Reviewed by Nancy Oliveri
This is the thought that kept going through my head as I sat in on the final dress rehearsal of The Drowsy Chaperone, A Musical Within a Comedy, as performed by the relatively new community theater company known as SPARE Productions. The show opened for the general public yesterday (July 11) and continue through Sunday at St. Francis of Assisi Church, 1049 Chenango St., Hillcrest.
SPARE (Singers. Performers. Actors. Repertory. Ensemble), is described on its website as “an up-and-coming community theatre organization in the Binghamtonarea. We produce shows of our own creation, shows written by others and perform in cabarets around the region. We’re a great group of young people — mostly high school and college students — who love to have fun onstage together…”
The Drowsy Chaperone, book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, has been around since 1998 and won several Tonys in 2006, when it came to Broadway. In it, an armchair critic, only referred to as Man in Chair (Tony DeLousia), narrates an odd mash-up of straight comedy and wacky musical, opening with the inauspicious line, “I hate theater.” DeLousia sounds a lot like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, uncannily in spots.
A lot of young people have contributed to this production, and they obviously do NOT hate theater. Their enthusiasm is definitely contagious as they plow right through whatever technical or theatrical missteps are bound to occur in a gym doubling as an auditorium. They have the benefit of a small group of stage musicians led by musical director, Alex Miller. These kids ably accompany the actors throughout. The musical play spoofed within the comedy is a fictional work about stock characters in the Jazz Age: a humble-bragging actress; the milquetoast who thinks he loves and wants to marry her; her boozy, bawdy chaperone; the chaperone’s narcissistic and accidental suitor, Adolpho; a flapper, Kitty, and a cast of extras that includes an aviatrix, newspaper reporters, wedding guests and servants. All are directed here by Marisa Valent, stage managed by Evan Walle, and choreographed by Erin Donovan.
Nostalgic, sweet and eye-rolling by turns, the narrator’s introductions of the predictable elements and characters in the musical this spoof celebrates are fun to watch, if not a little predictable, too. The folks who populate this imaginary world appear in the chair guy’s shabby apartment, transforming it into a glitzy hotel where the action takes place (a bit of a stretch in a gym/auditorium, where the faint smell of sneakers still permeates the big room, warm this week with the residual heat of a July day).
In a nutshell, boy meets girl, girl gives up her career to marry him, only to trick him into proving he can’t be true to her, so “it’s over.” You know it won’t be, however, as the narrator reminds you that “all musicals have a happy ending.”
Everyone in the cast is working very hard, but depending on how their microphones are calibrated, and I’m sure this was addressed before opening night, some of the performers’ amplified voices almost knocked me out of my chair, while managing to have their lyrics and some delivered lines obliterated by the sheer volume behind their microphones. Thankfully, the incidence of that was minimal.
Other notable performances come from Matthew Vegiard as Adolpho, the Latin lover who seduces the wrong woman, all while never letting us forget who HE is, and the drowsy (make that “drunk”) chaperone herself, Abby Mulligan. She has a really nice voice and stage presence. Julia Black is the bride-to-be, Janet, who brings a great deal of energy, good comic timing and just plain cuteness to her role. The hesitant groom, Robert (Mike Ferguson), and his best man, George (Darius Fuller), do a great job tap-dancing away Robert’s cold feet. Chelsea Bolles’ Kitty is your quintessential flapper, willing to do anything to get noticed, and David Ash is Mr. Feldzeig, the Broadway producer who manages more than just careers. Alexia Lamb is the annoying wedding guest, Mrs. Tottendale, who abuses her “underling,” servant, played by the appropriately sarcastic Alec Winters.
For a complete list of this very large cast and crew, and to check out what’s next for SPARE, visitt http://spareproductions.wix.com/binghamton#!the-drowsy-chaperone/cwkf. Note the names, as you will likely see many of them again in future productions.
The show is suggestive in spots, adding to the humor and farcical nature of it, so I was glad to see that the choice of venue (a Catholic church property) did not inhibit any of the fun.
IF YOU GO: You can catch SPARE’s last two performances of Drowsy Chaperone at 7 p.m. today (Saturday, July 12) or 2 p.m. Sunday (July 13). (Note: The performance is in the former St. Catherine’s School between the current St. Francis Church and Ogden Hillcrest Methodist Church.