You’re not likely to find many musical theater narrators funnier or wittier than the gleefully ironic Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone, a gem of a production playing at Weathervane Community Playhouse.
Patrick Dukeman creates the heart of the show as the agoraphobic Man in Chair, who lives through his mind’s eye as he plays the LP from his favorite 1920s musical. In this ambitious Weathervane undertaking, the Roaring ’20s show springs to life in the man’s drab apartment.
The vintage play-within-the-play — a valentine to old-time Broadway — is full of silly mayhem. But the running commentary by the Man in Chair brings a refreshing intelligence to The Drowsy Chaperone. The narrator knows the stock characters, plot and songs in his favorite show are ridiculous, but he loves this throwback to the jazz age for its pure escapism.
Ironically, although he says he hates shows that break the fourth wall, the Man in Chair spends his entire time doing that, talking directly to the audience as he shares his wryly humorous and at times philosophical observations about entertainment.
Staging by New York director Gwen Arment is spot-on as the Man in Chair hovers around his beloved, larger-than-life characters, perching on a bed right next to them or dancing joyously in the background as the cast carries on. Arment, a Cuyahoga Falls native and an original investor in the Broadway production of The Drowsy Chaperone, has shaped the volunteer Weathervane cast of 18 into a professional-quality ensemble.
Dukeman sets a perfect tone of nerdy neuroticism as he sweeps us into the world of the story — the 1928 Feldzieg Follies. This spoof on the era’s theater spectacles features a number of extreme characters, including brassy star and bride-to-be Janet van de Graaff, debonair fiancé Robert, self-proclaimed Latin lover Adolpho, meddling producer Feldzieg, a couple of gangsters, ditzy chorine Kitty and the perpetually drunk title character, who’s supposed to keep tabs on the bride.
Every cast member gets a rare opportunity to overact in this bold play, which features glamorous costumes by Jasen Smith and lively dancing, choreographed by Arment. Especially wonderful is the tap number with Scott Miesse’s Robert and Shane Hurst’s George in Cold Feets as well as the full ensemble in the Charleston-flavored Toledo Surprise.
The show’s giddy sight gags and hilarious surprises induce a number of belly laughs, including an insane monkey dance in Bride’s Lament. Molly Weidig’s Show Off is in a category of its own as her Janet, who swears she’s given up acting, can’t stop herself from performing every trick you’d find in a vaudeville show. You have to see this elaborate act, complete with a handful of costume changes, to believe it.
“I don’t want to change keys no more. I don’t want to strip tease no more,’’ she belts in the extended gag.
The Drowsy Chaperone was conceived as a skit in 1997 by some Canadian theater friends satirizing old musicals for a friend’s bachelor party. The bachelor, Bob Martin, loved the skit so much, he helped to fully develop the show — and went on to star as the Man in Chair. The musical is a five-time 2006 Tony Award winner.
At Weathervane, Amanda Davis is delightful in her woozy characterization as the Drowsy Chaperone, singing a wacky “anthem to alcoholism’’ and also tickling the funny bone in a scene of anti-romance with Adolpho (Ryan Bergeron). Karen Wood and Al Klesh make a comical pairing as the dotty older woman and her butler, and Sarah Bailey blows us away with her ebullient singing as Trix the Aviatrix. Finally, Kevin Kane, who stepped into the role of Feldzieg 10 days before the show opened, doesn’t miss a beat.
The musical, which runs about 90 minutes without intermission, contains some off-color dialogue and a mildly suggestive situation.
Every character in the show references old-time movie stars and musicals, the director said. The theatrical allusions extend beyond the ’20s, including a mockery of The King and I as well as elements reminiscent of Kiss Me Kate, 42nd Street and even Dames at Sea.
The Drowsy Chaperone is a smartly constructed, adorable show. But most importantly, it has heart and abundant humor that’s certain to chase any blues away.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.