Review: The Original Grease (American Theater Company)

  
  

Now extended through August 21st!!

 

This show %#&*ing rocks!

  
  

(L to R) Carol Rose, Tony Clarno, Jessica Diaz, Robert Colletti, Kelly Davis Wilson, Adrian Aguilar and Tyler Ravelson in a scene from American Theater Company's "The Original Grease". Photo by Brett Beiner

  
American Theater Company presents
   
The Original Grease
   
Book/Music/Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Directed by PJ Paparelli
at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron (map)
through August 21  |  tickets: $45-$50  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Foul-mouthed, raunchy, and absolutely not for children (although I’d think my parents were the coolest if they took me to this), American Theater Company’s The Original Grease is how Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey’s classic musical was meant to be seen. Forget the Bee Gees and the Australian accents, this Grease is northwest Chicago all the way, and ATC’s production takes pride in its urban heritage, presenting a grittier, yet still effervescently youthful Rydell High Class of 1960. What surprised me most about The Original Grease wasn’t the profanity or sexual explicitness, but how much more of an ensemble piece the stage version is than the movie. Sandy (Kelly Davis Wilson) and Danny (Adrian Aguilar) romance is the spine of the plot, but the relationships between the Burger Palace Boys and the Pink Ladies are fleshed out considerably. Minor characters like Patty Simcox (Alaina Mills) and Miss Lynch (Peggy Roeder) even get their own solos.

Adrian Aguilar and Jessica Diaz in a scene from American Theater Company's "The Original Grease". Photo by Brett BeinerThe show begins at the Class of 1960’s 50-year reunion, where a gleeful/wasted Patricia Simcox Honeywell (Susan Fay) invites the audience to take a trip down memory lane with a slide show of nostalgic Chicago locales that seques into the main action of the play in 1959. Shout outs to Palmer House, Carson’s, and Jewel root the show firmly in Chicago, and “Foster Beach” replaces “Summer Nights” as the recap of Sandy and Danny’s summer tryst. The new (old?) emphasis on the city firmly establishes the setting, but also alters the dynamic within the group of high schoolers. You get the impression that these are kids that have grown up together for most of their lives, and Sandy Dumbrowski’s transformation becomes less of a unique experience, but more of a typical teenage transformation as a way to fit in.

Above all else, The Original Grease succeeds because of the friendship cultivated among the group, a sense of camaraderie that climaxes in a spectacular a cappella arrangement of “We Go Together” at the end of Act One. As the gang pounds beer and passes cigarettes in the Cook County Forest Preserve they break into the film’s closing number, and the nonsensical lyrics have a different impact when they are the drunk ramblings of a group of teenagers. I’m a sucker for rain on stage, so the end of the number his all the right notes, and the ensemble’s unaccompanied vocals blend flawlessly. I wish that Sandy were in the number so Willis could add her brassy vocals to the song, but it’s just another way The Original Grease makes the audience encourage Sandy’s transformation.

Willis’ clean-cut appearance suggest the naïve Sandy that the audience is familiar with, but she shows her character’s fiery side well before her final metamorphosis. The moments where Sandy loses her temper make her change more believable but also make her a worthy opponent for Aguilar, who perfectly captures the lovable asshole vibe of the cocky Danny Zuko. Danny isn’t a very sympathetic character, and he never really pines after Sandy in this production, as “Alone At The Drive-In Movie” is transferred back to it’s original owner Kenickie (Tony Clarno) as a desperate ballad to the absent, potentially pregnant Rizzo (Jessica Diaz). Danny’s change is not about gaining Sandy’s acceptance, and is instead motivated by Danny’s desire to explore his potential.

(L to R) Bubba Weiler, Tyler Ravelson, Robert Colletti, Patrick De Nicola, Adrian Aguilar in a scene from American Theater Company's "The Original Grease". Photo by Brett BeinerPJ Paparelli excels at emphasizing the ways these characters leave their childhoods behind, and during Danny’s solo “How Big I’m Gonna Be,” Danny’s ambition forces him to leave the Burger Palace Boys to become the type of man that might be able to escape working in a factory with the same people’s he’s been surrounded by all his life. By the end of the show, each of the main characters has had to deal with an important teenage problem, and walks away having learned a valuable lesson. Frenchy (Jessie Fisher) finds out its hard to follow your dreams without a high school diploma and Rizzo learns the consequences of a broken condom, while Sandy and Danny show two opposite views of the same issue: changing for the one you love. These are the issues that teenagers have dealt with in the past and will continue to face in the future, an idea that is hammered home by Miss Lynch’s “In My Day,” which brings everything around full circle. Presiding over the reunion, Patricia Simcox Honeywell has become Miss Lynch, reminiscing about days gone by that seem like only yesterday.

The cast of The Original Grease is a remarkably gifted group of actors, whose singing and dancing prowess are matched by their comedic and dramatic chops. Diaz’s Rizzo has a nonchalant confidence that makes her a natural leader, and Diaz captures Rizzo’s struggle to keep up her tough appearance during the powerful “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.” Carol Rose’s sultry Marty is the sexy Pink Lady, and she nails “Freddy My Love,” the doo wop tribute to Marty’s Marine boyfriend during the Pink Ladies sleepover. Fisher’s clueless yet good-intentioned Frenchy is a constant source of comic relief along with the sloppy, silly Jan (Sadieh Rifal), who (L to R) Carol Rose, Jessie Fisher, Kelly Davis Wilson, Sadieh Rifai, Jessica Diaz in a scene from American Theater Company's "The Original Grease". Photo by Brett Beinerdevelops an adorable romance with Burger Palace Boy Roger (Rob Colletti).

Among the boys, Tony Clarno gives Kenickie a ferocity that burns through the comic playfulness of his friends, and the aggression he brings to the characters makes his drive-in breakdown an even stronger moment. Patrick De Nicola’s Sonny steals the show, though, as he constantly tries to assume an assertive role in the group but lacks the confidence and competence of alpha males Danny and Kenickie. Sonny’s attempts to be cool constantly blow up in his face, but once he brings Cha-Cha (Hannah Gomez) to the dance, Sonny goes from hilarious to gut-busting. The two have fantastic chemistry, and Gomez’s Cha-Cha is considerably different from the film version and all the better for it, and pairing her up with Sonny instead of Danny is another way that the stage version expands the world of these characters.

The Original Grease is what I’d like Grease to be all the time. These are characters that talk and act like real kids, with real problems that don’t always have easy answers. There are a few balance issues between the actors and the band that prevents the show from being perfect, but it is a must-see for all fans of the musical in all its iterations. At least for those that won’t mind the colorful language and provocative choreography, because those aren’t gear shifts the boys are grabbing at the end of “Greased Lightning.”

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

A scene from American Theater Company's "The Original Grease". Photo by Brett Beiner

All photos by Brett Beiner

     
     

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Review: Guys and Dolls (Marriott Theatre)

  
  

Holy Rollers, Batman!

  
  

Brian Hissong as Sky Masterson in Marriott Theatre's 'Guys and Dolls'

  
Marriott Theatre presents
  
Guys and Dolls
  
Written by Frank Loesser
Directed and choreographed by
Matt Raftery
at
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (map)
through March 27  |  tickets: $40-$48  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Damon Runyon knew Broadway like the beat of his heart—from its sewers to its gospel missions. Those in fact are two of the exotic locales in Guys and Dolls, the always lovable, inexhaustibly right 1950 musical that Frank Loesser, Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows concocted from Runyon’s delightful short stories. Collected by Loesser in 1932, those good-hearted, slang-filled tales of Broadway sharpies, Rod Thomas as Nathan, Jessie Mueller as Adelaide in Marriott Theatre's 'Guys and Doll's'floozies, high rollers, suckers, and the frustrated reformers who tried to clean up their act are still well worth the read.

For those who don’t know this merry musical, Guys and Dolls traces the very opposite attraction of gambler Sky Masterson for Sister Sarah Brown, a naïve Salvation Army lassie: An unlikely couple, by show’s end the two feel just right together. Another off-beat romance pairs Nathan Detroit, organizer of New York’s "oldest established, permanently floating crap game," and Miss Adelaide, a dimly-lit showgirl frustratedly engaged to Nathan for 14 years, who has her famous, constant cold to show for it.

Joined by such richly-named urban denizens as Harry the Horse, Benny Southstreet, and Rusty Charlie, they all return to full and happy life in this Marriott Theatre revival. If in songs like "Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat" and the title hummer, Frank Loesser found a savvy musical equivalent to Runyon’s wonderful oddballs. Director Matt Raftery has his gritty-rich equivalents too, notably Jessie Mueller as adenoidal Adelaide ("a person could develop a cold"), a wackily evasive Rod Thomas as her hilariously allergic-to-marriage Nathan, and leather-lunged George Andrew Wolff as Nicely-Nicely Johnson, a crap shooter who improbably finds religion on a bet.

     
Rod Thomas, Bernie Yvon, George Andrew Wolff, Brian Hissong in Frank Loesser's 'Guys and Dolls' at Marriott Theatre. Rod Thomas as Nathan, Jessie Mueller as Adelaide in Frank Loesser's 'Guys and Dolls' at Marriott Theatre
Rod Thomas as Nathan, Jessie Mueller as Adelaide in Marriott Theatre's 'Guys and Dolls' Abby Mueller as Sarah, Brian Hissong as Sky in Marriott Theatre's 'Guys and Dolls'.

Abby Mueller shows why Sarah is such a rich role: In her "I’ve Never Been in Love Before" and her inebriated "If I Were a Bell" she acts her way through songs that say it all. As her gambling man with a soul to be saved, suave and handsome Brian Hissong brings to "I’ll Know" and "Luck Be A Lady" a rich, unforced baritone that’s pretty persuasive. Playing Sarah’s Samaritan/Salvation mentor, Roger Mueller makes much of his tender "More I Cannot Wish You" and John Lister brings hometown conviction to Big Julie from Chicago (apparently the only thug in New York who carries a gun).

Picturing the period perfectly, Tom Ryan’s urbane set nicely set off the fedoras and loudly colored, wide-lapeled suits that costume designer Nancy Missimi contrasts with the chorines’ pink fluffery. Combine these with this cunning cast and Raftery’s crisp and unconventional choreography and you’ve got a show to lift anyone from the winter doldrums.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Jessie Mueller as Adelaide, Abby Mueller as Sarah - Marriott Theatre

     
     

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REVIEW: The Music Man (Marriott Theatre)

         
        

Iowa Splendid

 

 

Bernie Yvon and Danny Coonley in The Music Man - Marriott Theatre

    
Marriott Theatre presents
   
The Music Man
   
Book/Music/Lyrics by Meredith Willson
Directed by
Gary Griffin
at
Marriott Theatre, Linconshire (map)
through Jan 9  |  tickets: $40-$48  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

For reasons we can only guess at, Marriott Theatre has picked it for their holiday offering. But if ever a show spelled out summer, it’s Meredith Willson‘s 1957 masterpiece The Music Man. Throughout the rollicking story the title character exudes sunny optimism, a flimflam that "Professor" Harold Hill wants to believe as much as the suckers who take it in. His buoyant drive fits the season like a picnic. You’ll forget about the winter completely over the next 150 minutes.

Johanna McKenzie Miller and Bernie Yvon in The Music Man - Marriott TheatreOf course Hill is a 1912 confidence man who hornswaggles a ragtag band into playing music, a shy boy into speaking, a town into believing in itself and a librarian into love. The sturdy story is perfectly embedded in a very particular time capsule, with Willson meticulously employing with glorious abandon assorted slang, celebrities and colorful metaphors from the era and the state.

Helping this miracle worker Hill cast his spell, Willson gives him such powerful persuasion as "Seventy-Six Trombones" and "Trouble," the famous snake-oil sermon. By the musical’s end Hill has sold far more than he knows, a passel of dreams for River City to grow on. It’s a great formula: A mysterious stranger comes to town and changes everyone for the best, including himself when he realizes that what he gives is worth far more than what he sells.

Few shows strike such a shrewd balance between downhome decency and showbiz savvy. Because The Music Man wears its songs on its sleeve, it can’t seem too slick or smooth. What matters is the tender loving care.

The heart comes through like a charm in Marriott Theatre’s easy-winning, arena revival. Intimately homespun yet always knowing, Gary Griffin’s staging trusts the material, Willson’s fast-moving book, deceptively clever lyrics and unimprovable melodies–and gets them right throughout.

The look, for instance: Tom Ryan‘s clever, flexible and detailed set pieces combine to create a richly nostalgic Iowa setting, and Nancy Missimi’s fashionplate period costumes complete the illusion.

The human illusions are equally on target. Conning with unforced charm, Bernie Yvon offers a Harold Hill who listens as much as hoodwinks; like a good salesman he connects with the townsfolk until you see how much he means it. His charm is non-negotiable, though the changes he undergoes are a bit harder to measure under Yvon’s boundless confidence.

Barbara Cook and Shirley Jones notwithstanding (comparisons are odious), Johanna McKenzie Miller nicely inhabits Marian’s rich mix of spinster standoffishness and idealistic yearning. Her "Till There Was You" is earned by every line she’s said. (The fact that she also sounds just like Cook in her perfect prime doesn’t hurt in the least either.)

The cast of The Music Man - Marriott Theatre 2

Johnny Rabe and Danny Coonley in The Music Man - Marriott Theatre Johanna McKenzie Miller and Bernie Yvon in The Music Man - Marriott Theatre 3

Like the leads, the supporting roles betray much more life than art, even the hammy stock roles like John Reeger‘s pompous mayor, Iris Lieberman as his starched-blouse wife, Mary Ernster as Marian’s matchmaking mother and Andy Lupp as Hill’s gleeful trickster accomplice.

As the decent local kids whom Harold helps, Adrian Aguilar and Amanda Tanguay carry the romantic subplot with goofy grace. Special credit goes to little Johnny Rabe whose bashful Winthrop wails out "Gary, Indiana" as if he just made it up.

Finally, Matt Raftery‘s unshowy choreography reminds us that these are unpretentious Iowans whooping it up as best they can: There’s no showoff hoofing here. The “Shipoopi” explodes with prewar pep and a palpable joy that makes the most difficult dancing seem a gift to perform as much as perceive. David Kreppel’s musical direction is assured, especially in the barbershop-quartet offerings.

 

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
 
 

The performance schedule is Wednesdays at 1pm and 8pm, Thursday and Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 4:30pm and 8pm, and Sundays at 1pm and 5pm.  There will be an added performance Tuesday, 11/23 at 8pm and Friday, 11/26 at 4:30pm.  No performances Tuesday-Thursday, Nov 24th and 25th.

The cast of The Music Man - Marriott Theatre

 

 

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REVIEW: A Chorus Line (Marriott Theatre)

Gotta Dance!

 

Chorus Line at Marriott

   
Marriott Theatre presents
   
A Chorus Line
   
Music by Marvin Hamlisch, Lyrics by Edward Kleban
Book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante
Directed by Mark Lococo
at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire (map)
Through October 31  |  tickets: $35-$48  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Mara Davi as Cassie - Chorus Line MarriottCelebrating its 35th anniversary in a terrific revival staged by Mark Lococo, A Chorus Line remains the late Michael Bennett‘s breakthrough backstage musical, winner of nine Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. In this "show before a show" the parts–the 17 dancers–outweigh the whole. That greater good is an imaginary musical where, as the hoofers swagger in Nancy Missimi’s gold lamé suits against massive mirrors, their Broadway fantasies come true. But by then we know “what they did for” dance.”

Most musicals are examples of art imitating life. Not so A Chorus Line. It fascinates because its constantly young cast insure that this show is a textbook case of life imitating art imitating life. (Actors in 2010 who could be the children of the 1975 cast are creating the 1975 creation that was itself inspired by the reality of 1975 dancers.) The recessed mirrors in Marriott’s Production perfectly symbolize the backstage, show-before-a-show nature of this unconventional depiction of the creation of a very conventional Broadway musical. (Remember: The finale, “One Singular Sensation,” is really intended as a backup to a star of the Streisand, Verdon or Ann Miller persuasion. “Chorus Line” may be all about dance but the “outside” musical that they’re creating is not.)  

It’s ironic that, after we get to know the "dance gypsies" chosen from the 24 who endure this grueling try-out, the survivors get swallowed up in "One," this massive finale where what counts is the lockstep anonymity of a kick line. The humanity that went into the song-confessionals, where the auditioners testified to the resilience, sexiness, escapism and transience of their trade, yields to the conformity of interchangeable parts. This "one singular sensation" is American individuality feeding American efficiency. Another all-too-American quality, at least at this stage of the recession, is the desperation that surges through “I Need This Job.”

 

Anika Ellis as Shiela - Chorus Line Marriott Bryan Knowlton as Paul - Chorus Line Marriott
Chorus Line - One Singular Sensation Nina Fluke as Val - Chorus Line Marriott
Chorus Line Cast - Marriott

Before that chorus/assembly line closes ranks, we’ve felt the full diversity of the dancers, as preserved from interviews that Bennett did with the original dancers some 35 years ago. It’s ironic that the current dancers may have their own stories but they’re in effect prisoners of the musical’s now-distant past.

In Lococo’s devoted reprise of this not-so-retro musical, a second (or third?) generation solidly replay the life stories of the 1975 originals, slinking and strutting their way through Bennett’s pizzazz-packed choreography (here re-imagined by Rachel Rockwell) and tearing into Marvin Hamlisch‘s sturdy score. This arena staging may be in the round but the mirrors work even better than in a proscenium  production. They may not suggest many more dancers than the cast itself but the recessed effect makes it look like we’re seeing memories as much as moments here.

Adam Estes as Gregory - Chorus Line MarriottFleshing out showbiz stereotypes with true-life immediacy, Alexander Aguilar relishes the effortless bravura of "I Can Do That" and Pilar Millhollen belts out the tough-girl wisdom of "What I Did for Love." As Sheila, the aging but indomitable siren, Anika Ellis purges her past in "At the Ballet," while Nina Fluke reinvents Val’s surgical saga in "Dance: Ten; Looks: Three."

In the one unsung solo, Bryan Knowlton digs heartache from Paul’s tale of a gay dancer unexpectedly accepted by his family. Registering the full joy of moving fast, buffed-up Max Kumangai is a blurry revelation.

As he shapes the audition-rehearsal with God-like omniscience, Chicago favorite Tim Gregory brings easy authority to confessor-choreographer Zach, though his soap-opera showdown with Cassie, his old flame, seems perfunctory. Undeterred, Broadway notable Mara Davi (who appeared in the recent revival) throws herself into "The Music and the Mirror," Cassie’s tour-de-force dance sequence. It should feel as if everyone who ever danced the part were with her but on opening night she seemed to lose her terpsichorean motivations and it fell flat.

First and always, the revival confirms the continuing cause for its docu-tribute: Bennett’s high-strutting, soul-stirring dances are a perfect match for the aspirations this musical will always extol.

   
   
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Chorus Line - One Singular Sensation2

 

   
   

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REVIEW: Pinocchio (Marriott Theatre)

A thrilling show for kids of all ages

 

PINOCCHIO Jameson Cooper and Cory Goodrich 2

   
Marriott Children’s Theatre presents
   
Pinocchio
   
Music, Lyrics and Book by Marc Robin
Directed and Choreographed by
Rachel Rockwell
Musical Direction by
Roberta Duchak
at
Marriott Theatre, Lincolnshire (map)
through August 29th  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

reviewed by Allegra Gallian

When people think of Pinnocchio, most would refer back to the Disney movie featuring the morally-conscious Jiminy Cricket and the wonderfully naïve little wooden puppet who dreams of becoming a real, live boy. Not this time. Marriott Lincolnshire’s Children’s Theatre has brought a new spin to the beloved fairy tale through their original musical production of Pinocchio, adapted for the stage by Marc Robin.

PINOCCHIO Michael Haws, Jackson Evans, Jameson Cooper 2 Minimal set pieces cover the stage, giving way for the large personalities of each character to fill the space. Just a worktable and door frame rest on the stage of the in-the-round theatre. Still, there’s a cozy feeling running through as groups of children and their parents take their seats. A fantasy-like quality is emitted and, as the lights go down and anticipation builds, the stage is dimly lit by a singular center spot on Geppetto’s work table, where the puppet Pinocchio rests.

The well-known character of Geppetto (Michael Haws) instantly brings an energy to the stage as he introduces his puppet shop through a cheerful song-and-dance number. Haws conveys the kind and gentle feel of the old wood-worker, creating an engaging presence that’s hard not to bond with. With the energy level set high from the start, Pinocchio, under the direction of Rachel Rockwell, flows smoothly along with quick scene changes and keeps an excited buzz running to the audience.

After Geppetto’s wife dies, he spends his lonely nights wishing on stars until he meets a new friend, an over-the-top grasshopper name G. Hopper. Played by Jackson Evans, Hopper is a larger-than-life character, full of energy as he bounces and flits around the stage. Evans’ Hopper provides plenty of laughs with his adept comedic timing throughout the production.

As a foil to the rest of the cast’s lively antics, the Blue Fairy (Cory Goodrich) creates a regal and calming presence. She comes to grant Geppetto’s wish of bringing the puppet Pinocchio to life because Geppetto has been such a good and honest man his whole life. Goodrich supplies a genuine characterization that truly touches the audience. Her voice fills the stage as she sings of all the positive attributes Pinocchio will need to possess if he’s ever to become a real boy.

Once Geppetto’s wish is granted, Pinocchio (Jameson Cooper) is taught to walk and talk in a catchy musical duet by his newly named conscience, Hopper. Evans and Cooper’s freshly-formed friendship feels authentic and honest. Throughout his misadventures: ditching school, hanging out at Pleasure Island and getting lost in a whale, Cooper offers up an adorable portrayal of Pinocchio with a quality endearing him immediately to audience members.

PINOCCHIO Jameson Cooper as Pinocchio

Cory Goodrich as Blue Fairy Jackson Evans as Hopper

With musicals, one generally expect the singing to be top-notch. Unfortunately, this is where Pinocchio comes up short. The singing is good-quality work, but not stellar – which may partly be caused by the fast-paced choreography. That being said, Goodrich’s Blue Fairy sings with a wonderful soprano voice that rings clear to the back of the house.

While the singing lacks, Rachel Rockwell’s choreography shines. Intricate dance numbers are a pleasure to watch, and it’s clear that these actors have natural dance talent. There’s even a crowd-pleasing scene at Pleasure Island complete with beat boxing and break dancing, spectacularly performed by Adrian Aguilar.

What really promotes the magic of this show is the exceptional lighting design by Jesse Klug. The fanciful, special effects lighting creates a fairy tale world full of color and enchantment that transports the audience to a world of wonder.  Jesse Gaffney’s minimalist set also elevates the magic.

Pinocchio proves to be a thrilling show for kids of all ages who wish to be marveled by inherently good blue fairies and hopeful wooden boys whose wishes come true by telling the truth and always letting your conscience be your guide.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

Jackson Evans as Hopper, Jameson Cooper as Pinocchio

Pinocchio plays Wednesday through Sunday at 10:00 am through August 29th at the Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriott Dr., in Lincolnshire. Single and group tickets are available. Call 847-634-0200 or visit www.MarriottTheatre.com.

     

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REVIEW: The Drowsy Chaperone (Marriott Theatre)

A journey to another world

 

DROWSY CHAPERONE--Andy Lupp as George and cast

  
Marriott Theatre presents
 
The Drowsy Chaperone
 
Music/Lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
Book by
Bob Martin and Don McKellar
Directed/Choreographed by
Marc Robin
Musical direction by
Doug Peck
at Marriott Theatre, 10 Marriot Drive (map)
Through June 28th
  |  tickets: $35-$48  |  more info

reviewed by Oliver Sava

I love Cole Porter’s Anything Goes. No, I’m not reviewing Anything Goes, but hang in there with me. The plot is laughable, relying on many standard musical theatre tropes – mistaken identity, leading lady leaving the stage behind, gangsters, horribly offensive racial stereotypes – but really the story is just a vehicle for the music. Can DROWSY CHAPERONE--Tari Kelly as Janet (moon) anyone deny the rousing thrill of “Blow Gabriel Blow”? The devastating heartbreak of “I Get A Kick Out of You”? And that tap break at the end of Act I? Perfection. Listening to Anything Goes is traveling to another time, an age of innocence when every loose end was tied up with a pretty pink ribbon and the only ending was happily ever after. For Man in Chair (the brilliant James Harms), that musical is The Drowsy Chaperone, and when the needle scratches against vinyl his entire world is transformed into the melodramatic paradise of 1920’s musical theatre.

The Drowsy Chaperone is a tribute to the musicals of Porter and Berlin and Gershwin, a celebration of every spit take and tap break, a love letter to the days when love was all there was. Lambert and Morrison’s music and lyrics provide the ballads and belts people expect from the genre, serving up fine pastiches of the genre’s greats, but Martin and McKellar’s ingenious book is what gives the show an added dimension. Man in Chair is a narrator that is the embodiment of escapist theory, physically entering the world that the audience is only able to observe. Sure, he comments on the musical’s absurdities – those pesky stereotypes, the wafer-thin plot, that song with all the monkeys – but the ridiculous fiction is easier than the harsh reality of his lonely apartment. And then there’s a five minute tap break. That’s the kind of musical The Drowsy Chaperone is.

Director Marc Robin is a master at staging in the round, keeping his actors in constant motion so that no one in the audience is stuck staring at backs the whole night, and his energetic choreography creates dimension on the mostly bare stage. Jazz is blended with ballet, ballroom, and some impressive tumbling to create visually stunning images, and the cast dances it beautifully. The aforementioned tap number is lightning quick, seriously demanding, and impeccably executed by the ever-smiling Robert Martin (Tyler Hanes) and his best man George (Andy Lupp). The physical comedy is slapstick at its finest. Each new scene offers a different way for Adolpho (Adam Pelty) to humiliate himself, and Mrs. Tottenham (Paula Scrofano) spitting in Underling’s (Gene Weygandt) face is a long-running gag. The biggest laughs come from the Man in Chair’s commentary, largely because Harms is the one saying it.

 

adam-pelty-as-adolpho david-lively-and-laura-taylor
jim-harms-as-man-in-chair linda-balgord-as-drowsy-chaperone

From his first monologue in complete darkness to a joyous moon-ride finale (no, that is not supposed to make sense), he charms the audience with his passion for the theater and makes his home a place you want to be. There is a lot of potential darkness to be explored in Man in Chair, and Harms gets just close enough to the edge that he can provoke a little more insight into the character’s struggle while still being able to turn back and box step with a lesbian Aviatrix (Melody Betts). The biggest joke is how different his real life is from the world of The Drowsy Chaperone.

In the title role, Linda Balgord flippantly dismisses the situation at hand in favor of the next drink, belting the inspiring “You’ll Never Walk Alone”-a-la-Joanne-from-Company “As We Stumble Along” to no one in particular. Robert Jordan and Janet Van De Graaff (Teri Kelly) are ideal ingénues, completely idiotic and hopelessly romantic. The racial stereotypes are cartoonish in their exaggeration, from the European (Italian? Spanish?) Adolpho to the “Message From A Nightingale” act II opening, but it’s not offensive if it’s really funny, right?

The Drowsy Chaperone an intelligent musical that builds on the foundations of the genre while paying tribute to the work that has come before it. Those kinds of musicals are hard to find. It’s easier to turn a movie into a musical, or take a Billboard artist’s discography and add a plot. Marriott’s production is a journey to another world, and even if we have to watch from the sidelines, the view is great.

       
        
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

gangsters-and-producer-felzieg

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