Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Drowsy Chaperone @ ZACH-- Holy Crap! What A Show!

You want to know a couple of surefire signs that a show is fan-fucking-tabulous? Here's one: as you sit in the theatre, you are so excited, so utterly thrilled, so giddy beyond giddy that it grows a little hard to concentrate because your brain keeps wanting to interrupt your focus on the show to make a mental list of all of the people you know who MUST see it. I was watching TDC and my list got longer and longer and longer: Ross, Henry, Big Red, Southpaw, Maggie, Jill, Kenan, Paula, Jay, Chris, A Slew of Other Friends, The Six of You, Random Strangers on the Street, and on and on. If and when I am king, I am going to order up a command performance of this show to be put on every morning at breakfast for me and all of my friends and subjects, and the version I command shall star the very cast I saw last night.

The second sign that a show is stupefyingly delish? When you and your date wake up the next morning and before you've even come all the way to the surface you're recounting scene after scene, debating which was most hilarious, and expressing awe and wonder at every single detail of the production. That was Warren and me this morning. Usually I am a Bitch Royale before my coffee and Warren knows better than to chat me up. But I woke up chirping away. We were laughing and laughing and laughing some more. Holy Crap! What a Show!

Though I often mention how very opposed I am to spoilers, honestly, it won't hurt this time around for me to tell you a bit about the setup. The whole story-- from how this musical came to be to the tale it tells-- is just wonderful. It's a story within a story within a story. Once upon a time a comedian/writer named Bob Martin was engaged to a woman named Janet. This is a true fact. For her bachelorette party, Bob put together a little musical which they performed with no sets or costumes. This happened in an apartment. But it turned out that this one-off wedding gift was clearly more than that. So they turned it into a play about a musical and that play went on to win some Tony awards, which I think it should win every year for the next five hundred years at least.

More details-- The framework for the show is that there's this guy who's apparently a bit on the agoraphobic side and feeling a bit blue. The one thing that really cheers him up is to listen to an LP of his favorite musical which is called, yes, The Drowsy Chaperone. As he sits in his apartment alone and listening, the musical comes to life, the characters appear, and this guy, known as The Man in the Chair, spends his time alternately offering commentary and gossipy asides to the audience (I mean, US, the folks watching it) and jumping in to be part of the show.

Have I confused you? Don't worry. Just see the show and you'll see what I mean. What makes this show so splendid from a writing perspective is just how smart it is. OH IT IS SO SMART. And it is SO funny, sending up racial stereotypes and cheesy lyrics. And it is an absolute perfect parody of so many old musicals where ridiculous things happen, often without explanation, and then some deus ex machina descends to facilitate a happy ending which, yes, of course, involves marriage. (In this show a black lesbian airplane pilot who makes just two cameos, one crucial to the utterly silly plot, gets to be our Deus.)

I forgot to tell you-- the main characters in the musical that occurs inside the play are called Robert and Janet, same as the real life couple that inspired it. See-- there's so much meta stuff going on that my head was bursting with delight.

While great writing can take you pretty far, let's face it, when we're talking stage productions you need a helluva lot more to bump things up from pretty darn good to inimitably stupendous. ZACH's rendition of The Drowsy Chaperone soars on every single count beginning with Nick Demos's direction (note, Nick just won a Tony for best director of Memphis). Susan Branch Towne's costumes are in on the all the jokes here-- in particular one on-stage costume transformation during the song Show Off was remarkable. The costumes during the songs Bride's Lament and Message from a Nightingale caused me to laugh so loud I worried I might be escorted out of the theatre. And the entire wardrobe of The Drowsy Chaperone (I mean the character, not to be confused with the musical-within-the-play or the play itself) simply must win every prize this town has to offer for costumes.

Am I forgetting to tell you about the acting? No, no, patience please, we'll get there. Let's take a minute to also give a shout out to set design, lighting, and the live music. The set, like the show itself, is sharp and clever and wonderfully executed. And the lights required some pretty impeccable timing that did not escape my notice. As for the ensemble providing so much music with so few musicians? I'm not sure how they did that but since I'm busy handing out awards, they need to get some, too.

And now... and now... Martin Burke, are you with me? Have you read this far? Martin? Will you marry me? Will your boyfriend mind? People? Martin Burke as The Man in the Chair is so adorable, so charmingly misanthropic (or is that misanthropically charming?). His interactions with just the telephone made me want to rush down onstage, mid-show, and hug him. MARTIN I HEART YOU!

And I also heart Martin's character's complete obsession with this one musical he cannot let go of. Through all of my laughter, there were moments I got very weepy during the show. Let me explain why. When I was growing up in a very small town, my only hope for culture was stuff that accidentally crept in, like the time I found a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves that had apparently been smuggled in to our tiny town library probably by some subversive 70s dyke (maybe this is why, ever since, I have dressed like a 70s lesbian-- out of gratitude!) Along these lines, I owe my deep-- nay bottomless- love for and knowledge of Broadway musicals to "the mom next door."

As a kid, I spent a lot of time next door-- home of my childhood best friend. Her mom cleaned the toilets every Saturday while absolutely blasting LP musical soundtracks: Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, Gypsy Rose, and on and on. Back at my house where our exposure to the outside world came courtesy of Reader's Digest Condensed books, such musical tastes were considered putting on airs. But to me they were magical moments-- my friend's mom, wielding a toilet brush and belting out, "Have an eggroll, Mr. Goldstone..." with Ethel Merman and "Hello Dolly!" with Carol Channing. Those are cherished memories.

So even though I understood that The Man in the Chair was himself a parody, Martin Burke brought so much sympathy to the character that I fully felt in my heart that obsession of his as if it were my own. Seriously, people, I wept.

I think I'm on page twenty of this review and I haven't even told you about the other actors. Well crap. There's just so many good things to say and so many people to give shout outs to. The show is wonderfully cast and I will never understand how people can sing, dance, and then talk without panting heavily. This is amazing talent, people: Jill Blackwood as Janet, the star who wants to give it all up (or does she?!); Meredith McCall as the could-not-be-cast-more-perfectly Drowsy Chaperone is like a mash up of Merman and Bewitched's Endura; Jamie Goodwin as the dashing doofus Aldolpho; and-- you know what? I'm just going to put a damn link here so you can see the entire cast because they are all splendid and me typing a laundry list is not doing them justice. I want to make sure, though, that you know that only for a few more shows the role of George will be played by Robin Lewis who also choreographed the show. He performs this one solo that calls to mind Donald O'Connor, Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly all rolled into own. (Shit, now that I mentioned that, I feel like I would be remiss not to mention Matthew Redden's (who plays Robert) roller skating skills.)

Okay, okay, I'll stop. But pay attention while I tell you one finishing fact. The show I saw was SOLD OUT. I expect every single show will SELL OUT. I do not know if they can/will hold it over. As soon as I post this I am going to see if I can buy a whole BLOCK of tickets, so that's another batch of seats you won't be able to get your hands on. Don't be a fool-- make your reservations NOW.

Holy Crap! What a Show!

1 comment:

Ryan E. Johnson said...

Zach's been on a hell of a roll lately, I absolutely adored both this and Becky, I just hope they can finish strong. I've heard really good things about Metamorphoses, and if they can pull it off, it could be one of the best seasons I've seen in some time.