Musical power

MSMT's lively Drowsy Chaperone
By MEGAN GRUMBLING  |  August 19, 2009

drowsy main

THOSE NICE BRIGHT COLORS Paul Black's lighting and Kurt Alger's costumes.

The Man in the Chair (Charles Abbott) is a man of a certain age who wears both a sweater vest and a cardigan, feels pangs of a "non-specific sadness," and harbors an abiding nostalgia for the musical theater of yesteryear. Affable, wry, and wistful, The Man fends off his blues by becoming our entree and guide to a particular Broadway world conjured by the crackle of his turntable. On it he plays for us the full-cast soundtrack of his favorite musical, a bit of Jazz-age whimsy, while he annotates, critiques, and sighs in pleasure. His beloved play is called The Drowsy Chaperone, and so is this rousing production of the Maine State Music Theatre (under the superb direction of Marc Robin), in which Abbott's Man in the Chair is our own attentive and quite endearing chaperone.

After The Man removes record from sleeve, sets needle in groove, and hears the static-y first strains of the overture, there comes a glorious moment when the music suddenly surges larger than life and a single man's studio apartment: when the real-life pit orchestra (which is excellent) picks up the tune, in full screaming reeds and brass. From here on, we're immersed in the glamorous impressionism of The Man's memory of 1928's The Drowsy Chaperone.

Its characters, he allows, are two-dimensional, and its storyline, as in pornography, a mere vehicle for a series of, oh, charged moments. Which is to say that the hallowed play-within-a-play is pretty absurd, to put it kindly. Dim-witted ingénue and "Feldzieg's Follies" leading lady Janet (Lara Seibert) is to marry dim-witted oil heir Robert (Tyler Hanes). But does he really love her? The subplot includes gangsters posing as pastry chefs (Raymond Marc Dumont and Michael Biren) who represent worried Follies investors and threaten to serve up a "Toledo Surprise" to Feldzieg (Bill Bateman) if Janet leaves the stage for marriage. Feldzieg promptly enlists the brazenly stereotyped Italian playboy Adolpho (Curt Dale Clark) to seduce her. Pulling out his hair over all this is best man George (Marc Kessler), while the title character (Charis Leos) tipples her way into sublime indifference.

But The Man claims the plot of The Drowsy Chaperone is peripheral to him, and the talents of this production make this a lavishly credible proposition. The cast are pitch-perfect in their over-the-top types, especially Seibert's Janet, whose every move is airy elegance (and who gleams in the superb, gimmick-laden number "Show Off"), and Hanes's Robert, who boasts a huge, wide grin of perfect teeth. He and George perform some remarkably precise tandem tap-dancing in "Cold Feets," and the Drowsy Chaperone herself belts out a big, boozy anthem ("As We Stumble Along").

Lighting (by Paul Black) drenches us in The Man's giddy, hyperbolic imagination, as bright blues, reds, golds, and greens melt into and out of each other, sometimes studded with polka-dots or spinning stars. Through these atmospheres drop, in turn, a heart on a string, a moon, a swing. Kurt Alger's costumes are likewise marvelous: Janet is lovely in a yellow sailor dress and Robert immaculate in an ivory suit; the title debaucher wears majestically bohemian, glittering black and black furs. There are also some gorgeous shoes to look out for, especially the two-tone peacock numbers worn by Feldzieg's ditzy girlfriend Kitty (Karen Hyland).

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