Cape Playhouse's "Drowsy Chaperone": A Real Sleeper

The Cast of "Drowsy Chaperone"
(photo: Cape Playhouse)

When “Drowsy Chaperone” hit Broadway in 2006, it was a true sleeper, as no one was prepared for how popular it would prove. Now being presented as Cape Playhouse's second production of the season, It's billed as “a musical within a comedy”, and that indeed it is. First performed in 1998 in Toronto, it evolved into a full-fledged Broadway musical comedy eight years later, running for almost 700 performances, with thirteen Tony nominations and five Tony Awards (including, notably, Best Book and Best Score) and seven Drama Desk Awards, as well as five Olivier Awards for its London production. Many (this critic included) felt it was the best musical of that season. A parody of the silly musicals of the twenties, with its ditzy chorine, comic gangsters, mistaken identities and even an aviatrix, it was immediately embraced by musical comedy buffs as the loving valentine to the form that it was intended to be. With the Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and Music and Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, it emerged as one of the most original creations in memory. It's the story of an agoraphobic man living alone with his theatrical memories and LP collection of Broadway musicals, specifically the 1928 (fictional) musical special favorite of his, “The Drowsy Chaperone”.

The protagonist, identified only as Man in Chair (Simon Jones), suffering from some “non-specific sadness”, or what he calls feeling “blue”, finds comfort in playing his recording of the score. He narrates the plot and presents the characters to the audience, introducing such stereotypical characters as Mrs. Tottendale (Jo Anne Worley, of “Laugh-In” fame, who played the role on Broadway for eight months in 2007, and is fondly remembered from the wacky 1966 musical revue “The Mad Show”) who's hosting the wedding of Broadway diva Janet Van Der Graaf (Julie Kavanagh) and oil magnate Robert Martin (Danny Gardner), his best man George (John Scacchetti), the titular Drowsy (as in “tipsy”) Chaperone (Michele Ragusa), Mrs. Tottendale's employee known only as Underling (James Dybas), Broadway producer Feldzieg (Bill Nolte) and note the reversal of name from Ziegfeld, as well as aspiring chorine, Kitty (Kristen Mengelkoch). There's also self-proclaimed Latin lover Aldolpho (Craig Laurie), the aforementioned aviatrix, aptly named Trix (Dan'yelle Williamson), and two Gangsters (Ben Liebert and Elliott Mattox), these last two disguised as pastry chefs (don't ask). The cast also includes a Superintendent (played by Cape Playhouse intern Gus Cuddy), and a dancing ensemble of two, Lauren Kadel and Karen Hyland, in multiple roles (including as a pair of monkeys).

As helmed here by Director Pamela Hunt and Choreographed by Shea Sullivan, this production is, well, swell. The hilarity is on a high level, notably in the numbers “As We Shuffle Along”, “Message from a Nightingale”, and “Love Is Always Lovely in the End”. Then there's the ironic “Show Off” wherein Kavanagh dismisses countless song conventions while simultaneously executing them, a satirical hoot for musical comedy buffs. It's difficult to describe the rest of the show without too many spoilers, but suffice it to say the scenes when the record skips, as well as quite a few other tongue-in-cheek homages to clichés of old musicals, including spit-takes, make this one enormously funny show. The performances from all thirteen cast members, are superb, especially Mr. Jones and Ms. Worley, but the entire company shines. The Musical Direction by Michael Rice, leading an orchestra of nine (including himself on keyboard), the extraordinarily clever Set Design by Nicholas Dorr, the excellent Lighting Design by Erick Fox and most especially the many fabulous costumes by the wondrous Jose Rivera, are all topnotch.

If you've never seen “Drowsy Chaperone” before, or it's been a while since you last saw it, get thee to Cape Playhouse where it's being delightfully performed by a hugely talented cast. As Man in Chair says when referring to an overture, this is like a pupu platter of tunes. Your record collection may never seem the same again.

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