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Theater review: 'The Drowsy Chaperone'

Published: August 4, 2009

Don't be misled by the title. The chaperone doesn't discourage hanky-panky - especially her own - and there's nothing drowsy about this spiritedly old-fashioned musical with an arch, modern twist.

Never mind what the Man in the Chair says before the lights go up. He doesn't hate musicals. His disdain is reserved for such spectacles as "Cats" or anything Disney. He's obsessed, however, with early musicals. When he opens his vinyl album of "The Drowsy Chaperone," it's like having a fairy tale read to you as a kid and the characters jump to life. The Man puts a record on the turntable - he also disdains CDs - and the musical materializes in his apartment, cleverly designed by Brittany Loesch with room for imagination. Call it enchanting.

As directed by Gateway Playhouse's Dom Ruggiero and narrated with commentary on life and art by Nat DeWolf as the Man, the enchantment survives a generic score and purposely preposterous lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison. The book, by Bob Martin (who originated the Man on Broadway) and Don McKellar, gives "Drowsy Chaperone" its wake-up call.

The musical within the comedy is ludicrously charming. A Broadway starlet, played with comic spunk and a sassy soprano by Jennifer Byrne, is marrying a guy she barely knows (a full-of-himself empty suit as portrayed by Sean Montgomery). The chaperone (it's the 1920s, after all) is supposed to keep the pair apart until the nuptials. But she gets drowsy whenever her lips touch alcohol, which is constantly.

Chaperone Lauren Cohn and her stereotypical Latin lover (a gamely farcical James Donegan) chew up enough scenery to choke a ham. Throw in a conniving producer (Anthony Reimer), his ditsy blond girlfriend (Ellie Mooney), a butler (Bob Freschi), a widow (Allyce Beasley), best man (Matthew Crowle), a biplane aviatrix (Natalie Renee) and a pair of gangsters (Tyler Rivera Stein and Will Cohen), and you have a Roaring '20s hoot, glamorously costumed by Margaret McKowen. Holding it all together are Jeff Hoffman's big band, Jody Madaras' throwback choreography and the Man in the Chair's self-referential wit.

We like him and we like the terrible musical he adores.
Gateway Playhouse delivers again with The Drowsy Chaperone

Published: August 13, 2009

“I hate theater!” proclaims the Man in Chair, the charismatic narrator of The Drowsy Chaperone—three words you would never expect to be uttered at the beginning of a play. An impeccable folly of comedy with two plays in one, Gateway’s production of The Drowsy Chaperone is quite the crowd-pleaser. Winner of five Tony Awards, The Drowsy Chaperone was a smash hit on Broadway in 2006 after it enjoyed its popularity on the Canadian stage. Now on Bellport’s main stage, The Drowsy Chaperone enchants audiences with its slapstick humor paralleled with tongue-in-cheek narration.

Narrated by the reclusive, eccentric Man in Chair played by Nat De Wolf, The Drowsy Chaperone is, interestingly, a play within a play—when the needle on the record player drops, the Man in Chair’s apartment turns into the set of a 1920s-era musical comedy. This musical within stars many outlandish, quirky characters in the 1920s style of Broadway musicals, such as the jaded showgirl who marries a wealthy oil tycoon, a ditzy showgirl and her dominant producer boyfriend and mobsters masquerading as pastry chefs. The musical within tells the tale of Janet Van De Graaf (played by Jennifer Byrne), a vibrant performer starring in Feldzeig’s Follies who meets Robert Martin (Sean Montgomery), an oil tycoon, on a cruise ship. They fall in love and get engaged, but they must deal with Feldzeig (played by Anthony Reimer), Janet’s producer, who wants her to come back to show biz. Feldzeig tries to prevent Robert and Janet from getting married by calling on Adolpho (played by James Donegan), a Latin Don Juan, to seduce Janet. The follies that ensue from these events are a riot and De Wolf as the Man in Chair drives the play and keeps it moving, albeit in an endearing way. The play displays impeccable performances from film veteran Allyce Beasley as Mrs. Tottendale and Jennifer Byrne as the lively Van De Graaf.

The cast’s performances make the show what it is—a lively, entertaining comedy. Lauren Cohn, veteran of TV and film, shines as the boozy, flighty Drowsy Chaperone. Cohn’s raucous performance of “As We Stumble Along” can only be summed up in one word: Stunning. Matthew Crowle and Sean Montgomery sing and tap dance their hearts out in the show-stopping number “Cold Feets,” a major highlight of the show. The play’s many unexpected twists and turns add to its charm, for example, the beginning of the second act is a scene and musical number from another fictional musical, “Message from a Nightingale.” You watch in confusion until Man in Chair runs back onstage, realizing that his cleaning lady must have switched out the records.

Director Dom Ruggiero has done it again—brought yet another fantastic hit to Gateway that delivers. You don’t want to miss this show, especially if you’re looking for a play where you will leave with a huge smile on your face. The Drowsy Chaperone runs at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport through Aug. 22. For tickets, visit or call 286-1133.
The Drowsy Chaperone at Gateway Playhouse

By Roy Bradbrook.
Published: August 5, 2009

The concept of a play within a play and also of a narrator explaining or commentating on what is happening on stage is as old as theater itself, going back to the Greek Choruses. In the ‘Drowsy Chaperone’ the narrator is really key to the whole musical. Known simply as ‘Man in the Chair’ this slightly bumbling, over enthused lover of archaic musicals, living in a poky one room apartment shows vividly the power of music and theater to take you into realms of fantasy. In this Long Island premiere of the Tony award winning show, Nat DeWolf is superb throughout in this role, where he has to be believable as he confides to the audience his love for a fictional 1928 musical, ‘The Drowsy Chaperone’

As he plays his old recordings of the show, it comes to life on stage. The plot within the show is a total spoof of Broadway clichés of that era, all performed at high speed and very much over the top. Janet Vandergrift (Jennifer Byrne) is a showgirl looking to change the stage for a wealthy handsome suitor, Robert Martin (Sean Montgomery). Her producer, Feldzieg (Anthony Reimer) has other ideas though because he is in debt to crooks who want the show to go on so that they can be paid. The two crooks, (Tyler Rivera Stein and Will Cohen), are, for some unknown reason, disguised as pastry chefs and are hilarious in a demanding dual role where bad puns and one liners come with breakneck speed. The Drowsy Chaperone, (Lauren Cohn), has been hired to keep the bride to be from seeing her fiancé on the wedding eve but as her ‘drowsiness’ is largely the result of too many illicit cocktails (remember this is the age of Prohibition), she only succeeds in losing her charge and gaining the amorous advances of a sleazy gigolo Adolfo, (James Donegan). When you add in other stock characters such as a haughty butler (Bob Fresch), his employer, a wealthy widow, Mrs. Tottendale and Kitty (Ellie Mooney), the producer’s wacky assistant, who wants to be Janet’s replacement you can see that this a cast full of stereotypes played completely to excess but it all works. The story, of course, comes to that inevitable happy ending where everyone is paired off and married or given a career on stage, even the gangsters!

This is a very unusual and demanding show where the emphasis is on timing and keeping the narrator and the show itself separate. The concept of listening to a recording of the show calls for some interesting and difficult stage craft from the cast when the record sticks and repeats or when it stops due a temporary power outage. This is a show where you cannot get by with mediocre actors and Gateway management are to be commended for assembling this collection of very highly talented artists, who combined to keep the opening night audience laughing throughout and who fully deserved their standing ovation.

Don’t go to this show expecting a ’standard’ type musical, this one is quirky and you really need to have an open mind. Sit back and relax and to paraphrase one of ‘Man in the Chair’s wise sayings, just stumble along and let the show take you to another world where you can escape the dreary worries of the real world about us.
This 'Chaperone' is anything but drowsy in Bellport

Published: August 5, 2009

“The Drowsy Chaperone” was like an applied splash of fresh water when it opened on Broadway in 2006.

Audiences, exhausted by the “Gone With the Wind” length of “Les Miz” and bludgeoned by 2006’s oversize clunkers, “Ring of Fire” and “Lestat,” welcomed with open arms this one-act, no-intermission spoof of 1920s musicals. So did the awards voters. The show won five Tony Awards, including best book and best music and lyrics, and the Drama Desk Award for best musical.

And so, it was only logical and happy news that the powers at the Gateway Playhouse in Bellport should grab this show as part of their 60th season celebration. The Gateway production does have an intermission, which is a bit of a mood breaker, just as the audience is getting into the spirit of the goofy goings on. Still, they did the same intermission insert in their two mountings of “A Chorus Line” with no noticeable lack of audience appreciation.

The Gateway’s production is unfailingly high spirited and continuously entertaining. Its only noticeable flaw is the portrayal of the “Man in a Chair,” whose sadness over the state of the contemporary American musical is assuaged by an escape into his record collection of vintage productions—one of which is a ’20s gem titled, of course, “The Drowsy Chaperone.”

The Man shares his thoughts and his record collection with the audience, and my recollection of Bob Martin’s portrayal of him on Broadway was as an enthusiastic archivist, conducting an ebullient, illustrated tour through the absurdities of a ’20s model musical that comes to life in his somewhat grungy apartment.

In Bellport, Nat DeWolf’s performance is so over-the-top gay that he emerges more as a caricature from the musical within a play than a commentator upon it. This makes for some noticeable confusion in the audience, which isn’t swept away until the arrival of some fancy tap dancing and a show-stopping number by the show’s star partway into the evening.

It took a good 25 minutes for the Gateway audience last Saturday night to catch on to the fun, but when they did, they responded mightily. Except for the aforementioned stumble in the direction of one character, director Dom Ruggiero draws wonderfully on-target and hilariously caricatured portrayals of stock characters from the Roaring Twenties musical theater scene, and keeps the goings on going on at breakneck speed.

Jody Madaras’s choreography keeps the abbreviated ensemble stepping high and fast. Jeff Hoffman’s musical direction is, as usual, brightly energetic. Brittany Loesch’s scenery, though sparse in the musical scenes, is effective, as is Christopher J. Landy’s lighting design. Margaret McKowen’s costumes are wacky and colorful.

Allyce Beasley portrays an addle-brained mother of the bride with a light touch. The scene in which she gives her “underling,” portrayed by Bob Freschi, instructions in disguising drink orders in case of an infiltration by Prohibition Agents is an ascending delight.

As Robert, the groom in an impending wedding (which in true ’20s musical style results in a multiple wedding by the finale), Sean Montgomery is suitably and stylishly matinee idolish, and as George, his best man and friend, Matthew Crowle is a winning juvenile.

Anthony Reimer’s cigar chomping Broadway producer is right out of the stock trunk, and Ellie Mooney’s squeaky voiced, mugging turn as Kitty, his assistant, is a sweet delectation. Her leading of the super production number “Toledo Surprise” is nonstop fun. James Donegan’s mobile-faced, multilingual, cape-sweeping Latin lover Adolpho is a comic tour de force (or maybe tour de farce).

As the bride’s chaperone, who is constantly drowsy because of her nonstop swilling of martinis, Lauren Cohn is a musical comedy pleasure, trilling the reprised “As We Stumble Along,” and outrageously funny in her faux romantic scenes with Adolpho.

Jennifer Byrne’s star stint as Janet Van De Graaff, the musical star who wants to give up the stage for the less exhausting demands of a housewife, has the same kind of magic that Foster Sutton brought to the role in the original Broadway production. Her multiple acrobatic and balletic dazzlements in “Show Off” (which she repeatedly sings that she doesn’t want to be) are terrific show stoppers, and her dramatic mugging in the show’s climax is deliciously dynamic.

If you like satire and the musical theater, and respond to high spirited, expert dancing, you’ll love the Gateway’s “Drowsy Chaperone.” It continues every night but Monday and in numerous matinees through August 22 at the Gateway’s home in Bellport. The box office number is 286-1133.

The Community Journal
Wading River, NY 11792

The Drowsy Chaperone is a smash hit

Published: August 6, 2009

The Drowsy Chaperone now playing on the main stage through August 22nd is a smash hit. Much of the credit has to go to casting director Robin Joy Allan who put together this first rate ensemble of actors. I saw The Drowsy Chaperone on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre. This production at Gateway is just as good as the Broadway Production which starred the creator Bob Martin as the Man in the chair. The Drowsy chaperone is a play within a play. It stars Nat DeWolf as the man in the chair, who guides the audience through the Broadway musical world of the 1920's. The man in the chair is a hermit like person who lives alone in his one room flat and loves listening to old recordings from 1920s musical theatre. As he plays his favorite recording -The Drowsy Chaperone a 1928 play about a wedding that was to take place between a Minsky type showgirl and her handsome fianceee. The show comes to alive in his apartment.

As the day of the wedding approaches the fun starts with shenanagins from the Broadway producer that doesnt want to lose his star. a couple of inept gangsters playing pastry chefs,a European lothario who tries to break up by the wedding by romancing the bride only to mistake the Chaperone as the prospective bride.  The Chaperone is an unapologetic drunk who gets Drowsy whenever she overimbides on Champagne. The timing is impeccable and the entire cast turn in a stellar perforamce worthy of any Broadway show.

This show should not be missed. Tickets can be arranged at the box office 286-1133