For the second time within a month, Don and I enjoyed a production of “The Drowsy Chaperone”, this time by Seattle Musical Theatre.
I love this play with its interesting music, demanding dancing, corny jokes and comic lyrics. On your Broadway cast CD, listen to “I Put a Monkey on a Pedestal” and be amazed by the sheer silliness of the images that come to mind.
The theater that is SMT’s home is at Sand Point, formerly a naval base. The comfy seats are all ruby- jewel red and the stage area is huge. The set is gigantic. The Man in the Chair’s apartment is so big that it could house a big family, not just a middle-aged man who lives in his mother’s place.
There are some drawbacks. Since this was our first time to attend there, we were looking at a Google map that just didn’t seem to match the reality of the streets. We were navigating by guess and by golly. The signage on Sand Point Way for the turn into the park is non-existent and the lighting out front of the theater is also poor. We had no indication that we were at the right place and had to ask a woman who crossed the street in front of us (she works for or volunteers at the theater) to confirm that we were at the right place. Once inside, we were astonished at the space available. In the lobby, there was a long sales counter for interesting products including jewelry, blank books, interesting tchotchkes and more. There was another counter for refreshments and small tables for brochures and surveys. There was room for everything.
The production begins in the dark, with the Man in the Chair (Jon Lutyens) reminiscing about how he uses his record collection of musicals when he feels blue. His favorite is “The Drowsy Chaperone” a show set in the ‘20s, full of fun and a gay show. (He says, “Gay used to mean happy!”) He sets the stage for the experience of going to a Broadway show in sleety November rainfall.
He quickly introduces the characters: Janet Van De Graff (Taylor Niemeyer), a lithe, beautiful, and very limber Broadway star who is giving up her fans’ adoration to marry Robert Martin (Bo Mellinger), a man whom she hasn’t known very long, but had amused her with anecdotes and stories of his father’s oil interests.
The producer of her successful show is Mr. Feldzieg (Doug Knoop) who owes money to gangster “angels”, who have sent two stooges (Jeff Orton and Jesse Parce) to convince Feldzieg to derail the wedding, or else. Feldzieg’s girlfriend, Broadway wanna-be Kitty (Caitlin Frances) is trying to convince him that she has the goods to be a star, even though her voice sounds like nails on a blackboard. Feldzieg has hired a cinematic Latin lover Adolpho (Danny Kam) to seduce Janet and derail the wedding. He “oils his way across the floor” (like the Hungarian trying to debunk Professor Henry Higgins’ ability to make a Cockney flower seller into a lady) and truly believes that he is charming, a knockout looker and an unfailingly prodigious lover.
Martin’s best friend, the cheerful, exuberantly energized and organized George (Vince Wingerter) is in charge of all the wedding details.
Janet is accompanied by her Drowsy Chaperone (Bradetta Vines), a middle-aged alcoholic who insists on an inspiring Ethel Merman-type anthem in every show she’s in, despite the fact that she sings about an alcoholic stupor from an alcoholic stupor.
The hostess for the weekend house party is the former vaudevillian but now almost senile-forgetful Mrs. Tottendale (Ada McAllister), watched over, taken care of and patronized by her butler Underling (Buddy Mahoney).
This show is so much fun, it’s impossible to find any fault with the actors-singers-dancers who have so much fun being ‘20s clichés and being dissed and adored by the Man in the Chair.
Lutyens’ Man is so endearingly campy, witty and deprecating towards his choice of musical with its ludicrous premise and characters that his devotion to it makes him a master of taste gone wrong with his desperate love of the show. Kam’s Adolpho is soooo oily and greasy, that he should have been canned for Crisco. Vine’s chaperone is so focused on alcohol that you know that she’s been pickled for years. Mellinger’s Robert is so game to roller skate while blindfolded on a stage with steps and levels; I thought that he might be taking too many risks. Niemeyer’s Janet is so vulnerable to her doubts and sticks so stubbornly to her stupid test for Robert that her “Monkey on a Pedestal” lament is particularly poignant.
I loved the play. It was well done. The singing and dancing were great and the idiocy-prone lyrics were well displayed.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” runs through March 5 (2011), plenty of time to plan and get tickets. Go on the website for Seattle Musical Theatre at seattlemusicaltheatre.org for tickets and information.