Saturday, January 20, 2018
Stage

Flawless production makes 'Drowsy Chaperone' a can't-miss

The Richey Suncoast Theatre production of The Drowsy Chaperone is adorable, fascinating, marvelous and every other word you can think of that says "Do not miss this sophisticated, unconventional and thoroughly captivating show."

Its delightful cast, impeccable direction, boffo orchestra, gorgeous costumes and precise lights and sounds make it a winner all the way around.

The heart and soul of the show is Chris McGinnis as Man in Chair. Man has happened across a long-ago recording of a (mythical) Broadway musical, The Drowsy Chaperone, that just happens to contain every Broadway musical cliche ever concocted — the rich suitor, the Broadway diva who must choose between his love and her love of fame, a money-grubbing producer, comical gangsters, a drunk, an aspiring starlet, a wealthy showbiz enthusiast and a contrived happily-ever-after ending. He puts the record on a turntable, and as the music begins, actors fill the stage, doing the show.

But, wait. Really, wait. Because Man in Chair does a running commentary on the show, with the players freezing in place as he walks about, giving his opinions, perching on the edge of a sofa inside the set, sometimes acting out the scene and explaining what the show, life and love are all about. And McGinnis does this so smoothly, so naturally, so genuinely that you honestly feel you've stumbled into his living room and are actually conversing with him.

Lucky directors Linda Hougland and David Bethards somehow found just the right player, with just the right voice, appearance and moves for each of the 15 speaking parts, as well as six perky young women to be the chirping maids.

Several are RST's top, award-winning veterans: Elizabeth Onley as the melodramatic, wealthy stage door dowager Mrs. Tottendale; Bob Marcela as her obedient, adoring Underling; Mark Lewis as the frenzied producer Feldzieg; Vicky Stinnett as the tipsy Chaperone with an angel's voice; Bethards as George, the frantic, tap-dancing best man; Suzanne Meck as Janet Van de Graaff, the darling of 1920s Broadway; Melissa Smith as Trix, the daredevil Aviatrix and featured dancer; and Carl Brown as the no-nonsense building superintendent.

Add to that the stellar newcomers Ryan Bintz as Robert Martin, the handsome rich guy with the wonderful voice; Mike McGuigan as the lovably histrionical Aldolpho, a real crowd-pleaser; and Jessie Willis as the ambitious ditzy blonde Kitty with perfect moves and nasal accent — plus Andrew Niederdorf and Justin Buyea as the Gangsters — and you have a cast without a flaw.

Choreographers Hougland and Bethards got their actors right in step, from solos to duets to the big, all-cast production numbers. As directors, they let the actors be melodramatic (actors love to do that) and over the top, but not too much so, a difficult balance to reach.

The costume team found shimmering, sparkling dresses befitting rich society types. Stage manager Jeannie Botz and her crew kept things moving without a pause, thanks in big part to set designer Patrick Moran and his huge construction crew, who devised sturdy set pieces that appeared when needed, then quickly, quietly disappeared when not.

Special praise for music director Michele Paula Rose's sharp, seven-piece orchestra, which kept the pace, flow and sound just right.

I saw The Drowsy Chaperone several years ago in a large theater with professional actors and, frankly, didn't like it all that much. It takes the intimacy of a small theater and across-the-board fine performers who are genuinely invested in their characters to make this show work well, and the cast and crew at Richey Suncoast do make it work well for two solidly engrossing hours. I can't wait to go back and see it again.

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