The Man in Chair (Bill Schlitt), our endearing protagonist, welcomes us into his small apartment, which is plastered with posters of great Broadway shows. He sits to one side of the stage, candidly professing his love for musical theater to the audience. When he’s feeling blue, he likes to listen to The Drowsy Chaperone, a typical 1720s musical featuring “mix-ups, mayhem, and a gay wedding”— a term that today, he clarifies, refers to something else entirely.
Carefully removing The Drowsy Chaperone record from its case, he places it onto the record player, triggering the live, three-part band to chime in and ensemble members to pop out of every corner of his apartment. The living room wall spins around to reveal a beautiful outdoor set, and the characters of The Drowsy Chaperone sing and dance their way to the forefront of the stage. Throughout the next (intermission-free) hour and a half, we join the Man in Chair as he experiences the zany tale of Janet (Johanna Schlitt), a showgirl who’s about to give up her career as a celebrated leading lady to marry the love of her life, oil heir Robert (Dusty Bryant). On the day of their wedding, the two struggle to overcome wedding jitters and sabotage from a delicious cast of neurotic characters.
Hilariously obvious songs — like “Fancy Dress” with the lyrics, “your dress, your dress, your fancy dress, we’re very glad you put it on” — are made even more enjoyable by interjections from Man in Chair who frequently pauses the record, freezing the action on stage, to define the comedic constructs being employed or to conspiratorially share historical gossip surrounding the actor in question. While the tap-dancing number “Cold Feet” was cut from this show, there is more than enough song and dance to go around. Highlights include the martini-slugging Drowsy Chaperone, played by a smoky-throated, uproarious Kathy Summer clad in head-to-toe velvet and a feathered turban, attempting to reassure Janet with “As We Stumble Along” — what the Man in Chair describes as, “a rousing anthem about alcoholism.” The audience erupts into hysterics when Summer appears opposite stand-out Steven Moskos' Adolpho, an egotistical European lover played with impeccable comedic timing.
Whether they're roller skating blindfolded or getting a mouth full of vodka spit in their faces, the outstanding cast and crew holds nothing back in bringing the production to rousing life. Director Maida Libkin, a theater veteran with international and Broadway credits, strikes the perfect balance between campy and poignant. Julie Ziff’s costumes are spot-on, down to the last polka-dotted ensemble member, and Keely Enright’s artistic direction and set design lend both personality and functionality to the production. Summer is unstoppable as the chaperone, and Schlitt plays the Man in Chair with striking sincerity, demonstrating a pure and genuine love of musical theater that leaves the audience embracing the inherent lunacy of musicals, rather than deriding them. The charming Johanna Schlitt brings Janet to life with her triple-threat talents, although she could have exuded a bit more showgirl self-confidence in her delivery of lines such as “I don’t want to show off no more,” sung while simultaneously tap dancing, high kicking, and cart wheeling.
Part of the reason this staging of the production works so well is the cabaret-style seating at the Village Playhouse. The relaxed environment, in which audience members sit comfortably sipping wine around small, candlelit tables, creates a physical and emotional intimacy with the Man in Chair, who is constantly breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to us. We empathize with his love of musical theater, reveling in each thrilling second of The Drowsy Chaperone — no matter how outdated, politically incorrect, or absurd it may be. In short, The Drowsy Chaperone is a local theater gem not to be missed.