Theater queen for a day

Posted on 05 Jun 2008 at 5:35pm
By Arnold Wayne Jones

‘Chaperone’ charmingly mocks, admires the silly brilliance of musicals

A chroine (Andrea Chamberlain, center) plans to give up a career in show business to marry a dashing young man inn— but not before one final number — in the gloriously retro Tony winner "Drowsy Chaperone."

I have a friend who hates musicals — hates the entire idea that anyone would ever break into song to express something. But even he was entertained by The Drowsy Chaperone, now playing at Fair Park, because it is a principle of this show that musicals are stupid … especially those old-school, pre-"Show Boat" days of Tin Pan Alley songs stitched loosely together around a threadbare plot.

Here, that plot includes mishaps, romance, "and a gay wedding — of course the phrase ‘gay wedding’ has a different meaning then," notes Man in Chair (Jonathan Crombie), a sad, effete shut-in who passes his days listening to cast recordings of forgotten musicals, including a fictional one called "The Drowsy Chaperone." As he plays the soundtrack and recounts the plot, the production comes to life in his squalid apartment — a bouquet of happy glamour that brightens his day and the audience’s.

The genius of "Drowsy" is how it is both sincerely retro and a deconstruction of the musical form and what makes theater queens love it despite its many flaws. Man in Chair serves as a kind of Zeitgeist for camp: in love with the dashing leading man (who can’t act); imagining himself as the tortured heroine; expressing his irritation at modern musical where cats dance in the aisles and Andrew Lloyd Webber continues to be employed.

As joyously fun as the show is, the sound system at Fair Park works against it — the actors can sometimes barely be heard. And the touring production’s exaggerated style goes even further than the original Broadway show (the outrageous Latin lover Aldolpho is played in overgear by James Moye — which I would have previously thought impossible).

Still, it’s one of the not-miss shows of the season, one that captures the star-struck grandness of old Broadway. The songs are sinfully catchy, the jokes plum, the staging exuberant (in the number "Show Off," the chorine played by Andrea Chamberlain gets fully four costume changes in the course of six minutes) and the dancing (especially by rubber-boned tappers Mark Ledbetter and Richard Vida) dizzyingly effervescent.

The title character’s (Nancy Opel) anthem to alcoholism, "As We Stumble Along," is an hilariously boozy bit, the kind sure to cause some members of the audience to raise a glass in agreement. Getting drowsy — and seeing "Drowsy" — are both woefully underrated for how warm and happy they make you feel.

Fair Park Music Hall, 909 First Ave. Through June 15. Tuesdays–Sundays at 8 p.m., weekend matinees at 2 p.m. $11–$71. 214-373-8000.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 6, 2008.

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