Theatre By the Sea’s peppy Drowsy Chaperone

Musical cheers
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 31, 2011

Drowsy-Chaperone-5_main
JUST A GIGOLO Tony Castellanos and Happy McPartlin in The Drowsy Chaperone.

The lesson for the day, boys and girls: don't throw away a thing. Not a dream journal, not a wish list, and not crumpled notes on potential musicals. For a party in 1997, some friends tossed together a larky little spoof on musicals, and the eventual result was "A Musical Within a Comedy," as The Drowsy Chaperone likes to call itself. The entertaining homage is getting a brisk run at Theatre by the Sea through September 4, directed and choreographed by Michael O'Steen.

The book is by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. It was the wedding of Martin and his wife that occasioned the musical's tentative beginning. Like a toddler who dances around faster because adoring faces are beaming down, the show has grown up into a snappy entertainer.

Since all this is designed for audiences who adore the very idea of musicals, it is cleverly presented from the point of view of someone who is obsessive about this one. The Man in Chair is played by Lennie Watts, who used to be a Theatre by the Sea regular, last starring back in 2000 as Nicely Nicely Johnson in Guys and Dolls.

Our guide and narrator lives in a furniture-free studio apartment, which is mostly beige and browns so that the imagined musical's colors can pop. His Star Wars memorabilia gives evidence of other lonely obsessions. He is waving around a vinyl album of the supposed 1920s musical that his mother used to play over and over. He hails its campy virtues from his scruffy stage right armchair as we watch the performances he is imagining. Fortunately, Watts gives him better presence and intelligence than indicated by his opening words: "I hate theater . . . I just want to be entertained."

The musical he is commenting on is a Jazz Age piece of fluff whose dozen songs he likes to listen to when he feels blue. The storyline is just a thin thread on which to hang amusing characters and set pieces. The chaperone (Happy McPartlin) is a boozing guardian of young Janet Van De Graaff (Erin West), who is getting married that afternoon to handsome, wealthy Robert Martin (Sean Montgomery). It's bad luck for the prospective bride and groom to see each other on their wedding day, so they have to be kept apart.

Of course, they aren't. In a wonderfully outlandish piece of plot fabrication, he finds himself blindfolded and on roller skates when he meets a charming and flirtatious young woman with a French accent and impetuously gives her a kiss. Yes, it was Janet, but since in a way it also wasn't, she is furious at him. (Don't worry. By the end of the day there are not one but four couples getting hitched.)

West and Montgomery have sparkling chemistry together, good voices, and plenty of personality left over for scenes apart. Montgomery gets to do a tap dance number with Best Man George (Kevin Loreque). The song, "Cold Feets," totters on the edge of bad taste as it plays against the racism of the age. Oh well, I guess it's saved by their tap dancing like white boys.

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