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Review: The Dizzy 'Drowsy Chaperone' at Theatre 3
by Jerome Weeks 15 Dec 2010

‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is like ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000 Takes on the Ziegfeld Follies.’ A young man cheers himself up by playing a cast album from 1928. And he offers quips and commentary on all the showbiz silliness. But unlike MST3K, ‘Chaperone’ actually offers a defense of brainless escapism, and Theatre 3’s scaled-down version actually suits the musical’s happy-idiot delights.


Marisa Diotalevi as the chaperone and Brian Hathaway as the Latin lover, Adolpho

Honey, I shrunk the show: The dizzy musical comedy, The Drowsy Chaperone, has been a big, tony Award-winning hit on Broadway. But in his review, KERA’s Jerome Weeks says that Theatre 3’s small-scale production actually brings out the musical’s true charm and appeal.

  • KERA radio review:
  • Expanded online review:

The Drowsy Chaperone would seem to be another contemporary, self-conscious spoof of musical comedies — another ‘meta’-musical, like Theatre 3’s production of [title of show] last season. It’s a musical plus commentary. A young man, divorced and holed up in his apartment, cheers himself up by playing a cast album from 1928. And he offers quips and backstage notes on all the creaky showbiz silliness. It’s like Mystery Science Theater Takes on the Ziegfeld Follies.

But unlike Mystery Science Theater 3000 and its wisecracking robots, Chaperone actually offers a heartfelt defense of brainless Broadway escapism. Mind you, Chaperone hardly musters any sort of deep-thinking defense. It just piles on giddy nonsense like gangsters disguised as acrobatic pastry chefs. Or a blindfolded, rollerskating dance routine.

What more could anyone want? Unless it’s a song in which the leading lady laments that loving her two-timing fiancée has been like … putting a monkey on a pedestal. It’s probably one of the great ‘dancing chimp’ chorus numbers in showbiz history, and if anyone can remember another one, I’d like to hear about it.

This is from the Broadway cast recording.

Audio clip: “Bride’s Lament” excerpt:

The fact is, the jokes our narrator cracks in Chaperone aren’t all that witty. And the fluffy old musical that comes to life in his apartment is not that inventive — it’s the kind of flimsy pretext that often was the basis for shows in the ’20s and ’30s, an excuse to hang some vaudeville routines and music numbers together. Basically, a Broadway leading lady (Erica Peterman) wants to quit showbiz and get married to a dashing tycoon (Jeremy Dumont). But her producer (James M.  Williams) fears his show will fail and his backers will come gunning for their money. Which is where the gangster pastry chefs (Jason Kennedy and Sergio Antonio Garcia) come in.

No, Drowsy Chaperone succeeds primarily because of the delirious idiocy of its musical numbers. The creators of Chaperone — Lisa Lambert, Greg Morrison and Bob Martin — seem to have set themselves the challenge: Just how goofy and sweet can we make all this to prove our point about empty-headed entertainment?

Rob McCollum is one of the hosts on WFAA’s Good Morning Texas (left), and he lends his boyish enthusiasm to the show’s narrator. It’s remarkable how that small shift in tone dissolves much of what had been the narrator’s air of insularity and self-pity. As the dim-bulb millionaire and toothpaste model, Jeremy Dumont is a gleaming, grinning, hoofing machine — notably in the tap-dance highpoint, “Cold Feets.” Fact is, much of the cast is game for this brand of tipsy send-up.

We’re charmed by them and by Chaperone, but just as charming at Theatre 3 are the ingenious efforts of director Michael Serrecchia and his team (notably set designer Jeffrey Schmidt and scenic artist David Walsh) to cram this show on to a small stage without crushing its spirit. It’s a case of cleverness piled on cleverness.  Getting 20 people singing and dancing around all these plywood props, arrayed tightly in the interior and exterior of a New York apartment, is a remarkable achievement in surreal traffic control (Serrecchia is also co-choreographer with Megan Kelly Bates).

Not all of it works – there’s a big show-off number by the leading lady that needs to show off even more to be truly ridiculous. But Serrecchia’s smart-tacky reduction actually suits Chaperone’s spirit more than the original Broadway production did. It tried for big-time dazzle with what is essentially a whimsical little bit of goofiness and glitz. After all, the show started more or less as a party skit in Toronto in 1997, and some of its nutty-circus comic effect comes from the old, a thousand-clowns-popping-out-of-the-tiny-car routine.

Indeed, however much it’s a tongue-in-cheek plea for the frivolous and splashy, The Drowsy Chaperone makes the case that the American musical comedy ranks as an early form of Monty Pythonish absurdism. Anything can walk through the door (or pop down from the sky), and everything eventually becomes happily unmoored from reality. By the end, the entire cast is singing rapturously about taking off and flying away — to enjoy the many benefits of getting married, somehow, on an single-seater airplane.

Audio clip: excerpt from “I Do, I Do in the Sky”

Theatre 3 has extended the show, check out the new dates.