OREM — Utah has become enamored with the musical The Drowsy Chaperone in recent years, but I hadn’t seen a great version in this state until tonight. In fact, I haven’t fully enjoyed any except the first one I saw in 2011 with my future spouse. Thankfully, this show brought me back to those happy memories, and tonight my husband and I laughed heartily throughout, just like we did ten years ago.
This show within a show takes the audience back to the roaring 20’s where modern narrator Man in Chair tells us all about his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. As he sets up his record player and enjoys the music, we get to see it come to life in his apartment. Any time he pauses the record, the actors onstage freeze or disappear. The musical follows famous performer Janet, who is leaving the stage to marry Robert, and the Chaperone is supposed to keep them apart.
Director Julie Bonifay did a marvelous job with setting up the show to be pleasurable and tactical. I loved how each important moment was set up with enough time for the audience to indulge in laughter and still hear and see what would come next. I also appreciated the blocking and movements for each scene, which made sense and allowed for the best visual experience from where we were sitting about ten rows back center. I was glad Bonifay added her own moments of ingenuity to the show, like when she had the characters all running around looking for Janet right before her big entrance instead of having her show up ridiculously out of breath. She also kept in the little bits that make this show so fantastic, like having Robert do the ridiculous announcer-type voice the whole time. My favorite part about Bonifay’s directing this in a community theater, is that she fine-tuned it to greatness before opening night. I did not expect the finely crafted work of art I saw tonight, and I’m so grateful for her diligence and creativity in its completion.
Rebecca Boberg did the choreography and made this show look so good. I was glad she added ensemble members for “Cold Feet,” since it strengthened the tapping sounds and added to the fun of the number rather than relying on fancy tricks done by Robert and George. It was a smart way to make the taps stand out, and they had a great variety of sound and were very together! I loved, “Toledo Suprise,” which had so many fun movements. “Bride’s Lament,” was to die for, as the ensemble in their monkey masks, reminding me of Planet of the Apes, did so many movements like monkeys I couldn’t stop laughing. And adding Robert to that number and having the focus on him for a lot of it was so amazing. I don’t know if that was Bonifay’s or Boberg’s choice, but it was a great one.
Music Director Dana Cardon did a fantastic job with training the performers in their parts. I was so overjoyed to hear such melodic harmonies throughout the show, especially at the beginning. I think the only part that sounded off was while the gangsters were singing their parts in “Toledo Surprise,” and it was only for a short moment. My favorite part was the end of “Message from a Nightingale,” which the characters had to hold as Man in Chair ran across the stage to turn off the music. They sounded awesome!
Man in Chair was played by JD Ramey, and it was a huge relief to see him perform this part. I have been searching for an actor who could pull off this role for ten years! Ramey, with his natural conversational manner in which he narrates, made the show what it should be—a look into one person’s version of what makes life wonderful. I loved his almost mumbling way of sneaking in those hilarious lines that most often I’ve heard overdone and ruined by overacting. Ramey as his character had a demeanor of being so comfortable in his apartment and with the audience that helped me see what Man in Chair could see in The Drowsy Chaperone. I’m so glad Bonifay cast Ramey for this part.
Janet is always tricky to cast, because she has to be proper and snooty enough, but with the talent to prove it. I was not disappointed in Samantha Frisby as she pulled off the role splendidly. I was hoping for more showing off, but she played a slightly more sincere Janet than I’ve seen before, which I found refreshing. Robert was played by Bryan Johnson, and he shone in that role. The attitude Johnson played as an egocentric love-struck buffoon made his scenes most enjoyable.
Tannah O’Banion played The Drowsy Chaperone, and she had such a powerful voice and acting skill that I was surprised she wasn’t in Actor’s Equity. I loved her vocal changes while singing, adding to the humor, and the way she said certain lines was priceless, like one of her first lines, “Where’s the bar?” A good Aldolfo has been hard to find, but Devin Glenn pulled this one off. He had the crazy over-the-top acting style that fit the role well, and his impressions and mannerisms, like when is character was acting like a cat, were so perfect.
Though my husband and I have been a long-time fan of this show, we sat by someone who hadn’t seen it before, and I heard her laughter throughout, so I know we are not alone in enjoying the humor shared here. The SCERA has done a wonderful job of making the atmosphere welcoming and comfortable. I’m so glad they chose to do The Drowsy Chaperone this year, and this cast is a cast I would gladly come see again!
Full disclosure: One of cast members in this production (Katie Warne) is the wife of the president of Utah Theatre Bloggers Association, Russell Warne. Mr. Warne had no involvement with assigning a reviewer to this production or in the writing or editing of this piece. Honest criticism was encouraged.