Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.
directed by Martha Sawyer
musical direction by Meri-Lee Mafera
choreography by Jennifer Walsh
Review by Gillian Daniels
(Braintree) The Drowsy Chaperone pulls a neat trick. In order to treat its audience to an old- fashioned musical comedy in a jaded age, it bookends the story with the alternately joyous and grim analysis of a musical fan. Richard Carey plays the asocial, contemporary fan in question, obsessed with the non-existent 1928 play of the title. His interest in the sunny musical and his running commentary turns the show-within a-show into a meditation on how a lonely man deals with sadness.
The musical Carey’s character loves so much is almost pure fluff. It concerns a marriage plot between an actress (Melinda Edge) hesitant to give up her Broadway career for love and her hapless, rich suitor, Robert (Lance Wesley). With the help of silly conventions like blindfolds, mistaken identities, the mob, and fake French accents, their engagement is fraught with the sort of “complications” easily solved before the curtain.
Carey often interrupts with sometimes humorously tragic trivia pertaining to the “original cast.” His enjoyment of musicals also doesn’t stop the story from pointing out the clichés and casual racism of early twentieth century entertainment. Carey absolutely delights in the show, however, cheering it on as it barrels toward an over-the-top, happy ending.
Curtain Call Theatre’s production has a number of stand-out performances. The butler, Underling (John Sawyer), gives is excellent as a put upon straight man in a musical world of love-struck fools while Elizabeth Morrell is enormously sweet as the senile, doddering Mrs. Tottendale. Sharon Petti, as the titular chaperone, is brassy and memorable. It’s an enormously engaging show. The cast also brings a great deal of talent to songs like “Show Off,” “I Do, I Do In The Sky,” and “As We Stumble Along.”
The show-within-a-show is an unapologetic romp. Carey’s narrator, meanwhile, lives a much more restrained lifestyle. He ignores his answering machine, drinks, and despairs of going out to meet other people. Here, The Drowsy Chaperone reveals what it’s really about, a musical about musicals.
So what if Carey is obsessed with an adorably cheesy comedy nearly a century old? His enjoyment of the story gives its frivolity real weight and worth. The way fiction illuminates his life is inspiring. The Drowsy Chaperone tries to show the importance of art and fiction in a world where, like the show’s best number says, most of us just stumble along.