You’re not likely to find many musical theater narrators funnier or wittier than the gleefully ironic Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone, a gem of a production playing at the Post Playhouse. And I state again, the Post Playhouse is Northwestern Nebraska’s premier professional theater company.
The Drowsy Chaperone was conceived in 1997 by some Canadian theater friends satirizing old musicals for another friend’s bachelor party. That bachelor was Bob Martin, original Man in Chair and one of the book writers with Don McKellar and music by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. The musical went on to win five Tony Awards in 2006.
The vintage show-within-the-show format (or a musical within a comedy, if you will) is a valentine to old-time Broadway full of silly mix-ups and mayhem. But the running commentary by the Man in Chair brings a refreshing intelligence to The Drowsy Chaperone. The narrator knows the stock characters, plot and songs in his favorite show are ridiculous, but he loves this throwback to the jazz age for its pure escapism.
Ironically, although he says he hates shows that “break the fourth wall,” the Man in Chair spends his entire time doing that, talking directly to the audience as he shares his wryly humorous and at times philosophical observations about entertainment.
Rob Gretta creates the heart of the show as the agoraphobic Man in Chair, who lives through his LP record from his favorite 1920s musical. In this ambitious Post undertaking, the Roaring ’20s show springs to life in the man’s drab New York apartment.
Gretta sets a perfect tone of nerdy neuroticism as he sweeps us into the world of the story — the 1928 Feldzieg Follies. This delightful parody on the era’s theater spectacles features a number of extreme characters, including the glamorous bride-to-be Janet van de Graaff, handsome and debonair fiancé Robert, self-proclaimed Latin Lothario Adolpho, meddling and harried producer Feldzieg, a couple of jovial gangsters, a ditzy chorine named Kitty, a stuffy British manservant, an empty-headed hostess named Mrs. Tottendale, a brassy Aviatrix named Trix, a charming and anally retentive best man named George, and the perpetually drunk title character, who are both supposed to keep tabs on the bride.
Every cast member gets a rare opportunity to sing, dance, and overact (in a great way) in this bold, hilarious, and fast-paced production. Jorie Janeway is absolutely delightful in her woozy characterization as the Drowsy Chaperone. You’ll swear you were watching Carol Burnett as she sings a wacky and rousing “anthem about alcoholism’’ and also tickling the funny bone in a scene of anti-romance with Adolpho (played convincingly by Willis Miller). Rico LeBron and Morgan Smith are “romance” personified as Robert and Janet respectively. Paige Salter and Sean Barrett make a perfect comical pairing as the dotty older woman and her butler, and Lauren Turner blows us away (again) with her ebullient singing as Trix, the Aviatrix. Dan Denton and Nick Waaland are superbly schticky as the gangsters, Corrado Alicata and Janet McWilliams make a tickling two-some treasure.
The Drowsy Chaperone features glamorous period costumes and a perfectly plain set by Dan Iwaniec, flashy lights by Scott Cavin, and bouncy and buoyant dancing choreographed by the incomparable Jorie Janeway. Especially dazzling is the tap number with Robert (Rico LeBron) and George (Tommy Wallace) in “Cold Feets” as well as the full ensemble in the Charleston-flavored “Toledo Surprise.”
The Drowsy Chaperone is a smartly constructed, adorable show. But most importantly, it has heart and abundant humor that’s certain to chase any blues away. As a reviewer and audience member, it has been such a pleasure watching these actors transform into so many different characters this summer. You should as well before it’s too late.
Final shows of The Drowsy Chaperone at the Post Playhouse are July 31, Aug. 2, 7, and 9. For more information and tickets, please call (308) 665-1976 or visit us at www.postplayhouse.com.