By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
Here’s one from the vaults: The Drowsy Chaperone. Does anyone else remember this prototypical 1920’s show about a Broadway star, Janet Van De Graaff, forced to choose either her career or her fiancé Robert Martin? Lots of folks with competing agendas work behind the scenes, hoping to handicap Janet’s decision and we worry ourselves wondering if she’ll end up happy. They just don’t write shows like this anymore.
You just got punked! There never was a 1920’s musical called The Drowsy Chaperone; the above is the synopsis of a 20’s musical parody performed inside the Tony Award winning 2006 musical called The Drowsy Chaperone. Music and lyrics are by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, with Bob Martin and Don McKellar writing the book.
The Drowsy Chaperone continues through May 11. Little Lake Theatre, Canonsburg. 724-745-6300. www.littlelaketheatre.org
It’s a little confusing, so let’s see if I can explain this. When the lights come up, we are in the apartment of a character known only as “Man in Chair.” He’s sort of resigned to his place in the real world and spends his time now sitting in that chair and listening to old cast recordings from Broadway’s Golden Age. On this particular evening he’s just put onto his hi-fi turntable, The Drowsy Chaperone album, and once the music begins the cast appears in his living room (in his imagination, really) and performs the show for him (and us.)
What keeps the whole thing from curdling into sick-making nostalgia is “Man in Chair” and his non-stop sidebar conversations in which he gleefully dispenses side-splitting gossip about the actors performing in the long-ago Chaperone, about the anemic state of the American Musical, about Theater, about audiences and his own fear/loathing with modern life. Disappointed and disgusted by the “real” world, “Man in Chair” has retreated to a place where life is a song and everybody ends up happy.
To say that I know what he’s going through is an understatement. If only my jokes were as funny as his, I could be the model for “Man in Chair.”
What I really appreciated about this production of The Drowsy Chaperone which just opened at Little Lake Theatre is that director/choreographer Sara Barbisch has given Greg Caridi enormous room to explore some of the darker tones in his performance as “Man in Chair.”
Caridi’s no slouch when it comes to landing all the bitchy, inside-theater jokes written by Martin and Kellar. (I do think I might have annoyed some of my neighbors with my braying at his spikey references to forgotten musicals … but honestly, there must be at least one positive thing growing out of all those years I spent in my room listening to, and learning about, old musicals.) Caridi nails all that material effortlessly.
But he is particularly effective when he allows the arched eyebrow to fall a little and gives us a glimpse into the sad loneliness hiding just below the witty repartee. It’s a complex juggling act Caridi pulls off, even a second of direct, unalloyed human emotion would be completely out of character for “Man in Chair” and Caridi seems to know just exactly how close he can walk up to that line.
The cast performing the musical in the living room are a lively and enthusiastic group and, perhaps, there’s maybe too many of them. The intimate Little Lake stage is far too small for a cast of 15 and any ensemble number resembles nothing so much as strap holders on the A train bouncing up and down in unison. I’m happy that the Lake is exploring the possibility of presenting musicals, but the shape and size of the staging area needs to inform every choice.
Individually there are nice performances happening, Carina Iannarelli’s “dumb” chorine is a hoot, Delana Flowers’ has a big voice and uses it effectively, Mairead A. Roddy’s lovely soprano is enchanting and Meighan Lloyd Harding, in the title role, gets the show’s best song and works it for all it’s worth.
But The Drowsy Chaperone is, finally, all about “Man in Chair” and Caridi gives a knockout performance.