Review: 'The Drowsy Chaperone' is here to take you away

Correspondent

Feeling a bit blue about the state of the world? Do you love good, old-fashioned, razzle-dazzle musical theater? If you answered “yes” and “yes,” you’re in luck: The Wick Theatre in Boca Raton is ready, willing and able to provide you with a couple of hours of sheer escapist joy in the form of “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

Launching its fifth season with the 2006 Broadway hit, the Wick has come up with one of its strongest productions to date.

Director Dom Ruggiero has cast the show with a topnotch array of South Florida- and New York-based actors, and choreographer Lindsay Bell has them dancing up a storm. Musical director Caryl Fantel supplies the boisterous version of the Tony Award-winning Lisa Lambert-Greg Morrison score, and the costumes by Kimberly Wick and Jim Buff are drop-dead gorgeous.

The Tony-winning book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar is structured as a show-within-a-show. A musical theater-loving character simply called the Man in the Chair (Bruce Linser) talks directly to the audience about the way old musicals can lift him out of his blue moods. His favorite, from 1928, is the (fictional) “Drowsy Chaperone.” He happens to have the cast recording on vinyl and wonders if we’d like him to play it for us. Oh, and he’ll happily share trivia about the show’s creators and stars — and the conventions of old musicals — as “Chaperone” comes to life onstage.

The plot is deliberately silly, goofy, lighter than air. Broadway star Janet Van De Graaff (Jennifer Byrne) is about to chuck her career to marry leading man Robert Martin (Josh Franklin). This doesn’t sit well with her producer, Feldzeig (Kevin R. Kelly), who is being threatened by two gangsters (Arrow Zurschmiede and Blake Aburn) dressed as pastry chefs. (See? Silly).

Feldzeig’s stereotypically dumb-blond assistant, Kitty (Jeanine Gangloff), is only too happy about the approaching wedding, since she imagines Feldzeig will make her a star once Janet has forsaken the footlights for domesticity. The glamorous title character (Laura Hodos) has been enlisted to keep Janet and Robert apart until the wedding march begins, and Robert’s best man, George (Courter Simmons), is nervously anticipating all his last-minute duties.

Mrs. Tottendale (Angie Radosh), a slightly dotty but wealthy older woman, bosses around her very proper servant, Underling (Barry Tarallo), yet looks on him with increasing affection. Latin lover Adolpho (Jacob Thompson) appears to stir up hilarious trouble, and big-voiced Trix the Aviatrix (Deidra Grace) appears, vanishes, then reappears just in time for the flashy finale.

The cast and chorus (Brianna Barnes, Alexandra Frost, Edgar Lopez, Christopher George Patterson and Alexis Robinson) are wonderful, comedically savvy singer-dancers.

Franklin and Simmons deliver a dazzling tap number in “Cold Feets,” a sequence made more amusing by their physical contrast (Franklin is tall and stocky, Simmons short and wiry). Byrne belts Janet’s farewell to show biz, “Show Off,” and does just what the title suggests. Hodos’ Chaperone is a wry, sly, amiable diva, consistently stealing the spotlight (as she’s meant to do), turning every number into an 11 o’clock extravaganza and making merry comic love with Thompson’s delightfully hammy Adolpho.

Brittany Loesch’s scenic design is supposed to suggest that the Man in the Chair is a fellow of modest means, but it doesn’t transform enough for the “Drowsy Chaperone” scenes. The show’s vintage glamor and some of its humor come from Wick and Buff’s costumes. Hodos, in particular, looks stunning.

Linser, a busy South Florida director, actor and teacher, becomes the audience’s welcoming guide into the zany world of “The Drowsy Chaperone.” His Man in the Chair is a theater buff with an encyclopedic knowledge, as well as a self-aware and sensitive soul eager to share his passion.

In contrast to the big personalities on display in the musical-within-a-show, Linser’s Man is more self-effacing, though he can be very funny: Listen for the line about killer poodles. Before anyone else appears, Linser gets everyone ready for a good time, and Ruggiero and company deliver exactly that.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” runs through Nov. 12 at the Wick Theatre, 7901 N. Federal Highway, in Boca Raton. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday and Saturday-Sunday. Tickets cost $80-$85. To order, call 561-995-2333 or go to TheWick.org.

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