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Review: 'Drowsy Chaperone' at IU

April 2, 2009
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The major colleges that ring Central Indiana often host touring shows that aren't part of the Broadway in Indianapolis series (the Reuben Studdard/Frenchie Davis tour of "Ain't Misbehavin' is next at Purdue).

For me, the appearance of a yet-unseen show means a road trip is in order. And, last night, I trekked to Bloomington to IU Auditorium in order to see the national, non-Equity tour of "The Drowsy Chaperone." 

This was my first experience with the show, which ran for a year and a half on Broadway and picked up Tony Awards for Best Music and Best Book but lost Best Musical to "Jersey Boys." That seems like the right call--although I expect "Chaperone" will have a more significant life in regional and community theaters, where it's deliberately stock characters will be easier to cast than the Four Seasons.

I have a fondness for shows that I think will become part of the musical cannon--and I'm speculating that future productions at Beef & Boards, Footlite Musicals and/or Indianapolis Civic Theatre will be successful ones, thanks to the shows tight book, charming lead character/narrator, gags large and small, and a set of clever, catchy songs. Plus, a guy roller skating while blindfolded.

It concerns the nameless Man in Chair, a lonely gent who finds solace in recordings of old musicals. He shares with the audience a recording of a 1920s lark called "The Drowsy Chaperone" and, as the record plays, the highlights come to life in his apartment.

The challenge of the show is to balance the intimacy of the loner's life--we need to be close enough to connect with him--and the big silliness of the show. IU Auditorium, unfortunately, swallowed many of the lyrics. John West was sufficiently engaging in the lead but entirely too young for the part. The rest of the cast stripmined the material, finding the pleasures on the surface but never going too deep either musically or comedically. I'm confident a production by any of the aforementioned three local theaters would be just as fun, if not more.

Nonetheless, this good enough production delivered enough of the show to make the drive worthwhile.

Did you catch "The Drowsy Chaperone" either on tour or on Broadway? If so, share your thoughts.
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