Nov. 29--"The Drowsy Chaperone" is a musical meant for the Broadway stage. It's a gigantic, soaring tribute and critique of classics like "Bye Bye Birdie," "The Fantasticks" and "Damn Yankees" and would be a challenge for any small theatre to perform.
With that said, Missouri Western State University Theatre's production of the award-winning 1998 musical is stunning -- equally balancing the over-the-top acting of its cast with solid vocal performances and visuals, all anchored by an impressive turn by actor Sebastian Smith.
As director Tee Quillin put it, to the passive viewer, "Chaperone" is a breezy piece of Broadway fun and little more. In that regard, it works great. The sets, mostly covered in bright colors, look impressive and its cast sounds great.
There's more going on, though, as the play chronicles one man, known as Man In Chair, played by Smith, and his obsession with a musical known as "The Drowsy Chaperone," which exists only to him on a double LP record.
The musical itself is a fun, entertaining piece of Broadway-parody cheese with great performances from Kayla Mertz and Ray Johnson, as a soon-to-be married couple Janet Van Der Graaff and Robert Martin.
The two encounter problems as their plans for marriage are stymied by Der Graff's producer, Feldzieg, played by Erik Burns-Sprung, who wants her to put the wedding on hold and continue starring in his hit musical, "Feldzieg's Follies," while a couple of mobsters are breathing down his neck to keep the money flowing.
Add a "drowsy," (code word for drunk) chaperone, played with loose, energetic ease by Kathleen Holeman, a scene-stealing Latino known as Aldolpho, in a breakout performance by Thomas Delgado, and a New Yorker with star in her eyes known as Kitty, in a hilarious turn by Xan Kellogg, and you have a good time. But it's not just that.
From the side, Man In Chair watches the musical play out, often stopping the record to add in tidbits ranging from the background of the actors in the musical to trivia about the production to his own life. He points out when things are bad, such as a spit-take scene between two characters played by Dan Kellogg and Rhonda Gierstorf, and when points in the production remind him of painful times, like when an obscured word on the record details his own life philosophy.
With it being such an ambitious concept, "Chaperone" could have easily appeared to be too much for a smaller theater to take on, and when it gets serious, it could have collapsed under its own emotional heft.
While a few cracks showed during the opening number "Fancy Dress," when the orchestra drowned out the cast, as well as some pacing issues in the first act, when the play finally found its balance, it strutted all the way to its surprisingly poignant coda.
For Missouri Western, it's a great bookend to a year in which it has continuously impressed by turning Broadway plays and musicals into its own thing.
"The Drowsy Chaperone" will run Dec. 5 through 8 at the Potter Hall Theater at Missouri Western State University. Tickets are $8 to $12. The play is suitable for most ages with mild suggestive themes.
Andrew Gaug can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPGaug.
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