Saturday, January 13, 2007

If I Can Make it There, I'll Make it Anywhere

I just spent over a week in New York City as part of my arts journalism studies. We each had to write three overnight 350-word reviews which we workshopped with some big names in the business. This is my first review, which I workshopped with Eric Grode of the New York Sun.

I Love the '20s

Shows like VH1’s “I Love the ‘80s” offer nostalgia and sarcasm for the price of one. The new musical comedy “The Drowsy Chaperone” operates on a similar principle. A character known as Man in Chair (Jay Douglas) invites the audience to listen to his favorite musical, also titled “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Man in Chair comments throughout the show, recognizing the faults in a show he clearly worships, proving that you can have reverence for the Broadway musical and deride it too.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” that the audience is watching opened last May at the Marquis Theatre. The show, directed by Casey Nicholaw, is a clever commentary on musical theatre with depressing undertones about a lonely man whose only companions are old records.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” that Man in Chair is listening to opened in 1928 and is an over the top musical with two-dimensional characters. Janet Van De Graaf (Sutton Foster), is an actress who is about to get married and leave the limelight for good. Shakespearean mixups ensue, while the necessary “B-plot” involves a producer, Feldzieg (a play on Ziegfeld for the theatre buffs), and a pun-happy gangster duo recalling the literate gangsters of “Kiss Me Kate” (another show within a show). Man in Chair always makes sure the audience is as ultra-aware as he is. A scene involving numerous spit-takes is only funny because the Man in Chair tells us it isn’t.

The two shows come together in Man in Chair’s living room with a charming set design by David Gallo. The staircases and romantic gardens of the scenery seamlessly take over Man in Chair’s space so the audience is just as transported as he is.

For a show about musicals, it’s odd that its biggest flaw is the absence of memorable songs—the central ingredient of a musical. The bland score written by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison is barely made interesting even with help from Foster’s commanding voice and fancy footwork. Still, it’s hard to argue when Man in Chair says, “The Drowsy Chaperone” does “what a musical is supposed to do.”

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