As a longtime lover of musical theatre, I own more than a few original cast recordings (on LP, no less) that I treasure. Among them are Stephen Sondheim’s Pacific Overtures, which my 8th grade teacher introduced me to; Barnum, co-starring a then-unknown Glenn Close; and Li’l Abner, which I had the pleasure of performing in my junior year of high school.
The Drowsy Chaperone, a Broadway hit and multiple-Tony winner now playing in Los Angeles and touring the US, takes its inspiration from the love of musicals and their cast recordings. The show’s central figure, identified only as “Man in Chair” (played in LA by the very funny Jonathan Crombie), narrates for contemporary audiences the plot of his favorite, fictional musical from the 1920’s, The Drowsy Chaperone.
Man in Chair’s one-room apartment, the show’s sole set, is magically transformed as the “original” cast of The Drowsy Chaperone materializes. In true Roaring 20’s style, the musical is a lightweight pastiche involving pending nuptials, Prohibition, vaudeville routines, pioneering woman pilots, and gangsters. The songs are clever and enjoyable, if not particularly memorable, and the choreography by Casey Nicholaw (who also directed) is vivacious.
In addition to Crombie, performers of note among the overall delightful LA cast include Georgia Engel (yes, Georgette from The Mary Tyler Moore Show) as Mrs. Tottendale, which she originated on Broadway; Robert Dorfman as her vodka-swilling Underling; Andrea Chamberlain as the musical’s female lead, Janet Van De Graaff; and the hilarious Nancy Opel as the title character.
The Drowsy Chaperone is easily the second-funniest stage musical I’ve ever seen, after The Producers. But this is the more original show, since The Producers had its origin as a movie. It is a loving valentine to a by-gone era as well as the unique art form known as musical theatre.
It also illustrates how great musicals never die, even if they don’t get performed often, so long as a cast recording exists. Speaking of, at least a few of us are holding out for one for recent Tony nominee (now sadly closed) Cry-Baby. Get on it, John Waters and company!
Review by Rev. Chris Carpenter, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and the Orange County and Long Beach Blade.