The Drowsy Chaperone is receiving a rousing wake-up call from SpeakEasy Stage Company (at the BCA's Calderwood Pavilion through June 5). When the national touring production of this Tony-winning "musical within a comedy" passed through Boston three years ago, I found myself sleepier than the bibulous title character. Oh, I enjoyed Man in Chair, the enthused aficionado of vintage piffle who puts a favorite show on the turntable, only to have it burst singing and dancing into his dowdy apartment. But I found myself wishing it were Cole Porter invading the guy's imagination rather than the fictional 1928 confection of the title. Even in SpeakEasy's broad, stylish rendition, some of this mélange of "mix-up, mayhem, and a gay wedding" gets tedious. But the talented troupe helmed by director/choreographer David Connolly puts it across with such winking, loving gusto that not even Stephen Sondheim could resist.
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE Parody becomes loving homage to the kind of 1920s theater in which thwarted romance, hoary comedy, and some pretty slick tap dancing are hung on a gossamer thread of a plot.
"I hate theater" are the first words of The Drowsy Chaperone, spoken by Man in Chair before the stage lights go up. And this defender of the faith may indeed deplore Cats and Phantom and even Spring Awakening. But the combination of parody and homage of which he is the anchor — which began life as a goof created for a bachelor party — is clearly the work of folks who love theater. At least, they love theater of a certain age, in which thwarted romance, hoary comedy, and some pretty slick tap dancing are hung on a gossamer thread of a plot dangling in the direction of a happy ending.
As Will McGarrahan's Man in Chair, rapt with delight at the arcane silliness unfolding in his head, offers commentary, criticism, and background notes on the performers, we are treated to an abbreviated version of just the sort of sunny, brainless beast that strutted its stuff on musical stages of the 1920s. The setting is a swank estate where the nuptials of a vaudeville star and the handsome nitwit she met on a boat are set to be celebrated — unless her producer can figure out a way to prevent it. To this premise add such preposterous complications as a ditzy dowager hostess with the hots for her butler, a ridiculous Latin lover seduced by his own smolder, and a couple of gangsters posing as pastry chefs and you have just the right ingredients to transport Man in Chair to a "world of color and glamour" on which he loves to expound.
The tunes by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison — which include a melodious "Bride's Lament" with lyrics so inane not even Man in Chair can condone them, and a frenzied production number built on a recipe for assassination — are catchy, vacuous, and redolent of the period. A few suffer from being spoofs of filler that can't help being filler themselves. Not so the chaperone's indomitable "anthem to alcoholism," "As We Stumble Along," which the terrific Karen MacDonald plows through, highball in hand, like an English Ethel Merman crossed with Mother Courage. Thomas Derrah, too, makes an over-the-top comic showpiece of "Aldolpho," the stereotypical Spanish seducer's El Gallo–like paean to his own sizzle. Pert McCaela Donovan, sporting some whimsically chic costumes by Seth Bodie, is an adorably self-dramatizing kewpie of a bride, and David Christensen is more goofy than gallant as her swain.
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