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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  • I did catch this show on Broadway, Lou. I loved the show and agree that it will play well on local stages. Although I must admit that I was spoiled by the performance on the full stage will all the original cast -- Sutton Foster singing Show Off was the highlight of the show!
  • Yes. Saw in on Broadway and must say that it was one of the most entertaining nights of theatre I've had in my adult life.

    I honestly wondered if a non-equity tour would be able to do the show justice, mainly because those tours generally have very young casts, and this show calls for not just singers and dancers, but some great character actors, as well.

    But I'll go you one better, Lou, and say that it may be even better at one of the local theatres you mentioned above. Let's just hope that the rights are released sometime soon.
  • It's been a little over a year, but it was enjoyable when I saw it in Cincinnati. I agree that it will play well in local/regional theater, and as an unknown part of the Broadway series I had season tickets to, was a pleasant surprise. Anyone who has a chance should check it out.
  • I saw the show on Broadway with the original cast. It was one of the most entertaining evenings of theatre I can remember. My husband (who usually goes to the theatre just because I want him to go) laughed through the entire show and had a great time. I cannot imagine that the show would be nearly as good with a young, traveling cast. I hope one of our great equity theatres will get the rights. The folks at Actors Theatre would do a great job with this show.
  • I saw the show on Broadway, loved it, and I think this will play very well around the country. I'm a little surprisedabout all the comments about the touring actors not being able to do the show justice, especially if no one ( besides Lou) has seen the cast perform. No offense Lou, your opinions are completely valid, but others may have a different opinion or experience. There are plenty of talented actors out there who do these tours, most of them are the very same New York actors who eventually end up on the stages you all know so well. Even Sutton Foster toured once upon a time before becoming a big Broadway star. I'm not agreeing or disagreeing, just saying, don't judge until you have actually seen the show! Also, not all tours are created equal. Some are fantastic, some not so much, just as not all shows are going to hit the mark with audiences. Just trying to send some positive thoughts about the talented folks who work so hard ( Sometimes on meager salaries) to do these tours.

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