Printer Friendly

LONGING FOR 'DROWSY CHAPERONE'S'S DAYS OF YORE.

Byline: Evan Henerson

Theater Critic

We've visited this apartment before. We've boarded this plane, and attended these weddings. We've met this nameless man with that ugly sweater who listens to old records and carps both longingly and snarkily about the way things were vs. the way they ought to be.

We know the musical "The Drowsy Chaperone" because our city birthed it 2 1/2 years ago at the Ahmanson Theatre when the show's American premiere bedazzled audiences before heading to Broadway.

Now, the touring version of "Chaperone" is back for a one-month spin at the Ahmanson, and if the magic of this quirky beast is sporadic rather than constant, you can chalk that up -- perhaps a bit unfairly -- to the copy factor. Tours, no matter how slavishly they follow the original, rarely hit the same spot on the yardstick. With this "Chaperone," you get a strong feeling that the hard-working guys and gals of Casey Nicholaw's road company are wearing someone else's clothing.

Those who didn't catch "Chaperone" the first time may succumb more easily, and this still-witty love-letter-cum-slash-and-burn of dopey 1920s musicals still has much to recommend it. We've even got original cast member Georgia Engel -- bouncy curls and twittery spit takes and all -- to garner plenty of laughs as Mrs. Tottendale. Working small-scale, book writers Bob Martin and Don McKeller wrote a corker of a tale, which composers Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison populated with some good (or, in some cases, deliberately bad) songs. For two quick hours, "Chaperone" more than fulfills its narrator's dream of taking an audience to another place.

Would that that narrator and that place had just a couple more doses of freshness. Jonathan Crombie speaks these lines, but can't get really get this guy's cockeyed soul, and much of the rest of the company is similarly good, not stellar.

"Chaperone" launches from a crammed but nice-size New York studio apartment (designed with plenty of brightly colored trickery by David Gallo) where a guy identified only as Man in Chair (played by Crombie) throws a vinyl on the record player to chase away his blues. That his favorite blues chaser is a hugely corny vaudeville-stuffed romp called "The Drowsy Chaperone" may mark him as a first-class dweeb. But Man in Chair -- though not old -- likes things old-fashioned. Besides, this is his apartment, his show.

On goes the record, and out come the "Chaperone" players spilling into Man's apartment: Janet the stage star (played by Andrea Chamberlain), set to marry a man (Mark Ledbetter) she met on a ship; the producer (Cliff Bemis) who would rather she didn't; George (Richard Vida), the groom's tap-happy best man; the buffoonish Latin lover, Adolpho (James Moye), dispatched to ruin the nuptials; a pair of gangsters (Paul and Peter Riopelle) posing as bakery chefs; and Janet's chaperone (Nancy Opel), who never met a martini she didn't like.

The "Chaperone" players are, of course, playing things straight, or at least as straight as a 1928 fluffball can be. While "Chaperone's" tale is unfolding, Man in Chair is constantly lifting the needle of his phonograph to stop the action and fill us in on need-to-know details about the musical, its cast members, theatrical conventions or just cockeyed life musings.

Nicholaw has a real flair for staging bust-'em-out musical numbers and is not above placing a leading man blindfolded and on roller skates if that's the way a song called "Accident Waiting to Happen" is best served. Just about every one of "Chaperone's" songs has either some choice gimmickry (Chamberlain spinning plates and doing cartwheels while singing "Show Off"), some fancy footwork ("Cold Feets") or an out-of-place cheekiness ("I am Adolpho").

These are delicious parts, and there's little risk of overplaying them.

Inserting Man in Chair to both contextualize and warn us of things to come ("I hate this part." "Ignore the lyrics.") is a master stroke, and writer/actor Martin -- when he originated Man in Chair -- may have broken his own mold. Crombie's Man gets about half the cattiness and the heartbreak, but he can't bring the two together enough to make the man a truly great tour guide.

That's not a fatal flaw, but once upon a time this show was grand as well as delightful. Go ahead and accuse me of Man in Chair-ishness, but I miss the "Drowsy" days of yore.

Evan Henerson, (818) 713-3651

evan.henerson@dailynews.com

THE DROWSY CHAPERONE - Three stars

>Where: Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.

>When: 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday; through July 20.

>Tickets: $30 to $90.

(213) 628-2772. www.CenterTheatreGroup.org.

>In a nutshell: A once-great show returns merely good.

CAPTION(S):

photo

Photo:

Robert Dorfman is Underling and Georgia Engel plays Mrs. Tottendale in "The Drowsy Chaperone," reprising its Los Angeles engagement at the Ahmanson Theatre.
COPYRIGHT 2008 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:LA.COM
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 11, 2008
Words:814
Previous Article:A TOP-NOTCH TALE OF MARRIAGE, MENACE AND 'BETRAYAL' IN NOHO.
Next Article:BIBLICAL ISAAC STORY LOVINGLY RETOLD.


Related Articles
Mendocino releases annual Yuletide Porter.
HOLIDAY TRAVEL MEANS EXTRA SERVING OF TRAFFIC.
`DROWSY CHAPERONE' TOP OVATIONS WINNER.
Shift workers' fatigue puts lives at risk on the road.
HOMELESS HOUSING FUNDED AID: LOAN WILL HELP BUY SUN VALLEY SITE FOR 60-UNIT APARTMENT BUILDING.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters