Attention! "The Drowsy Chaperone" will wake you up

By Tatiana Craine

I ironed my dress in an effort to make the polka dots on it actual circles, rather than wrinkly blobs. I sped in a car with my mother and her sister babbling about domesticities. I shuffled awkwardly out of the parking ramp. and then I bumped into Woody Allen.Okay, total lie. However – there was a trio of men who were also bumbling awkwardly down the sidewalk, and one of them did remind me vaguely of Woody Allen, and all of them were definitely reminiscent of men who might have married their adoptive daughters. We looked lost, and they pointed towards the Ordway mentioning “The Drowsy Chaperone” was a great show.

I walked into the theater frazzled, exhausted, and a tad creeped out- in my mind, the world was an annoyance that just wouldn’t stop. The lights went out suddenly, and a little voice popped into my head. He told me about how he hated that moment when the lights went out in the theater, how he always prayed the actors wouldn’t obnoxiously invade the audience, how he wished they would just get on with the show. And I realized this voice was much like my own – yet not. This was the Man in Chair. Yes, the nameless Man in Chair, our humble, hilarious, and huggable narrator who prays before every show, “Dear Lord, please let it be good.”

The stage lit up to show the Man in Chair, fussing with his immense collection of Broadway show records. He chatted with us, engaging us in the record he was about to put on – his favorite, from 1928, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” What? You’ve never heard of it? You’re missing out. Why don’t you sit a spell and have a look-see.

The basic premise: an impossibly vain showgirl falls in love with the half-witted son of an oilman; they’re about to get hitched, and hilarity ensues. It’s really no more than that. And yet, the utter simplicity of the show makes it much more endearing and likeable.

The record spins clearly, and the Man in Chair narrates with his Mr. Rogers sweater hanging limply around his body. He fantasizes about the leading man in the show, tells us about each actor’s real life, and fumes about the phone ringing – ruining the precious, magical moments of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Torn between adding his own thoughts to the record and letting it run in sweet, uninterrupted perfection, the Man in Chair decides upon the former. The Man in Chair’s apartment becomes the setting for song and dance routines, a musing in his head until the stage slowly becomes a charming 1920s country estate. His interruptions to the numbers only add to the merriment as he talks about the nit-picky details that semi-seasoned musical lovers often voice (but that the rest of the world thinks, too). Why is she singing about a monkey on a pedestal? Is a scene with seven spit-takes in a row necessary?

A colorful cast of characters graces the stage, all stereotypical comic constructs – from a ditzy starlet to a disgruntled butler, a dim husband-to-be to a controlling wedding planner, and a money-hungry producer to a European lothario. Throw in a pair of twins who happen to be gangsters (and bakers! and amazing pun-makers!), a voluptuous aviatrix and an alcoholic chaperone who tends to get a little drowsy after a few vodka-tonics, and you’ve got the lovable cast of the show. The cast embodies comedic archetypes with the carefree attitude of a ’20s flapper. Fans of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” will love watching Georgia Engel (Georgette on “Mary Tyler Moore”) as Mrs. Tottendale, the air-headed housekeeper who falls in love with the butler (played by Robert Dorfman) but only after over half a dozen spit-takes over a mix up between vodka and ice water. Mark Ledbetter and Richard Vida, playing Robert and George-the-wedding-planner respectively, show off their mad tap dancing skills during the number “Cold Feets.” There may have been cold feet before the wedding, but their feet were smokin’ hot – literally.

“Show Off” was the highlight of the show, hands down. Janet, played by Andrea Chamberlain, mourns the loss of the spotlight and the world’s attention after she marries Robert and retreats into obscurity. However, despite her fate she still manages to flaunt her talents for all they’re worth, resulting in the most hypocritical song-and-dance routine I’ve ever seen… yet it was also one of the funniest scenes I’ve witnessed on a stage.

In the end, the Man in Chair tells us that musical theater is supposed to be an escape from reality, something to take away the sting of everyday life. He tells us “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a perfect cure to the affliction of living, but it’s already plain to everyone in the theater. Even my mother loved the show. And I, after an infinite number of mishaps on the way there, forgot about everything except Janet and Robert’s wedding. The character of the Drowsy Chaperone may not have done her job well (chaperoning Janet), but “The Drowsy Chaperone” definitely did its job by leading the audience to a whimsical escape.