In the darkened theatre a disembodied voice starts talking to you. Then a man reveals himself, a sweet, funny charmer who knows a lot about musicals. Then, before you know it, all kinds of lights sparkle, focusing on a shiny parade of 11 colorful characters from a bygone Broadway show.You’ve become engaged in a wild, hilarious send-up of those good old days with that man giving you background, comments and personal parentheses.
This is multiple Tony Award winner The Drowsy Chaperone which delighted audiences in New York for 20 months starting in 2006. Omaha Community Playhouse has a wonderfully directed, marvelously played, great looking, swell sounding take on it, made all the more remarkable given that the cast is made up of local, non-professional talent. It rollicks. It frolics. It bubbles. It bounces.
Front and center stands, sits and strides radio celebrity Dave Wingert as that man (“Man in Chair”). His flawless, natural timing, delivering funny line after funny line comes matched with a thoroughly developed sense of an appealing, vulnerable, wry personality.
Man in Chair, alone in his apartment, wants to share his enthusiasm for old musicals by evoking a 1928 show biz legend, The Drowsy Chaperone. He has the original cast recording amid his LPs. When it starts playing, the show materializes in his mind’s eye and ear so much so that it takes over his space and lives again in front of your eyes and ears.
In it, oil tycoon Robert Martin and stage star Janet Van De Graaff are to be married. Broadway producer Mr. Feldzieg doesn’t want to lose Janet to home cooking, sewing socks and dusting furniture. Feldzieg enlists sleazy foreigner Adolpho to seduce Janet and thereby soil the wedding. Mistakenly Adolpho seduces her sometimes tipsy chaperone. That lady stumbles along amid a welter of confused identities which delay the nuppy haptuals. This is the 20s, remember, so everyone, of course, lives happily ever after. Although Man in Chair eventually reveals that his life may not be all that gay.
Standing out amid the rest of the flawless cast, Mike Palmreuter perfectly wrings every ounce of oil and sweat out of Adolpho. And Molly Maguire becomes a phenomenal astonishment in a show-stopping number when Janet proclaims that she doesn’t want to go on performing by polishing off every high note possible and knocking hers and your socks off in every dance routine known to man, woman and child. Plus marvel at the footwork of Joseph T. O’Connor, II and Paul Hanson in a zippy, zingy tap dance number.
The songs by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison have a lot of elemental melodic charm with a couple of them standing out with specialness while you may get a few laughs from the sometimes deliberately primitive lyrics.
Jim Othuse’s scenic designs become a marvel, such as when transforming Man’s apartment into a 1920’s stage set. And some kind of award should be given for his two- dimensional fountain with shimmering cascades. Adding to the impressive results, Georgiann Regan has created remarkable costumes just right for the periods evoked.
The Playhouse’s new Artistic Director Hilary Adams brilliantly staged this, getting every essence of perfect style from the ensemble, supplemented by the loony going-overboard playing to which Man calls attention in his background notes about players behind the roles.
Speaking of background, The Drowsy Chaperone has been keeping people alert and chortling since 1998. That’s when the show originated in Toronto where Lambert and Morrison with several friends created a spoof of old musicals for a party to celebrate the forthcoming wedding of local actors Bob Martin and Janet van de Graaf. Right! Not long thereafter Martin and another actor Don McKellar joined the team to write the book. More at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Drowsy_Chaperone, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bob_Martin_(comedian), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don_McKellar http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisa_Lambert, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greg_Morrison
There’s no intermission during the 90 or so minutes so you’ll have to wipe the tears of laughter from your eyes without a sink or mirror. But, then, why would you want to leave your seat? You wouldn’t want to miss any of the surprises.
The Drowsy Chaperone continues through October 12 at Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre, Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St. Wednesdays–Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. Sundays: 2 p.m. Tickets: $25-$40. Info: www.OmahaPlayhouse.org