“The Drowsy Chaperone” is a musical of nostalgia for the 1920s with many songs using Roaring Twenties stylistics.
What makes this show distinctive is the central character, the “Person in the Chair” (played by Eliot Malumuth).
The Person is a middle-aged men living in our own era of the early 21st century, and playing phonograph records of a fictitious 1920s musical called “The Drowsy Chaperone” and envisioning this in his mind.
As Person in the Chair imagines the musical, it comes to life and is enacted before the audience. The Broadway production described it as “a musical within a comedy.”
As improbable as it may sound, the Goddard Space Center has a music and drama club (MAD – Music And Drama), and through Nov. 10 is staging a fun, enthusiastic and very well-done production of this work, which features music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison.
According to the Person in the Chair, “The Drowsy Chaperone” represents what every audience wants from a musical: “Please let it be a good show. I just want to be entertained.”
He added: “The overture is a way of welcoming you,” and the overture begins being by played on a scratchy record through a tinny gramophone horn, but then transitions to being performed by a full live orchestra.
An outstanding “Cold Feets” duet by Sean Morton as Robert and Michael Silber as George then follows. “Cold Feets,” and indeed the entire “The Drowsy Chaperone” production, is very much an homage to the 1920s, yet at the same time spoofs aspects of the era’s entertainment clichés.
The show also demonstrates how we can re-experience a Broadway show by listening to an original cast recording. Before videotapes, DVDs and YouTube, records provided the only way to experience a Broadway show vicariously, and Person in the Chair acknowledges he has never seen the fictitious 1928 Broadway production, which gives this show its name but knows it solely through sound recordings.
A rotating group of actors plays some of the characters. The particular show, which this reviewer attended at MAD Theatre, was excellent, with splendid performances of both musical and spoken parts.
The play-within-a-play involves the romance of chanteuse Janet and her romance with Robert. A chaperone supposedly watches her, but the chaperone is often “drowsy” or, quite frankly, inebriated.
Christa Kronser (in the production we saw) is incandescent as Janet, especially in her number “I Don’t Want to Show Off,” in which the actress/character, in fact, shows off her outstanding voice, dancing skills, twenties fashions and – above all – charisma.
A similarly memorable character (and MAD Theatre performance) is Jim Pasquale as the Valentino-style Latin lover Adolpho, and he shines in his Tango scene “Adolpho,” whereas the Ensemble outdoes itself in the rollicking “Toledo Surprise,” danced in 1920s Charleston style. “Bride’s Lament” showcases innovative lighting work by the entire crew, and the number also reprises some of the earlier performed numbers in the show, but this time in minor key on Janet’s balcony.
Throughout the show, Person in the Chair loves yet and sometimes disparages the musical he is listening to and, in his mind’s eye, watching along with the audience.
As the show goes on, however, this character becomes more and more involved in the antics of the performance of the musical play-within-a-play, especially in the second act, in which he sits on an airplane wing prop and sings with the cast. At this point, it is worthwhile remembering that this is a theatre club of Goddard Space Center, and the production pays tribute to this by the use of a World War I-era single-engine airplane as a set piece! The orchestra, conducted by Christine Wells, is stupendous in evoking a 1920s sound throughout the production.
Indeed, this is a superb collaboration of artistic director Ben Rollins, technical director Michael Silber, choreographer Lauren Ward, costume designer Suzanne Smithand set designer Kim Weaver; the show wonderfully evokes not only the music of the era, but also the era’s fascination with technology and progress.
At the end of the play, Person in the Chair admits “The Drowsy Chaperone” may not be the perfect musical, but “it does what a musical is supposed to do: it takes you away!” This description completely applies to MAD Theatre’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” itself, magically transporting the audience from 2019 Prince George’s County to an imaginary New York Broadway show during the Roaring Twenties. MAD Theatre does an outstanding job in its production, both in terms of musical merit and in evoking the spirit of a particularly exciting bygone era.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” runs through Nov. 10 at the NASA facility at 9998 Good Luck Road, Greenbelt, MD 20771.
A security guard will open the gate a half-hour before showtime; be sure to tell the guard that you are there for the show.
For more information, please visit https://www.madtheater.org/.