Janet Van De Graaff (Andrea Chamberlain) kicks up her heels during a number in "The Drowsy Chaperone," currently playing at the State Fair Music Hall.
Summer Musical Photo by Joan Marcus

'The Drowsy Chaperone': Broadway done right

Award-winning musical in Dallas through June 15

By TERRY MATHEWS, News-Telegram Arts Editor

June 9, 2008- When Broadway gets it right, there's nothing to compare to a musical comedy. When done right, a good musical transports the audience to a fantasy world where the girls are gorgeous, the boys are handsome, and bursting out with a toe-tapping tune seems like the natural thing to do.

In 2006, Broadway got it right with "The Drowsy Chaperone." The show won five Tony awards, including best music, best book (story) and best featured actress. The national tour is currently bringing the house down in Dallas at State Fair Music Hall.

"Chicago," "Sweet Charity" and "Wicked" are great shows, but "The Drowsy Chaperone" reminds us that musical comedy is supposed to be a lot of fun.

As the lights go down and before the curtain rises, we're drawn into the world of "Man in Chair" (Jonathan Crombie), a lonely isolated fellow who likes to cure his "blues" by listening to recordings - no iPod for this guy - of his favorite musicals. He is particularly fond of the double-album cast recording of the 1928 smash, "The Drowsy Chaperone." He insists that we join him in listening to the show's overture. The needle drops and voil, the characters come to life in his drab apartment.

The show-within-the-show centers on actress Janet Van De Graaff (Andrea Chamberlin) who has decided to marry handsome oil heir Robert Martin (Mark Ledbetter) and leave show business forever.

The wedding festivities are being held at the country estate of Mrs. Tottendale (Georgia Engel), whose late husband was a brute. Engel's scenes with Underling (Robert Dorfman), her butler, require precise timing and provide some of the show's biggest sight gags.

Janet's sudden departure poses a problem for Feldzieg (Cliff Bemis), her show's producer. Besides losing his lucrative gravy train, Feldzieg's biggest financial backer happens to be a dangerous mobster.

In order to protect his investment, the mobster sends two of the most inept strongmen in Costa Nostra history to stop the nuptials.

The pair shows up at the wedding disguised as bumbling bakers. Their shtick, including a dance number with machine guns hidden in flour sacks, is thigh-slapping hilarious.

Even though Playbill doesn't say so, Paul and Peter Riopelle, the actors who take on the roles of Gangster #1 and #2, must be twins, so perfectly matched are their movements and timing. They really are a joy to watch.

In order to keep bride and groom apart, Feldzieg hires a chaperone. Trouble is, the companion (Nancy Opel) tipples a bit. Well, more than a bit. She travels with a portable bar - the show is set during Prohibition - and loves the taste of champagne, even though it makes her doze off, hence the title.

Feldzieg knows he can't rely solely on the stumbling chaperone. He hires A-d-o-l-f-o (James Moye), a Latin lover to distract the bride.

Once the plot and its characters are laid out, the show really kicks into high gear and the hilarity begins.

There's not a weak link in this company. The singing, dancing and acting are just delightful. Of particular note is Nancy Opel, the wise, world-weary chaperone. Her big moment comes in "As We Stumble Along" and she milks it for all it's worth. She gives new meaning to "showstopper."

As Man in Chair, Crombie floats in and out of the action in his apartment. At first, he just sets up the scenes and explains plot lines. Then, as the show progresses and Man in Chair begins to consume adult beverages, he actually moves into the act, with some pretty hilarious results. Man in Chair is the ultimate theater geek and we love him for it.

Broadway got it right with "The Drowsy Chaperone." The show reminds us why we first fell in love with musical comedy. We love the singing. We love the dancing. And we love to laugh.

"The Drowsy Chaperone" runs through Sunday, June 15. There is no intermission. Tickets range from $18 - $64. For tickets, call 214-631-2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

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