only serve to enhance the already lovely Tiffany Loui.  The feeling conveyed is that there is a big budget for wardrobe, unlikely in any community theater in 2011.  When the narrator first puts the needle on the vinyl album, he smiles. “Hear that static?  That’s the sound of a time machine starting.”  Whaley definitely knows where the time capsule is landing.

The Drowsy Chaperone - Coronado Playhouse in Coronado CA – Regional Theater Review by Milo ShapiroThe standout singer in the cast is Debbie David as the bride’s chaperone, who powerfully belts it out in “As We Stumble Along,” but rest assured that there are no weak links in the cast for vocal quality.

As it happens, the Act II gets more laughs than Act I.  Without spoiling the fun, the gags are simply funnier, more abundant, and our growing familiarity with the narrator gives the writers more room to expand his peculiarities (he’s not all loveable; he can also be cranky, pretentious, and obsessive).  Act I was merely cute, but Act II crossed over into hilarious, completing a show that is recommendable to anyone open to a sweet, entertaining, and good-hearted amusement.

photos by Gaines Photography

The Drowsy Chaperone
Coronado Playhouse in Coronado, CA
scheduled to end on December 4
for tickets, visit http://www.coronadoplayhouse.com/

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