“The Drowsy Chaperone,” which opened last week at Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland, celebrates musical theater and an era without phones and frustrations.
For the unnamed Man in Chair, his beloved, scratchy LP recording of “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a magical escape from an everyday gray and lonely life into a fantasy of 1920s theater.
Simple plots drive “The Drowsy Chaperone.” The lure of the stage, a broken engagement, threats, and a profusion of weddings. First produced in 2006, the play is a nostalgic reworking of vaudeville shtick, romance and dance — and a five-time Tony Award winner.
The show opens to a dark set. The voice of Man in Chair (played by John Stadelman) sounds out — whiny, cranky and miserable. A narrow spotlight reveals the audience to Man in Chair, and he’s no longer alone. The audience, along with Man in Chair, is beyond the fourth wall, omniscient participants in the play and observers of a play within.
Man in Chair provides narrative continuity, an insider’s familiarity with the fictitious musical theater performers and a fine counterpoint to the comedic performance on stage. As he moves in and out of scenes, the lighting changes, spotlighting Man in Chair when he is pulled back to reality, the performers flash frozen in time and space. Man in Chair gingerly moves about the stage at these times, stepping over limbs and torsos, explaining some action, technique or personage, sometimes laughing in delight at the camp on stage before him.
The play is driven by the LP soundtrack, and sometimes the record skips and we lose a crucial word or a line. Sometimes the record gets stuck, as when Mrs. Tottendale, played by Suzanne Seiber, can’t get the Prohibition ice water code right, spraying vodka on the very proper Underling (played by Billy Breed), repeating the scene ever more quickly until Man in Chair moves the needle. These old-fashioned points of confusion are unexpected and hilarious.
Layli Kayhani as Janet Van De Graaff shows off an amazing array of tricks and talents. Her leading role requires splits, kicks, cartwheels(!), magic tricks and more, all in high heels and gold lamé as she sings of love and loss in “Show Off.” Kayhani certainly does show off in this set and throughout: She is enchanting, pure and simple.
Kayhani is a perfect foil to her tipsy chaperone, ably played by Gretchen Rumbaugh, who is frequently found napping in a folded-up Murphy bed when she’s not giving questionable advice to her charge. And what’s a 1920s musical production without a ditzy blonde, a pompous Broadway producer and a Latin lover? “The Drowsy Chaperone” has all three, played, respectively, by Stephanie Jones as Kitty, Scott Ford as Feldzieg and Galloway Stevens as the very slimy Adolpho.
Spectacular tap and really bad puns are just two of “The Drowsy Chaperone” high points, and I’m a sucker for both. Jake Delaney as the groom, Robert Martin, taps with his best man, George, played by Edgar Lopez in the “Cold Feet” number. Both are elegant and graceful, strong and powerful. I think the late Jim Giancarlo, founder of OCT, might have been in the wings for that one, watching with approval. The two gangsters, played by Lucas Blair and Chad Alexander Patterson, are marvelous as thugs disguised as pastry chefs. Their coarse dialogue and stylized, synchronized movements are really funny and make the bakery puns even more ridiculous, especially in “Toledo Surprise.”
A night at OCT is always exceptional for its productions, tasty food and good drinks. Come early to relax in comfortable chairs, enjoy a meal or just appetizers and a glass, and appreciate the time for conversation with friends — cellphones off.
These menu changes for each OCT production, reflecting seasonal offerings priced from $19 to $32. In addition to a good selection of Southern Oregon wines, the cabaret develops specialty cocktails for each production. For “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the summer’s cooling choices are named after characters in the play: Janet’s Show-Off Watermelon Mojito, Man in Chair’s Coconut Iced Coffee and Prohibition Punch, among others. Everyone’s favorite Dick Hay Pie is always available at intermission, big enough to share, but too good to do so.
The musical continues through Sept. 3. For tickets and showtimes, see oregoncabaret.com, call 541-488-2902 or visit the box office at 241 Hargadine St., Ashland.
— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.