St. Michael’s Playhouse in Colchester has opened their season with a lively and sparkling production of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. A Canadian musical with book by Bob Martin and Don McKeller and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, the show began as a unique wedding present in 1998. It ended up on Broadway in 2006 and won five Tony awards including best book and best score. This tribute to musicals of the 1920s begins with a musical theatre geek sitting in his apartment rhapsodizing about his favorite classic musical, THE DROWSY CHAPERONE. As he plays the record of the show, the show within a show comes alive.
Anna Lacivita, new to the playhouse, has designed splendid costumes. Even the wigs look good. Her changes for Janet, beautifully played by Elizabeth Pawlowski, in “I Don’t Wanna Show Off” are sparkling and clever. I coveted Janet’s Act II feathered negligee and loved the gangsters’ sock garters.
Unfortunately Anne Mundell’s set design for the apartment is over-large and heavy. It necessitates bringing set pieces on and off to indicate the musical, although the Murphy bed is clever. However we never really leave the apartment, so never make the magical transition to the musical within the play.
The bright and cheery lighting is designed by Jeff Salzberg, and is especially good for “As We Stumble Along”, well sung and played by Kathryn Markey as the Chaperone. The sound design by Joel Abbott is first rate. Music Director Thomas Cleary has done a fine job with the vocal music and we get every word of the clever lyrics. He keeps the tempos of the five-piece band right on target.
The entire cast is strong, but so large I can’t mention everyone. Marc Tumminelli and Samuel Durant Hunter have great fun as two gangsters disguised as cooks, as does Agnes Cummings as a befuddled dowager. Bill Carmichael is terrific as her butler Underling, with his subtle Jack Benny takes. They’re both very good in their duet and their spit takes – shades of vaudeville!
As Aldolpho, the slippery Latin lover, James Donegan makes great use of his cape. He’s perfect as “a man of 1000 accents – all of them insulting.” Craig Wells displays an appealing child-like enthusiasm as Man in Chair. I must question the decision to play him overtly gay, though, as it seems to give the character an inappropriate worldliness, but perhaps it’s a directorial choice.
Lilly Tobin gives a first-rate performance as Kitty, a feather-brained chorine. She’s especially good in “Toledo Surprise.” As Robert, David Rossetti comes across as very likable and a bit mindless. He sings well, dances well and even manages a number blindfolded on roller skates.
Director Keith Andrews has done a terrific job with the choreography, especially on “Cold Feets,” “Show Off,” “Toledo Surprise,” and – well, I wrote down “great choreography” six times. As for his direction, I question a few major decisions such as beginning the opening in the dark and putting Man in Chair so close to the musical so soon. He never has a chance to grow into it. For example he was so closely involved in “Accident Waiting to Happen” the whole thrust and focus of the number was lost. It became about him rather than Janet and Robert. However I loved some of his touches like the cymbals in “Bride’s Lament.”
THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, with its terrific truncated number “Message from a Nightingale” followed by a number even sillier, is a tribute to the enduring joy of musical theatre. To quote Noel Coward, musical theatre is “gaily irrational to the point of lunacy.” The best way to enjoy this very smart and very funny musical is to relax and enjoy the flight.
On a scale of one to five the St. Michael’s Playhouse production of THE DROWSY CHAPERONE gets four and a half covered bridges. For North Country Public Radio I’m Connie Meng.