Arts & Leisure

“Chaperone” a clever musical

AMANDA MacDONALD AS JANET WITH ENSEMBLE in “The Drowsy Chaperone” at the Mainstage Theater at Golden West College (Greg Parks).

By Thom deMartino/Orange County Tribune

Imagine sitting in a darkened venue: you’ve been looking forward to this play or musical, when a voice from the darkness erupts – “I hate theater!… well, it’s so disappointing, isnt’ it?” 

 The insightful commentator continues, describing his chagrin at the state of modern theater, and its devices: “…keep the actors out of the audience! God, I did not pay good money to have the fourth wall come crashing down around my ears!”

With these witty (and perhaps relatable) observations, so begins the Martie Ramm-directed love letter to classic musicals that is “The Drowsy Chaperone.” which recently played at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater.

The lights rise upon a modest apartment, occupied by a single Man in Chair (Charles Ketter). The folksy narrator explains his love of musicals, particularly the more classic ones: he fetches from his record collection his very favorite, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a popular 1928 musical comedy.

Putting needle to vinyl, the Man brings to life the world of “Chaperone” as his apartment is seamlessly transformed into a lavish Broadway musical. Enthusiastically describing the plot and the characters back stories with the glee and verve of a true fan, he narrates from the sidelines as they slip onto stage to join him.

There’s  the flighty hostess Mrs. Tottendale (Lisa Stout) and her devoted, dry-witted manservant Underling (Jason Stout) as they prepare for the impending marriage between beautiful Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff (Amanda MacDonald) and her doting fiancé Robert Martin (Whitney Ackerman), accompanied by his friend and best man George (JT Nelson); there’s the ingenue-in-waiting Kitty (Novelee Smedley), desperate to impress the show’s big producer Feldzieg (Salvatore Messina); the mysterious and seductive Latin lover Aldolpho (a wonderfully over-the-top freshman performance by Seven Perrin); and the boozy, bombastic titular Chaperone (Megan Cherry), whom George has tasked with keeping the bride away from the groom, so as not to jinx the wedding.

But other troubles are afoot for the producer, as he learns a local mobster has some concerns about his investment in the show tanking, should Janet leave the show and her life of stardom: to drive this point home, the boss has sent along a pair of goons  disguised as bakers (Noah Doody and Maximus Dorsey, the interplay and fun energy of whom are a highlight of the show) – who make clear that if Feldzieg doesn’t find a way to stop the wedding, they’ll make sure he gets his “just desserts” (ba-dum-tiss.) Enter the handsome but dull-witted Aldolpho … and after a little clever manipulation by the producer, he’s ready to play the home wrecker.

As a gleeful narrator dishes gossip and lore about the actors of “Chaperone,”the players go about their madcap antics… but with all this pre-wedding hullabaloo going on, how will the happy couple’s nuptials ever come to fruition?

“Chaperone” is a charming, zany, meta romp through the tropes of musical comedy, made all the more fun by the running commentary of Ketter’s Man In Chair: his character’s love for the fictional musical and its back stories is so infectious that between his performance and the amazing work of the cast, it really brings this show-within-a-show to life for the audience.

MacDonald’s performance as Janet, particularly in the number “Show Off” is an outstanding demonstration of the actress’ vocal skills, in the same way that the catchy musical number “Toledo Surprise” showcases the marvelously synchronous dancing and comedic talents of Dorsey and Doody’s gangster chefs.

Veteran GWC Mainstage Theater alum Ackerman does amazing work with Nelson’s George in the rousing tap number “Cold Feet, and Cherry’s inebriated Chaperone’s “As We Stumble Along” (”a rousing anthem to alcoholism” wryly quips the narrator) is a fun poke at the songs of yesteryear that may be slightly more problematic in contemporary times.

It may feel over the course of the trim 90 minute show like the Chaperone is one of the lesser seen characters: while in reality, Cherry owns the stage in every appearances as the unflappable, unapologetic alcoholic; and her interactions with Perrin’s Aldolpho are some of the most fun in the show (which also make use of scenic designer Tim Muller’s clever set design.)

A brilliant, fun commentary on classic musical theater, filled with great comedy and excellent choreography and catchy musical numbers, “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a zany, offbeat gem to check out while you can … even if you find yourself trying not to think about a certain poodle by the show’s end.

 “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Megan Cherry, Whitney Ackerman and Amanda MacDonald star in this fun, engaging send-up of classic musical theater tropes, and one man’s love for his favorite show. Played through Nov. 20 at at the Golden West College Mainstage Theater, 15751 Gothard St, Huntington Beach.

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