Metropolis' 'Drowsy Chaperone' lovingly spoofs 1920s Broadway musicals
The Metropolis Performing Arts Centre has fallen under a lot of scrutiny lately, especially since Arlington Heights village trustees recently approved a new business plan for the struggling theater. On stage, however, the Metropolis is presenting a strong staging of the acclaimed 2006 Broadway musical "The Drowsy Chaperone" under new executive director Joe Keefe.
Not only is "The Drowsy Chaperone" a testament to the great local talent that the Metropolis can attract, this quality production also has all the makings of a crowd-pleasing hit.
Don't mistake "The Drowsy Chaperone" as another throwback to the paper-thin-plotted Broadway shows of the 1920s in the vein of "The Boyfriend." "The Drowsy Chaperone" actually has a very modern sensibility as it simultaneously mocks and revels in the conventions of silly Broadway musical comedies of the era.
The clever framing device cooked up by the show's Tony Award-winning creators is to have everything narrated and commented on by a musical theater fanatic simply known as "Man in Chair" (a very engaging Matt McNabb, who also can plumb his character's despair, too). Facing yet another depressive spell, Man in Chair cheers himself up by playing a record of an obscure faux 1920s Broadway musical called "The Drowsy Chaperone" that comes to life in his drab apartment.
The show within the show concerns Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff (a very limber and acrobatic Shari Mocheit) who aims to give up her stage career to marry oil tycoon heir Robert Martin (a sunny Ryan Dooley). Of course there are complications, with disguised gangsters (Dominic Rescigno and Colin Funk as the ironically named Tall Brothers) who are pressuring Janet's producer, Feldzieg (an appropriately gruff John Gurdian), to stop the wedding. Supporting Feldzieg in his scheme is dizzy blonde chorine Kitty (Erin Long, a comic spitfire), who has designs of being a Follies leading lady herself.
Adding to all the crazy fun is Robert's best man George (a very harried Jake Sempel), the absent-minded hostess, Mrs. Tottendale (a loopy Sarafina Vecchio), her faithful butler Underling (a condescending Thomas Novak), an oversexed Latin lover named Aldolpho (a delightfully over-the-top Brett Baleskie), pint-size "aviatrix" Trix (powerhouse-voiced Rachael Proulx) and, of course, the tipsy title character (the aggressively exuberant Debbie Di Verde).
On top of the endlessly catchy '20s-style tunes composed by songwriters Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, book writers Bob Martin and Don McKellar make sure that "The Drowsy Chaperone" abounds in witty asides, thanks to the Man in Chair's often outrageously annotated "historical" background about the show's vaudevillian performers. It's impossible not to laugh.
Director Lauren Rawitz's production is strong, though there are some quibbles. "Drowsy Chaperone" fans who have seen previous professional productions may miss how the Man in Chair's apartment magically transformed into the musical's set. At the Metropolis, everything is just played out in front of set designer Kaitlin Donelon's basic art deco-styled bandstand that supports the fine band led by pianist/conductor Matthew Deitchman (Micky York is credited as music director in the program).
Choreographer Jen Cupani also needlessly guilds the lily in some numbers, particularly the big tap number "Cold Feet," where an unexpected dancer overstays his comic welcome.
But otherwise, Metropolis' "The Drowsy Chaperone" is a delight through and through. As much as it spends time hilariously knocking the hair-brained conventions of early 20th century musical comedies, it also lovingly embraces them for the unabashed joy and uplift they can temporarily provide.
If the Metropolis can build upon the production plusses of "The Drowsy Chaperone" for its upcoming season, things should bode well for this Arlington Heights theater on its road to recovery.
"The Drowsy Chaperone"★ ★ ★
Location: Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, (847) 577-2121 or metropolisarts.com
Showtimes: 8 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, also 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 21 and 28, and 1 p.m. Wednesday, May 27; through June 14
Running time: About two hours with intermission
Parking: Nearby parking garage and street parking
Rating: For adults