Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone is an entertainingly different take on the musical genre. With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, this “meta-musical” features a man playing a record of a fictitious 1928 musical and commenting on it as it comes to life in front of us. Directed by Jason Vellon, with music direction by David Merrill and choreography by Lindsay Zetter, the show not only pokes fun at the tropes and cliches of musicals but also offers thought-provoking insights into love, reality, and escapism.
Tom Wyatt plays the Man in Chair with a combination of comedy and emotion. Serving as the narrator, he interrupts the show to tell us about the fictitious actors playing in the musical and offers humorous quips about the quality of some of the scenes. For one song he remarks, “Try not to pay attention to the lyrics,” which means we will, and they are absurd. At the start of Act Two, he stops the show to resolve an embarrassing mistake, a hilariously cringe-inducing reminder of how musicals used stereotypes back in the day. He slowly reveals why he prefers old musicals to reality while wondering, “It’s better to live than leave, right?”
Kaitlin Arnold gives a glamor to Janet, preparing to marry. In “Show Off” she shows her many talents, from dancing to magic tricks, all while declaring that she’s giving it all up once she marries. She shows her tormented side in “Bride’s Lament” giving a sincerity to even the silly lyrics. Kyle Eshom plays her love interest and groom Robert with great enthusiasm. In “Cold Feets” he tap-dances across the stage, even twirling his best man George (Matthew Rigby). Arnold and Eshom’s duet in “Accident Waiting to Happen” is cutely and lightly romantic, sung while he is blindfolded on roller skates.
Traci Denhardt channels Elaine Stritch as the Drowsy Chaperone, a fun-loving gal with a drink in her hand. Her anthem song, “As We Stumble Along,” has great passion, summing up the show’s philosophy. She ushers Arnold offstage as she sings. Josh Mooney plays ladies’ man Aldolpho with flamboyance and confidence. “I Am Aldolpho” has a Spanish flavor as he and Denhardt tango across the stage.
Conner Bland and Meridian Toalepai give the gangsters comedic toughness, with old-time rough New York accents and a propensity for food-based puns. They start “Toledo Surprise” as a threat to Feldzieg (Matthew Gray), who turns it into a musical number for the whole cast. Kirsti Dixon plays Kitty with perfect comedic stupidity, coming up with different acts to star in Feldzieg’s “follies” but never quite getting them.
Sarah Mitchell plays Mrs. Tottendale with excellent comic timing, doing a spit take with butler Underling (Gene Valendo). Valendo delivers his zingers and comments with a wonderful understatement, giving them an extra punch. In “Love Is Always Lovely in the End,” he and Mitchell have a funny back-and-forth until they reach a charming development in the end.
Matthew Rigby is hilarious as the best man planning the wedding and trying to keep Robert and Janet apart until the ceremony. Ellen Quay as aviatrix Trix gives “I Do, I Do in the Sky” a fun energy reminiscent of old-time musicals. With Patrick Finn, Julia Malecki, and Kylie Wright, she also fills out the cast as the Ensemble, playing everything from pilots to performing monkeys.
Set Designer Todd Croteau has created a richly detailed set. To the left are a bookcase, drinks cart, record player, and large chair. In the middle is a kitchen, dominated by a large refrigerator. On the right are a bed and dresser, with musical posters on the walls. A signed photograph of a flapper is in the center. Everything gives the feel of the 1920s, except for the modern landline phone attached to the wall, which plays a role in the story. There are surprising places for entrances and exits.
Costume Designer Fran Marchand and Wig/Hair Stylist Erin Elliott have costumes that reflect the time period and help distinguish the characters. The Man in Chair wears khakis and a blue sweater vest. Aldolpho stands out from the other men in his red and black cape and red sash. The Drowsy Chaperone has on a black fringe flapper dress and black cap, with a red boa. Janet looks glamorous in a long pink dress and white dressing gown.
Lighting Designer Ernie Morton highlights the atmosphere by dimming the lights when the Man in Chair interrupts the action. A blue light bathes the stage during an emotional song. For one scene, the stage is black except for two flashlights. Sound Designer Madison Maglin ensures both the performers and the music can be heard clearly.
Music Director David Merrill keeps the orchestra, hidden behind the stage, playing lively and nicely balanced with the singing, neither one overpowering the other. Choreographer Lindsay Zetter has created lovely dances, with tap, jazzy stylings, and several lifts. Jason Vellon has done a wonderful job as director. The performers expertly navigate the stage and each other, singing with passion and energy. Their comic timing is spot-on, capturing the silliness of old-time musicals while taking it seriously. Everything comes together for a fun evening of comedy while offering lots to consider afterward. Be sure to catch it!
Running Time: Approximately two hours 10 minutes, including a 15-minute intermission.
The program for The Drowsy Chaperone is online here.