Feeling a little blue? Join the Man in Chair in Venice Theatre’s The Drowsy Chaperone, and you’re bound to feel better in the wink of an eye.
The Man in Chair (David P. Brown) in this Tony-winning musical comedy is himself feeling a little blue, for reasons that gradually become apparent. That’s why he decides to take an old record (remember records?) out of its sleeve and play it, to rouse his spirits.
The record happens to be from a 1920s Broadway show called, of course, The Drowsy Chaperone—a fluffy little thing with a lot of familiar elements of the genre, like goofy gangsters, a ditzy chorine, an equally ditzy grande dame, a cigar-chomping producer, a Latin Lothario, etc. It all revolves around the planned wedding of musical star Janet Van De Graaff (Danae DeShazer) to the man of her dreams, Robert Martin (Tony Howell)—but can it go off without a hitch? Especially if Janet’s hard-drinking chaperone (Bobbi Eschenbach) refuses to put down her glass and take up her responsibilities?
David P. Brown and Bobbi Eschenbach in The Drowsy Chaperone.
It’s a lightweight, nostalgic, sure-fire recipe for fun, and in the Venice production, it has, by and large, a dream cast, directed with panache by Dennis Clark (who also choreographs). From the opening words (spoken in the dark, as we wait for the show to begin), Brown is an engaging presence as the slightly fussy, eccentric Man in Chair, and he walks us through the “plot” of the show with a convincing fondness for its characters and situations.
The pieces all come together here in fine form. Howell, a newcomer to Venice Theatre, is a smiling, debonair Robert, tapping his way through wedding jitters on Cold Feets with best man George (Dick Baker), who’s equally suited to his role. Neil Kasanofsky and Andrea Keddell-Heintz are a good team as the producer and chorus girl; ditto Lynne Buhle and David Boza as Mrs. Tottendale and her butler. DeShazer belts with gusto in Show Off, where this supposedly retiring performer demonstrates every trick in her bag, including some impressive acrobatics. And Eschenbach is a hoot as the tipsy chaperone, bringing down the house with a rendition of her character’s anthem, As We Stumble Along.
In smaller roles, Kyle Luckett and David Munnell are entertaining as comic gangsters masquerading as pastry chefs, and D.D. Lawlor turns in a memorable turn as the gender-bending Trix the Aviatrix. In a bit of color-blind casting, Ryan Gage plays the Latin lover Aldolpho, and his seduction scene with Eschenbach is a highlight.
Backed by strong musical direction by Jason Brenner and his orchestra, and with some fanciful costumes for the ladies by Nicholas Hartman, The Drowsy Chaperone is a pleasure to watch and hear, and should be the cure for what ails you. It continues through April 23; call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com for tickets.