Sunday, May 15, 2011

Musical Schmusical By Beverly Creasey

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (@ SpeakEasy Stage through June 6th) is one of those delightful musicals where you turn to your date and ask, “Why didn’t I think of that?” It’s a have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too kind of idea, making fun of- and playing it earnestly at the same time.

The show opens with a man sitting center stage commiserating with us on the state of musicals nowadays. He knows what we’re thinking: Let it be good and let it be short. (It is and it is!) This Man in Chair, as he’s named, is on stage throughout the musical (which he shares with us via the so called “original cast album” and his own cheery “liner” notes).

Just when we fear we’ll be listening to his records all night, the faux musical (also called THE DROWSY CHAPERONE) bursts forth in his apartment, with set pieces sliding right out of the oven, for heavens sake. Then the Man in Chair takes it upon himself to stop the action a number of times to impart some juicy dish about the “original” stars. What can I say other than it’s gloriously, shamelessly, deliciously silly. Gag after gag catches you off guard—even though you should have seen them coming.

Will McGarrahan is perfection as an agoraphobic host, a depressed but affable chap whose only joy in life comes from listening to recordings of old musicals. (Not so different, I might add, from those of us whose joy comes from seeing those musicals!)

The daffy story (by Bob Martin and Don McKellar) hinges on, surprise surprise, a chaperone who falls down on the job, or rather falls for and on a flamboyant Latin lover named Aldolpho (a name you will never forget once you’ve seen the show).The magnificent mayhem has everyone trying either to prevent or present a wedding, depending on which side their bread is buttered. Karen MacDonald and Thomas Derrah steal the show hands down as the tipsy chaperone and the aforementioned Aldolpho: “Like a cat in pajamas,” as he would say.

Like KISS ME KATE, (and you’d almost swear that Accident Waiting to Happen was Cole Porter even though it says Lisa Lambert & Greg Morrison) two gangsters in disguise threaten theatricide as a gorgeous starlet contemplates leaving the stage for good. McCaela Donovan tears up the joint with I Don’t Wanna Show Off No More. Close behind in the tearing up department are David Christensen and Brian Swasey in a tapping duel which brings down the house. And wait ‘til you see Kerry Dowling and Robert Saoud go at it. Heaven!

Director and choreographer (and I should add, magician) David Connolly makes it all look so effortless—and you know the old saying: “Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” Connolly and music director Nicholas James Connell have done the impossible: Their soufflé is so light and airy, you’re left wanting more.