KAYSVILLE — One of my pastimes is to watch reality shows that feature people with a fervid passion for something that they have dedicated their life to. Shows like Lego Masters, Forged in Fire, or Great British Bake-Off are some of my favorites that exemplify loving a craft and sharing that love with the world. Hopebox Theatre’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone gave me those same warm feelings of watching someone share their passion as the modern narrator, an agoraphobic musical theatre fanatic simply called Man in Chair, spends the evening sharing his love for an obscure 1920s musical with the audience. As he sets up his record player to narrate and comment on the action, he entices the audience to escape the blues with him as he drops the needle on his favorite cast ablum. His enthusiasm is so relatable that by the end of the night, The Drowsy Chaperone was a new favorite for me as well.
This was my first time seeing the show, but The Drowsy Chaperone has become a popular musical in Utah theatre in recent years. With book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, it is a parody of American musicals from the 1920s that were light on plot and heavy on comedy, catchy music, and big dance numbers.
Director Carol Madsen has double cast the show and uses the smaller space of the Hopebox Theatre impressively well. Set designer Lauri Baird sets the tone before the show begins with the back walls of the stage painted into a black and white apartment that lacks any dimension. The Man in Chair’s apartment is a bleak and colorless word of neutral tones and nagging phone calls that contrasted wonderfully with the vibrant fantasy that he paints in his mind.
On opening night, the lights went up on Man in Chair who is struggling with a “non-specific sadness” in his black and white world and was played with empathy and charm by Brent Johnson. Johnson has several monologues in the show and does an excellent job of breaking the fourth wall to engage with the audience as he complains and narrates his favorite moments.
In the opening number, “Fancy Dress,” Man in Chair introduces the large cast and the premise of the show within the show. It’s the day of the wedding of oil tycoon Robert Martin (played by Matthew Davids) and pampered Broadway starlet Janet Van De Graaff (played by Rio Lefevre), who wants to give up show biz for married life. Lefevre was a triple threat on the stage. One of her main songs, “Show Off” showcased her angelic vocals, excellent dancing, and great comic timing as she nailed the key change and took the song to a new level with her feather dance. It is no wonder that Robert Martin fell for such a bright star. Davids’s performance as a love-struck buffoon was enjoyable as he roller-skated around the small stage blindfolded in “Accident Waiting To Happen.” Davids and Lefevre sounded lovely in this duet until Davids had to move into his falsetto and was off pitch for a few bars.
Speaking of bars, the Drowsy (i.e. “tipsy”) Chaperone was played by Jessica Benson and fulfilled the role of diva as she belted her song “As We Stumble Along,” which the Man in Chair describes as a “rousing anthem to alcoholism.” Benson has impressive pipes, but also found the perfect balance of humor in her number. I also loved the character opposite the Chaperone, Aldolpho, played by Nathan Sachs, who treads the fine line of overacting like a seasoned tight-rope walker. His crazy over-the-top acting fit the role with his ridiculous mannerisms of a Latin lover that had me laughing the whole time.
A slightly less successful duo was Mrs. Tottendale (played by Carla Lomardo Bambo) and Underling (played by Aaron Burgoyne). Their duet “Love is Always Lovely in the End” needed a little refining on diction and dancing. I was also in the splash zone for their spit take scene. The scene left me laughing out loud, sure, but I was also wet afterward.
As with any big musical, the chorus is vital to all of the big company numbers. Gangsters Savannah Hewitt and Dallin Richards are great as they lead the company with their recipe for “Toledo Surprise,” which is full of old puns. The gangsters, as well as Kitty (played by Windy Nichols), have great 1920s New York dialect that is consistent and funny throughout, even as they sing and dance. Choreographer Sunny Simkins made the show look so good. Simkins’s choreography for the big dance numbers is fun and exciting, with homages to Busby Berkeley and dances that dazzle as the actors do the Charleston. The moves were well suited to the dancers levels and kept the numbers clean and impressive.
I was impressed with the costume design by Christiane Teleford and Caitlin States. I loved the dropped waist on all the women and the little touches that made each character unique, even in the chorus. Kitty’s elaborately beaded flapper dresses showed her trying to hard to move out of the chorus and into the spotlight and contrasted Janet’s simple white drop waisted dress she wore as she effortlessly commanded attention. The wig work was also well done by Kortney King-Lives and Cheryl Cripps, who have beautiful period wigs for the women and give Aldolfo a striking look that adds to his larger-than-life personality.
The final scene left me wanting to say “I Do, I Do In the Sky” with the cast, as props master Tanaya Ropp puts the cast on an stylized airplane with happy clouds rolling by. The Drowsy Chaperone does an excellent job of balancing the absurd to deliver a night full of laughs. Between those laughs, I found myself really relating to Man in Chair as he clings to the comfort that this old musical gives him and shares that comfort with others. While I had to explain how a record player works to my teenage son, I recommend The Drowsy Chaperone to all theatre goers and hope that everyone sees this fun show to have some much needed lighthearted humor in their lives.