Friday, October 31, 2008

The Drowsy Chaperone -- 5th Avenue Theatre

The 5th Avenue Theatre
October 29 - November 16 2008
Tickets and Information

If you’re feeling a little blue at the onset of winter weather, the 5th Avenue Theatre has an antidote for you in The Drowsy Chaperone, a musical comedy that staunchly defends its right to simply be entertaining. The show was originally conceptualized as a bachelor’s party present spoofing the raucous Marx Brothers’ musical comedies, popular in the 1920s. After taking home 5 Tony Awards, the national tour makes its final stop here in Seattle.

The Drowsy Chaperone starts off in the eclectic apartment of the musical theater obsessed Man in Chair (Jonathan Crombie). Fighting off “non-specific sadness,” he asks us to indulge him while he plays his favorite musical, the “classic” Drowsy Chaperone. As soon as he sets needle to record, the show transports itself to his living room—a Broadway story of a young couple on the eve of their wedding. But of course this is a musical comedy in every classic sense, and so catastrophes occur in the form of mistaken identities, random tap numbers, and a drunken diva of a bridesmaid.

However, we would be doing this Tony Award-winning book (by Bob Martin and Don McKellar) and score (Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) a disservice to categorize them as a ‘classic’ musical. From the first moment of the show, the fourth wall comes “crashing down around us,” as the Man in the Chair talks directly to us, about theater itself. The Man in the Chair is the only real character in the framing play; every other character explodes out of his record collection. In some ways the show is more about the Man than anyone else; throughout the whirligig of color and sound and vaudeville, he interrupts to tell us to watch for his favorite moment, or jumps up to sing and dance along with the others—though they, of course, do not notice his presence. Each time he engages with the “unreal” actors or with us, we learn more about him, and why musicals—especially The Drowsy Chaperone—are so desperately important to him.

Director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw won Tony Awards for both duties, and it is not difficult to see why. Directing a show with two such distinct layers—a one-man show plus a nearly-farcical comedy—needs a careful hand, and the transitions between the two are handled masterfully. The comedic timing of every moment is perfect, to both Nicholaw’s and every actor’s credit, and the precision required for this style is there in spades. The choreography of the internal musical plays off the styles of the 1920s, from a sweeping balcony-set ballad to an impressive tap number, while still looking fresh and interesting.

All of the outrageousness brought by the choreography and performances is matched bar for bar by the clever set and lavish (also Tony Award-winning) costumes. David Gallo’s scenic design constantly transforms the Man in the Chair’s drab furniture and décor into decadent balconies and romantic gardens with the upturn of a Murphy bed or the addition of curtains. Gregg Barnes earns every ounce of his Tony with dozens of sequin-bedazzled gowns and outfits that grace the stage throughout the show. Both artists clearly worked in concert to visually differentiate between the dull reality of the Man in Chair’s apartment and the opulent fantasy of The Drowsy Chaperone.

The Drowsy Chaperone is the epitome of a two-for-one production; as we experience the show in all its glory, we are simultaneously let into the life and journey of one die-hard musical fan. The show manages to be much more profound than perhaps it set out to be; but it lets us reflect, by proxy, on our own hunger for musicals, and why “it’s simply entertaining” is sometimes the best (and most important) reason of all to enjoy one.

Review by Gwynn Garland and Lia Morgan


Gwynn Garland said...

Who is this Gwynn Garland? Her writing is so magnificent. Why does she not yet have the ability to post her own reviews, Nigel Andrews?

MK Piatkowski said...

Knowing some of the creators and the lead of this show I've read many, many comments on it. This article is one of the best I've seen in articulating its vision.

Lia Morgan said...

Thank you so much for your comment! We were both really intrigued by the show's device & how profound it got within such a "silly" story...I really enjoyed it. :)