The plot is preposterous. The characters are one-dimensional. The tropes are as flat as a morning-after bottle of half-finished champagne. And the results are nothing less than riotously delicious, tuneful, escapist fun.
It’s all part of the joke in The Drowsy Chaperone, a dazzling little gem that opens the Omaha Community Playhouse’s 90th season and marks the directorial debut of new artistic director Hilary Adams.
Veteran funnyman Dave Wingert shines as “Man in Chair,” a lonely, maudlin guy whose only refuge from life’s tribulations is his extensive collection of original cast recordings of Broadway musicals. And his fave (fictitious) musical of all time is the The Drowsy Chaperone, a flapper-fueled bit of nonsense that we learn was first staged in 1928.
In the best traditions of the show-within-a-show genre (think Noises Off and Cabaret), all it takes is for Man in Chair to drop the needle on his prized recording of The Drowsy Chaperone to bring to life the archetypal characters of the paper-thin send-up of Busby Berkeley-style song-and-dance shenanigans. Wingert’s character narrates the action and peppers the evening with liner note trivia, scattershot commentary, and hilarious, audience-directed asides.
Creighton University student Molly McGuire makes a most memorable Playhouse debut in the role of Janet van de Graff, a Great White Way ingénue who plans to retire from show biz when the bells chime on her pending marriage to dashing leading man, Robert Martin (a great turn by Joseph T. O’Connor II). This spells trouble for glitter gulch producer Feldzieg (Joseph Dignoti, here giving his award-winning work as Javert in last year’s Les Misérables a run for the money), who is being harassed by a pair of oafish mob goons disguised as pastry chefs.
McGuire is mesmerizing in such numbers as “Show Off,” where Janet literally turns cartwheels in a vain (that’s the operative word here…vain) attempt to convince the audience that she is not a diva. And the rubber-faced Megan McGuire (no relation) is up to her old scene-stealing tricks in the title role of the chaperone. Just wait until you see her opposite a Latin lover (well-played by Mike Palmreuter) in the eponymous, cha-cha-cha-propelled “Aldolpho.”
Roxanne Nielsen’s energetic, Jazz-Age choreography is matched only by Georgiann Regan’s costuming, which is a vivid explosion of feathers, fringes, and frivolities. Scenic and lighting designer Jim Othuse pulls out all the stops for the penultimate scene when, before your very eyes, there appears a full-scale…no, that would be too much of a spoiler. And music director Jim Boggess’ orchestra is at its toe-tapping best.
The Drowsy Chaperone is not without its little problems. More than once on preview night a follow-up line was drowned out by all of that damnable laughter from out there in the dark. And good luck trying to take in all of the fast-paced action in this one. Do you watch the zany antics brought to life through the imagination of Man in Chair? Or do you voyeuristically “watch the watcher” in taking in all of Wingert’s marvelous reactions to his fantasy world?
At the risk of making an absurd proposal, this musical would best be digested in two separate sittings—one of which should be dedicated to keeping your eyes glued to Dave Wingert’s Man in Chair all night long.
And then watch it a third time, just for good measure.