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PLAY REVIEW....‘The Drowsy Chaperone’ is full of energy

June 21, 2012

There's no chance of becoming drowsy during a performance of the Stage Left Players of Lisbon's current production, "The Drowsy Chaperone."

That's because director Candace Cleland, musical director Jodine Pilmer, choreographer Reed Worth and an energetic cast keep this parody of 1920's Broadway musicals moving at the rapid, joyful pace that befits the lively, lovely songs and sketchy storyline typical of musicals of that time.

"The Drowsy Chaperone," with a book by Bob Martin and music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, begins with the Man in the Armchair reflecting back on the pre-"Showboat" era of American musical theater, when the plot of a musical was just a way of getting from one song to another. He then shares his beloved vinyl recording of this play with the audience members, who are transported back through time to watch all the delightful silliness unfold.

The plot such as it is, involves preparations for the wedding of Broadway star Janet Van De Graff to non-theater-person Robert Martin. To make sure the bride remains separate from the groom on the day of the wedding, the title character has been employed.

Bill Finley gives the performance of his life as the Man in the Armchair, combining underplayed pathos with sly one-liners to give us a sympathetic and complex character who could have descended into camp in the hands of a lesser actor.

The gloriously beautiful and strong-voiced Nicole Slaven is perfectly cast as Janet Van De Graff, able to make the silliest of lyrics and the simplest of melodies bend to her charismatic presence. She is matched perfectly by Reed Worth as Robert Martin, whose comic grace, utter sincerity and fine singing make us believe this improbable match between glamorous star and handsome, nice guy who's-not-in-show-business.

Patti L'Italien is hilarious as the always gracefully-soused (that's what makes her drowsy) and otherwise unnamed title character, throwing one-liners at everyone with wit and understatement and looking great in vintage fashion. Jacob Ward works comedy magic as aging Lothario Adolpho, an alleged master of seduction who can't even seduce the right woman.

Sandy Huston is charming as the perpetually confused Mrs. Tottendale, a widowed society matron who is hosting the wedding at her estate with the aid of her faithful Underling, played with gentle irony by Nathan Kuhns. Tyler Stouffer is the epitome of the comical sidekick to the handsome protagonist as George, Robert Martin's best friend and bumbling best man.

Dave Wack is excellent as Feldzieg, a producer in debt to mobsters who knows what will happen if his only real star leaves his employ. Wack's rapid-fire, matter-of-fact delivery makes him the perfect straight man for ditzy chorus girl and aspiring star Kitty, played with a delightful silliness by the adorable Caroline Bennett.

The very unscary gangsters are fraternal twins posing as pastry chefs for the wedding to keep their eye on their investment. Both Allison Dolphin as Gangster Patti and Cody DeRamo as Gangster Peter are very funny and display the flawless comic timing that is typical of the whole cast of this production.

Kari Lankford does a bang-up job of singing and acting without crashing as Trix the Aviatrix, who provides a key plot element and a great visual gag for the climax of the second act.

Hannah Bosel, Logan Moff and Courtney Stewart as maids and Mike Hill as a butler are in fine voice and demeanor in those roles, as are Hill, Lankford and Moff as reporters.

Director Candace Cleland did a great character cameo filling in for Bailey Bennett as the Man in the Armchair's landlady and a reporter the night I saw the show.

"The Drowsy Chaperone" would not move as fast as it does without Alison Cleland's intricate set design, which shows her intimate knowledge of the challenging, L-shaped playing space of Trinity Playhouse.

A four-piece orchestra, consisting of Jodine Pilmer and Sherry Goddard on keyboards, Dan Kalosky on bass and Stephen Ley on drums, sounds as good as any Broadway pit orchestra without overwhelming the actors, all of whom sing beautifully without artificial amplification.

"The Drowsy Chaperone" will be presented again for the next two Saturdays and Sundays at 7 p.m. and the next two Sundays at 2 p.m. Call for reservations at (330) 831-7249.

Parents should be cautioned that a few of the Man in the Armchair's comments may go over the heads of younger audience members, and on-stage use of alcohol is rampant, in keeping with the period in which the show-within-a show is set. Despite this, "The Drowsy Chaperone" gets my highest recommendation for all but the youngest family members.

- Guest reviewer Charles Calabrese, a resident of Wintersville, Ohio, has been writing performing arts reviews for print and broadcast for more than 35 years.



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