Before Oscar Hammerstein II, Jerome Kern, and Richard Rodgers revolutionized the American musical, Broadway was filled with shows comprised of simple, silly characters; fun, up-beat songs; and storylines and plot-twists that rarely made sense. While "The Drowsy Chaperone" didn't debut until 1998, this fictitous flapper-era farce would have fit in perfectly with the Gershwins' light-hearted "Girl Crazy" and Cole Porter's joyous, but convoluted "Anything Goes." With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, "The Drowsy Chaperone," now playing through April 14th at the Aurora Theatre, both faithfully celebrates and hilariously sends-up the musical comedies of this bygone era.
Aurora's production features a dazzling cast comprised of some of the region's most talented performers in this Tony-winning musical. The show unfolds as the appropriately named Man in Chair, played by Steve Hudson (recently seen in Fabrefaction Theatre's "Assassins"), treats the guests in his apartment (the audience) to a playing of the record of the fictitious 1928 musical "The Drowsy Chaperone." As the songs play, and Man in Chair gives humorous biographical information for each of the "actors", the show comes to life in his living room; cast, costumes, choreography, and all.
The colorful cast of characters has gathered for the wedding of retiring follies star Janet Van de Graff, played by Libert Cogen (recent star of Actor's Express' "Kiss of the Spider Woman"). Among those present are her bridegroom, Robert Martin (played by Suzi Bass Award nominee for Actor's Express' "Spring Awakening," Greg Bosworth); her producer, worried about losing his leading lady (Bart Hansard, recently a Suzi-nominee for Aurora's "Clyde 'n Bonnie: A Folktale"); his bimbo girlfriend (four-time Suzi-nominee Caitlin Smith); and the titular chaperone, played with drunken gusto, and an Elaine Stritch-like cackle, by Suzi-winner, and Atlanta-favorite, Courtney Patterson.
Like many of the shows "The Drowsy Chaperone" lampoons, the plot is thin, and really inconsequential to the overall entertainment of the audience. The fun comes in the winking silliness and impressive talent of this spectacular cast. Like in many productions of the show, Latin-lothario Aldolpho steals nearly every scene in which he appears. Ramping up the side-splitting, scene-stealing appeal in this production is the fact that the role is played by the Aurora's popular Producing Artistic Director, Anthony P. Rodriguez.
While there is no doubt that the cast of "The Drowsy Chaperone" is well worth the price of admission, the overall production does have a few areas that seem to be just slightly lacking, especially considering the Aurora's always high-standards. Generally in this show, the action transforms the Man in Chair's small apartment into a luxurious mansion through the use of clever and surprising set pieces. However, in this case, Phil Male's set design is interesting and appropriate, but rarely rises to the level of adding humor and nuance to the "show-within-a-show" construct, as it often does.
Additionally, Anne Townes' direction is sharp and especially strong in the show's rare introspective moments. However, it seems that much of the show's satirical edge, usually aimed at an audience with an above-average theatrical knowledge, was somewhat sacrificed, in an attempt to appeal to a larger, less "in" crowd. That being said, Townes keeps the show crisp, brisk, and entertaining from start to finish. Under the music direction of the Aurora's Associate Producer, two-time Suzi-winner Ann-Carol Pence, each of the show's songs was a heart-warming delight.
Also of note is the rousing choreography by Jen MacQueen, especially in the breath-taking (literally) tap-number, featuring Bosworth and his "best man, George", played by Suzi-nominee Nick Morrett. Rounding out the exceptional ensemble cast are gangsters posing as pastry chefs (Suzi-nominee John Markowski and Austin Tijerina), a forgetful widow and her Underling (Holly Stevenson and Suzi-nominee Bandon O'Dell), and Suzi-nominee Xylina Nuckles (whose role I could explain, but it wouldn't make sense anyway).
"The Drowsy Chaperone" runs at the Aurora Theatre in Lawrenceville (128 East Pike Street, Lawrenceville, Georgia 30046) through April 14th with performances Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00pm and Saturday & Sunday at 2:30pm. Tickets run from $16-$35. To get your tickets call 678-226-6222 or visit their website.