Delightful ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ pokes fun at vintage musicals

March 23, 2010 

‘THE DROWSY CHAPERONE’
RATING: ***
WHERE: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
WHEN: 2 and 7 p.m. March 23
RUNNING TIME: 1 hour and 45 minutes; no intermission
TICKETS: $25-$85
INFORMATION: 338-2100 or www.galloarts.org

**** Excellent
*** Good
** Fair
* Poor

In the delightful musical comedy “The Drowsy Chaperone,” people tap dance for no reason, gangsters pretend to be pastry chefs and a pilot invites a group of strangers to accompany her on a trip to Rio.

It’s all ridiculous but that’s what makes it so fun. Now being staged by Networks Presentations at the Gallo Center for the Arts, the show affectionately sends up the silly things that happen in old fashioned musicals.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” won five 2006 Tony Awards, including best book (Bob Martin and Don McKellar) and best score (Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison).

Actually a show within a show, the musical opens in the present day in a New York apartment occupied by a die-hard musical theater fan. Known only as the Man in the Chair (Craig E. Treubert), he talks directly to the audience, saying that whenever he feels blue, he pulls out a cast recording of his favorite musical — the 1928 show “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

As the show springs to life beside him, the Man in the Chair offers humorous commentary on the performances, the backstory on the actors and his favorite and least favorite scenes.

Treubert is endearing as the ultimate theater geek who loves musicals because everything works out in the end. Anyone who has enjoyed dancing to an embarrassing disco song because of the good beat can relate to how he appreciated a show tune with corny lyrics because of the good melody.

While some may be turned off by the intentionally broad acting style and may just view it as bad acting, those who understand it’s all part of the joke will have a great time.

Elizabeth Pawlowski displays impressive acrobatic and singing skills as Janet Van DeGraaff, the musical’s lead character, who gives up her stage career for marriage. Her big number “Show Off” is a highlight and features her twirling a lasso and a baton, doing a split and cartwheel and escaping from a straitjacket.

Other cast standouts include Roberto Carrasco as the hyper-sexed Latin lover Adolpho, Dennis Setteducati and Marc De La Concha as the unintimidating gangsters and Patti McClure as Van De Graff’s perpetually drunk chaperone (drowsy is a euphemism here for intoxicated). Deirdra Grace shows off the best vocals of the cast as Trix the Aviatrix.

The clever set, based on David Gallo’s Tony Award-winning design, transforms from a drab apartment into the gardens of a palatial estate. Inspired by Gregg Barnes’ Tony Award-winning design, the costumes are chic and elegant.

Sadly, turnout was poor to Monday’s opening performance probably because of the unfamiliar title. Musical theater fans who pass this one up are missing out. With singable songs and a comedy-filled story, this one provides great escape from ordinary life.

For more on Modesto area arts, visit www.twitter.com/lisamillegan and check out Bee Scene on video at videos.modbee.com.

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