News Column

'Chaperone' an affectionate spoof

October 14, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 14--SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Shawn R. Morgan is almost reason enough alone to see "The Drowsy Chaperone" at Home Made Theater. The actor, a tall, broad man with a powerful voice, has been a standout in "The Producers" and "Spamalot" at Park Playhouse, and he once again puts his bigness to smart comedic use in "The Drowsy Chaperone" as a perfectly ridiculous character named Aldolpho, a European lothario with swooping hair as outsize as his accent.

The show, first produced on Broadway in 2006, is a loving spoof of old musicals. The premise takes the audience into the studio apartment of an agoraphobic theater queen (JJ Buechner), who puts on a recording of a (fictional) 1928 musical called "The Drowsy Chaperone" and comments on the action as it unfolds in his living room.

In the play within a play, a wedding is about to take place between Janet (Christine Meglino), who is retiring from her career as a star of stage musicals, and a wealthy businessman named Robert (Richard Jones). This being an old musical, there are plot complications as various forces try to stop the wedding, stereotypical characters including gangsters and dumb blondes and even an aviatrix (or, as our commentator informs us, what "we now call a lesbian"). The title character, a soused spinster played by Lesley O'Donnell, is tasked, unsuccessfully, with preventing the bride and groom from seeing on another on their wedding day.

A successful production of "The Drowsy Chaperone" requires a jarring juxtaposition between the theater fan and his fantasy world, transporting us from the cramped quarters of a shut-in (he describes his mental condition as "non-specific sadness") to the brightly lit glamor of the stage. The set design, by William E. Fritz, doesn't help the illusion: The apartment stretches across the entire stage, and when Man in Chair, as he's billed, goes to answer the phone on the other side of the room, he must walk an expanse as big as any parlor on a Park Avenue palace.

The set is representative of what's wrong with Home Made Theater's production. It's inconsistently realized, with performances that are too small, in most cases, and on occasion, much too large. As the leading man, Jones is a talented dancer but insufficiently dashing, in voice and persona, to be the romantic hero. Meglino sings well, but only O'Donnell, as the title character, and Chris Cucinella and Nik Gatzendorfer, as a pair of gangsters, are able to match Morgan's ability to simultaneously embrace and spoof musical-theater tropes.

sbarnes@timesunion.com, 518-454-5489, @Tablehopping -- http://facebook.com/SteveBarnesFoodCritic

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