By Steve Odenthal
The Heritage Community Theatre opens its take on The Drowsy Chaperone in Perry, Utah this weekend and I was lucky enough to get an early peek. It doesn’t disappoint. I expected to laugh but I was not quite ready for how quickly I became immersed in what was presented and the many levels and nuances that pulled me in. Don’t doubt for a minute that I laughed. Oh, the surface laughs are there; some low and broad humor as well as some period depictions from the Golden Age circa 1928. Though these might not fly in our modern era, the story itself as gently handled by Director Joshua Samuel Robinson brings with it a certain innocence and delight. Robinson gives us a strong sense of a scene or a given character’s ownership of and investment in that role while hinting at a sub-level of opposition to it. I know. I know. It sounds like you need elbow patches and a pipe for this show. Nothing could be further from the truth. This show is a delight, but perhaps you should consider only sharing that delight with the over-ten-years-old club, not for content issues, but that seems to me to be where the attention span might be a fit.
The story (Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar with Score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) is about an older, lonely man who is steeped in the history of Theatre and most specifically The Drowsy Chaperone. He shares his prized vinyl recordings of the fictitious 1928 musical comedy with us from his large and only chair in a most tender way. As he fidgets and twists with slight discomfort, the Man in the Chair (Jacob Thompson) makes us feel a part of his world as he breaks the fourth wall to reach out to us and share, all the while explaining how he “hates” those plays where they “break the fourth wall”. Thompson is at once gangly, awkward; uncomfortable in his depiction using slight twitches and body language at first, but mystifyingly the Man in the Chair is never not at ease during his reverie and fondness for his beloved musical. He wins us over. We very soon have a friend and guide. Thompson plays the part so well in his boldly yellow Mr. Rogers-type sweater that we absolutely can’t help rooting for him. But then, what is not to love? You don’t often get songs confessing the woes of putting Monkeys on Pedestals—but more on that later.
It is immediately noticeable that this period piece is well costumed, well cast and well, a cohesive team that plays with and off each other with ease. While the opportunities are always there to take advantage of the broad humor, I never glimpsed the upstaging of another actor. All the cast has their own moments of comic relief as they personify the Man in the Chair’s visions. I could sense how tenderly he held them, and I soon felt that each of his imaginary friends, acting out their existence in his living room, held The Man in the highest regard as well. This is a very tight and secure cast—you will like them.
Janet Van De Graaff (Bethany Briesmaster) is the famous mega-star of this time, the IT girl of the day, delighting audiences. However, she is about to turn over her manager’s apple cart by getting married and leaving the show. Mr. Feldzieg (Travis Williams) feels that his show must go on and to ensure this he sets in motion a plan to break up the wedding before it happens. Briesmater personifies the glamour of a star and gives ample voice and dazzle to her numbers. Even while voicing the “Bride’s Lament”, a ballad of matrimonial woe (and the aforementioned monkeys) we deeply believe, like the Man in the Chair, that she is heaven-sent. In her many costume changes, each one, whether blue, white, sequined or bridal, we understood what Feldzieg stood to lose in ticket sales and star-power. For his part, Williams more than holds his own while bouncing his attention between his star, his assistant Kitty (Aimee Lynn Chadwick) and the two Gangsters (Jason Shumate and Dawn Allen) who have a vested interest in the show going on. Williams carries a nice tune even when using a raspy character voice and he is featured along with Chadwick, Allen, and Shumate as they join forces in the song “Toledo Surprise”. I really enjoyed this number from the first Act as it allows facials that can’t help but amuse as well as some choreography involving the entire company in what had to be a very strenuous staging. Very fun.
One of the very best parts of this production is the interaction between Thompson and the fictional characters on stage (in his living room). It is charming to watch the interplay as it goes on with neither the Man nor the players breaking the real fourth wall in this play—the one between reality and reverie. I loved that. Applause to Robinson and wonderful implementation by the entire cast.
A moment needs to be taken to appreciate the Costuming by Becky Jones Knowles. Adhering to the time period, Knowles makes choices that stand out and capture the vibrancy of that earlier day when the haves had and the have-nots served. It might have been easy to get carried away with the varied and “diverse” characters of this piece and I greatly appreciated how the costuming enhances the vision here. There were certainly moments of, “Oh, Wow”, but those entrances did not linger or distract.
While we are on the subject of Knowles, let me tell you that she can belt a song with the best of them as she brings the total package of comedy and voice to her role as the Drowsy Chaperone. Tremendous.
If there is to be a wedding, there must be a groom and best man, right? The groom, Robert Martin (David Knowles) and his best man George (Zackary George) are right on task throughout the night. Whether it is with tap shoes in the number “Cold Feets” or on roller skates (don’t ask, just come see this for yourself) Knowles and George are entertaining, to say the least.
This production has so many delights that fun moments are often and everywhere. Whether it is the socialite Mrs. Tottendale (Marsha Holmes) sweeping grandly in on her every entrance, brightening the stage with her elegance (between spit-takes with the Butler) or the Butler himself (who might be the sanest character on the stage) played so very well by Paul Baker, you get a sense that they can’t pack much more into this show.
But you would be wrong. I haven’t yet told you about Adolpho (Jon Allen) or Trix, the Aviatrix (Jenica Bergan). There have to be some surprises, right? Let me just say that Bergan’s voice is strong and beautiful in her short time onstage. She lends her talent elsewhere in the show along with the two ensemble actresses (Alanna Christensen and Cambria Elkins) who are always where they are needed lending voice and talent to the majority of the scenes. It is impressive to see these ladies blend in and stand out at the same time.
I still haven’t told you about Adolpho. Let’s just say that he was my favorite character of the night from a comedic standpoint. His facials, especially his eyes darting here and there, in his best Rudolph Valentino impression during his solo of “I am Aldopho” made me wonder if he was actually my alter-ego. I do know that after Allen’s portrayal, I have a new song for the shower. (Pity my wife.)
I thoroughly enjoyed the evening with The Drowsy Chaperone at the Heritage Theatre in Perry, Utah and I believe you will too. There is always top-notch talent at this venue and this show certainly upholds that tradition. Opening weekend is beginning on March 9and goes through March, 12. Mention that opening weekend is a “buy one get one” weekend and use the code BOGO to get this special pricing. The show continues on Friday, Saturday, and Monday nights through the end of March and curtain rises at 7:30 PM. If you like to laugh and sometimes have a deeper emotion, I think that you will really like this show! You should be here.
The Heritage Community Theatre presents The Drowsy Chaperone Book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, Score by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison
The Heritage Community Theatre, 2505 South Highway 89, Perry, Utah 84302 March 9-31 Monday Friday-Saturday 7:30 PM
Tickets: $10, $12. Note: Opening weekend is a “buy one get one” weekend and use the code BOGO to get this special pricing
Heritage Community Theater Facebook Page
The Drowsy Chaperone Facebook Event