OREM — Experienced a theatergoer often see the same shows performed time and time again. Nowhere is that more true at the moment in Utah than the musical The Drowsy Chaperone, with music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. I have seen the show half a dozen times, including a preview performance by the original Broadway cast in April 2006. It is an extremely popular show locally, and each time I see it I find new reasons to enjoy it. The latest production hails from Hale Center Theatre Orem, and it is a complete delight and worth checking out — even for those who have already seen the show before.
What makes The Drowsy Chaperone work so well is its optimism. The narrator, only called the “Man in the Chair,” is actually a cynical character who even says at one point, “In the real world nothing ever works out . . .” But the one thing that gives him joy is listening to old records (“yes, records”) of Broadway musicals. It is endearing to be reminded of the joy of musical theatre, and as I watch the show I often think of times in my own life when a show has given me “a tune to carry with [me] in [my] head when [I’m] feeling blue.”
This hopeful tone makes casting the right actors to sell the sometimes corny dialogue essential, and HCTO has put together an excellent ensemble. Daniel Fenton Anderson finds just the right blend of sarcasm and sweetness as “Man in Chair.” I also appreciate they involve him in a lot of the choreography, making it feel like he is really immersed in the story, not just mindlessly telling it. The rest of the cast is outstanding, including the Chaperone played by Marcie Jacobsen, and Kelly Coombs shining as Janet Van De Graff.
Until HCTO moves to its planned larger theater, I am going to enjoy their small, intimate space while I can. I love how the show literally surrounds the audience by moving actors into the aisles and other spaces. The Drowsy Chaperone always has actors coming out of doors and windows in “Man in the Chair’s” apartment, but in this production the performers also use the trap door effectively, which never fails to surprise me.
I was not surprised to see Jennifer Hill-Barlow listed as both director and choreographer because the choreography is strong throughout and meshed well with the scenes. The dancing is especially impressive when in the confines of HCTO’s small stage. I particularly admired Preston Taylor (playing Robert Martin) who has to master both tap and roller skating in his numbers “Cold Feet” and “Accident Waiting to Happen.” (Tap choreography by Brittany Sanders.) Some other highlights are Jacobsen’s boozy anthem “As We Stumble Along,” which will always get a laugh out of me. (And maybe actually inspires me a bit? The building crescendo is impossible to resist!) Also, Jacob Thomason is absolutely hilarious as the Latin Lover singing “Aldolpho” to introduce his character.
The costumes designed by Dennis Wright are another strong element. The highlight comes when Coombs sings her biggest song, “Show Off.” I lost count of how many costume changes she makes, within that one song, but it was a lot and all done seamlessly. I also thought the costumes and set design (by Brad Shelton) were at their most mad-cap and inventive during the monkey-themed insanity of “Bride’s Lament.” Lighting designer Joseph Governale also assisted in creating smooth transitions between scenes.
There is a fair amount of innuendo in this show. Particularly in the number “Love is Always Lovely in the End” (performed wonderfully by Mary Jane Smith as Mrs Tottendale and Michael Smith as Underling), but I see tons of families going to see this show. So, I guess the innuendo goes over little ones heads. Still, people should be aware that Bob Martin and Don McKellar‘s script has its fair share of saucy moments.
One of the best parts of The Drowsy Chaperone is its gentle critiques of musical theatre’s tropes and conventions. The stereotypical rousing anthem gets poked fun at, as well as a filler spit-take scene with a routine between Mrs Tottendale and Underling. They even take some gabs at Elton John, intermissions, Golden Age musicals, cast recordings and critics. Some jokes may be too obscure for non-theater buffs, but that does not diminish their ability to enjoy the play.
If you are like me and think “I can’t possibly need to see The Drowsy Chaperone another time,” well, think again. The Drowsy Chaperone at Hale Center Theater Orem is a must-see. The show is energetic, funny, sweet and full of exciting new touches. The actors are all excellent and the choreography superb.