A few weeks ago, our government gave us yet another compelling reason not to trust it when its purchasing arm, the General Services Administration (GSA), was found to have been lavishly spending taxpayer money with less care than Ozzie Guillen has for public opinion. Ever evenhanded, Fox News blamed Obama based on the logic that the GSA’s fiscal indiscretions occurred on his watch. I suppose that means that Reagan was responsible for Iran-Contra, H.W. Bush was responsible for sexually harassing Anita Hill and W. Bush was responsible for lying about the weapons of mass destruction that never existed in Iraq.
In a world brimming with so much cynicism, now more than ever people occasionally need the kind of charming, guileless sentimentality offered up by shows like The Drowsy Chaperone. Though it first hit Broadway in 2006, aside from its meta-structure The Drowsy Chaperone feels like it could easily be a product of the Jazz Age. It is an unabashed love letter to the musicals of the 1920s and 1930s in which guys were guys, dolls were dolls and the endings were always happy.
More than that, it’s a pure joy to experience.
Janet Van De Graaff (Katie Ulrich), a Broadway starlet and the main attraction in The Feldzieg Follies, plans to give up her career to marry the rich and handsome Robert Martin (Brian Jackson). This causes the producer of the show, Mr. Feldzieg (Scott Beyette), no small amount of consternation. Feldzieg is convinced that without Janet the show’s popularity will plummet and his chief investor — who happens to be of the Mafioso persuasion — will visit upon him grievous bodily harm in response to the decline in receipts.
Feldzieg’s fears are all too real, it turns out. The Mafioso sends two thugs with aspirations of eloquence (Wayne Kennedy and Michael J. Duran) to ensure that the producer is properly motivated to keep Janet in the show. In an effort to avoid getting kneecapped or fitted for cement boots, Feldzieg enlists the aid of self-proclaimed Don Juan Adolpho (Seth Caikowski) to woo Janet away from Robert, thus preventing the wedding and Janet from leaving the Follies.
But perhaps the impending nuptials will be called off without outside intervention? Robert has a case of cold feet for which, as his best man George (Matthew D. Peters) explains, the only apparent cure is blindfolded roller skating. Yes, blindfolded roller skating. It’s that kind of show. Janet experiences her own doubts about giving up stardom for a man who may not love her as completely as she would like. She approaches the blindfolded, roller skating Robert in the guise of a mysterious Frenchwoman to test his fidelity, and as you might imagine, hilarity ensues.
Meanwhile, Adolpho mistakes Janet’s chaperone (Alicia Dunfee) for Janet herself and sets to seducing her. As “drowsy” in this context is a euphemism for “drunk,” the chaperone is more than a little obliging. Add to this increasingly chaotic mix a wealthy dowager (Cindy Lawrence), an Earhartesque aviatrix (Heather Doris) and a handful of other colorful characters, and you wind up with as amusing and silly a show as you could possibly hope for.
But the fun doesn’t stop there.
The Drowsy Chaperone is really a show-within-a-show. Our host is the Man in Chair (Brian Norber), a welcoming but seemingly off-kilter theater lover full of arcane bits of information about his favorite musical, The Drowsy Chaperone. He places the record of the show onto his turntable, and that’s when all the action above kicks off. The Man in Chair can’t help but share his own running commentary with the audience throughout the show, and his actions directly affect the rest of the cast in the meta-show.
As the living framing device, Brian Norber’s Man in Chair is indispensable to the success of The Drowsy Chaperone. More than the young lovers, he is the heart and soul of the show, and Norber does an amazing job with a deceptively difficult role. It is also a delight to see Boulder’s Dinner Theatre’s artistic director and producer, Michael J. Duran, back on stage for the first time in my memory. He and Wayne Kennedy seem to be having even more fun than the audience as they play off one another like a modern day Abbott and Costello.
ON THE BILL: The Drowsy Chaperone plays at Boulder’s Dinner Theatre, 5501 Arapahoe Avenue, through May 13. Tickets are $35-$56. For more information, call 303-449-6000 or visit www.bouldersdinnertheatre.com.