Theater Review: THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Lyric Stage)

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by Lynne Weiss on April 8, 2024

in Theater-Boston


Adore Broadway musicals? Hate Broadway musicals? Either way, you will love Lyric Stage’s flip and frothy production of The Drowsy Chaperone. Director and choreographer Larry Sousa maximizes the intimate yet perfectly appointed Lyric stage to present what feels like a full-scale Broadway musical with singing, dancing, skating, and tap-dancing from a 16-member cast against the backdrop of a live orchestra, ebulliently led by Matthew Stern, music director.

Written by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, book; Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, music and lyrics, the concept that makes this play-within-a-musical rise above the silly and pointlessly ostentatious is Paul Melendy as the Man in Chair. He is on our side, expressing the qualms of the audience as we sit in the dark waiting for the show to begin: Will it be too long? Will the actors break the fourth wall? “I just want a story and a few good songs,” he says. He tells us he’s feeling “a little blue … a little anxious for no particular reason, a little sad … a little self-conscious anxiety resulting in non-specific sadness.”

The Man himself breaks the fourth wall, as he comments on the cast recording he has on his record player. The performance unfolds in his studio apartment , with characters popping out of the refrigerator and Murphy bed (sets by Cameron McEachern). With the advantage of time, the Man informs us as to the sadly absurd fates of some of the stars of this fictional 1928 musical. In the manner of pre-Oklahoma! musicals, the show offers little in the way of story. It’s basically a farce. A chaperone (Maureen Keillor, drowsy as the result of alcohol consumption) is charged with keeping showgirl Janet Van De Graaff (Joy Clark) and oil-heir Robert Martin (Jared Troilo) from seeing one another on their wedding day, in honor of an old-fashioned superstition. As to a few good songs? “As We Stumble Along,” described by the Man as an ode to alcoholism, is still playing in my head after last night’s opening.

The Man’s tone is sardonic as he considers the foolishness on stage, and yet he loves it all. While the musical he is sharing with us presents stereotypes and clichés, his commentary allows us to enjoy them with less guilt. (My favorite line: “Mature Broadway audiences are too sophisticated to enjoy racial stereotypes, so we’ve banished them to Disney+.”) There are indeed, laughs galore as the characters vie for audience attention. Kathy St. George and Ilyse Robbins slay as vaudevillian gangsters, deterred from their mission of destruction by the chance to appear on stage! Cristhian Mancinas-Garcia is Adolpho, a Latin Lothario whose greatest love is himself. Kristian Espiritu is Kitty, the ditzy would-be star trying out one lame act after another for impresario Feldzieg (Damon Singletary). Yet there is a whiff of Shakespearean comedy in the proceedings—disguises and mistaken identities evolve into improbable couplings and multiple weddings.

Lovers and haters of Broadway’s excesses will recognize the references: instead of Miss Saigon’s helicopter the deus ex machina is a 1920s-style airplane piloted by Trix the Aviatrix, adorably portrayed by Yasmeen Duncan, that appears in this case for no apparent reason other than to astonish the audience. But those excesses are both celebrated and skewered in this terrific production. There is no shortage of talent on this stage and the superb stage craft (Seth Bodie, costumes; John Malinowski, lighting; Alex Berg, sound) will give Boston audiences all the thrill of a Broadway musical, but up close and at a reasonable price.

It is, in short, the perfect antidote for those days, or months, or years, when you might be feeling that “anxiety resulting in non-specific sadness” and just need a little musical to chase away the blues.

photos by Mark S. Howard

The Drowsy Chaperone
Lyric Stage
140 Clarendon Street in Boston
ends on May 12, 2024
for tickets, call 617.585.5678 or visit Lyric

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