Los Angeles Theater Preview: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Norris Center in Palos Verdes Peninsula)

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by Tony Frankel on April 26, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE OPENS AT THE NORRIS

The cast of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Norris Center.Before American Musical Theater was reinvented by Oklahoma! in 1943, musical comedies were constructed piecemeal—a comic star here, a songwriting team there, whoever was available, really. The plot was most often something to endure until the next great tune. Along with the boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl syndrome, librettos included a quotidian mélange of mix-ups, pandemonium, gangsters, and—left over from Vaudeville—buffoonery and tap routines. The roles were written for top bananas, belters, pretty little starlets, and leading-man Lotharios.

Adam Trent as Gangster #1, Noelle Marion as Kitty and Jon Wailin as Gangster #2 in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Norris Center.As nostalgia-laced musicals came into being in the 1970s, shows used this conceit by taking new librettos and wrapping them around pre-existing popular tunes—now commonly known as a Jukebox Musical. Alongside the advent of this genre was the reimagining and reviving of old-fashioned musicals (Irene, No, No, Nanette, Crazy for You), but they still retained an air of saccharine silliness. When The Drowsy Chaperone, which had been in development for years, opened at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles in 2005, everything old was new again, and a hit was born. Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison (music and lyrics), Bob Martin, and Don McKellar (book) figured out a way to simultaneously honor, spoof, and sentimentalize the musicals of the 1920s and 30s. It opened on Broadway in 2006, and all four creators would go on to win Tony’s for their effort.

Jessica Ernest as Janet and Tracy Lore as the titular THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Norris Center. (1)For those unfortunate souls who have not had a chance to see one of the worldwide productions since then (or for those such as myself who can’t get enough), The Norris Center for the Performing Arts opens The Drowsy Chaperone this weekend, continuing its run until May 11.

The conceit here is a show-within-a-show. The Man in Chair (yes, that’s the character’s name) is a mousy, agoraphobic Broadway fanatic. Speaking directly to us from his dingy apartment, he attempts to cure his “non-specific sadness” by listening to the fictional 1928 musical comedy, The Drowsy Chaperone. As he listens to this rare recording, the characters appear in his cramped abode, transforming it into an impressive Broadway set. The antiquated plot integrates mistaken identities, dream sequences, spit takes, a deus ex machina, an unflappable English butler, an absent-minded dowager, a Broadway impresario and his Follies production, comic gangsters, a ditzy chorine, a harried best man, and a drowsy (read: tipsy) chaperone.

Eric Michael Parker as Robert, Larry Raben as Man in Chair and Chris Daniel as George in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Norris Center.As he listens to the show, Man in Chair is torn between his desire to absorb every moment of the show as it unfolds and his need to insert his personal footnotes and his extensive-but-trivial knowledge of musical performances and actors, as he frequently brings the audience in and out of the fantasy. As the show goes on, more of his personal life is revealed through his musings about the show. Thus, we get a spoof of musical-comedy fanatics as well as the genre itself and the extravagant musicals of the 1920s.

Danny Michael as Underling and Lindsay Brooks as Mrs. Tottendale in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Norris Center.With direction by James Gruessing, choreography by Ann Myers, and musical direction by Daniel Thomas, the 17-member cast in The Norris Center’s production includes Broadway veteran Larry Raben (Man in Chair), Tracy Lore (Drowsy Chaperone), Jessica Ernest (Janet Van De Graaf), Jeff Max (Adolpho), Eric Michael Parker (Robert), Lindsay Brooks (Mrs. Tottendale), Greg Nicholas (Feldzeig), Chris Daniel (George), Noelle Marion (Kitty), Danny Michaels (Underling), Adam Trent (Gangster #1), and Jon Wailin (Gangster #2).

Jessica Ernest and Danny Michaels in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Norris Center.

The catchy score (including the show-stopping “Show Off” and the theme song for my spouse and me, “Accident Waiting to Happen”) will be accompanied by a 12-piece orchestra. The Norris does Broadway-caliber work in a mid-size house—plus, it’s a short run, so get in on the fun now. You’ll walk away afterward anything but drowsy.

Larry Raben  as Man in Chair and Tracy Lore as the titular THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Norris Center.

Tracy Lore, Larry Raben, Jessica Ernest and Eric Michael Parker star in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE at the Norris Center.

photos by Ed Krieger

The Drowsy Chaperone
Norris Center for the Performing Arts
27570 Norris Center Drive
in Palos Verdes Peninsula
Friday and Saturday at 8 pm
Sunday at 2 pm
plays through May 11, 2014
for tickets, call (310) 544-0403
or visit www.norriscenter.com

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