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THEATER REVIEW: Coronado Playhouse triumphs with “The Drowsy Chaperone”

It starts with a voice in the darkness: “I hate theater. Well, it’s so disappointing, isn’t it?”

This is Man in Chair (Jim Williams) sitting in an old easy chair next to a record player, musing that when he goes to a play, he’s praying it will be short, without actors roaming through the audience, and that it contain “a story and a few good songs.”

Feeling a bit blue, Man is about to improve his mood by playing his favorite musical – the imaginary 1928 “The Drowsy Chaperone” – on the ancient record player, and since we’ve dropped in, he’ll explain it for us.

The overture starts, and Man’s drab apartment becomes the set, actors and dancers appear, and we settle in for a cleverly written guided tour of nearly every cliche in the musical comedy book.

First, the plot: Broadway darling Janet Van de Graaf (Tiffany Loui) is about to give up fame and glamour for a gold band (“I don’t wanna change keys no more; I don’t wanna striptease no more,” she sings). It is her wedding to Robert Martin (William Henry) we are about to celebrate.

Opposing her plan is producer Feldzieg (get it?), who will go to any lengths to keep Janet from leaving him in the lurch with ambitious but dimwitted ingenue Kitty (Jennie Gray Connard).

Plot is seldom the strong point of musical comedy; here, it performs its usual function as a frame to hang the musical numbers on. The Tony-winning book (by Bob Martin and Don McKellar) is an eclectic grab bag of musical comedy clichés and characters. The Tony-winning score (by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison) and choreography by director Alisa Williams are both varied and typical.

This show began as a sketch for Martin's bachelor party; it now includes standard characters like a Latin lover (Danny Ingersoll), two gangsters posing as pastry chefs (Alan Aguilar and Kyle Young) who seem to have wandered in from “Kiss Me, Kate,” a memory-impaired matron and her valet (Dianne Smith Gray and Steven Jensen), and an aviatrix (Jessica Brandon).

Oh, and the best character of all – the titular chaperone (Debbie David), a hoot as a Dorothy Parker look-alike, drink in hand, singing “Keep your eyeball on the highball in your hand.” And she has costumes to die for.

This is supreme silliness for sure, full of stock musical-comedy types right out of central casting, played with a wink, a snarl or an extravagant gesture, as required, and great fun to watch.

But see this most especially for the funny, snarky in-groupie comments from the Man about the phenomenon that is musical comedy.

Williams’ Man is a triumph – a gossipy little gnome, played more broadly gay than I’ve ever seen, with a tendency to insert himself into the action and dance along. He’s absolutely irresistible, and matched on the other end by David’s seen-it-all chaperone, so blasé until she finds her own musical-comedy ending

Coronado Playhouse has gone all out for this five-Tony winner, which plays through Dec. 4 with Thomas Fitzpatrick directing. Special kudos to costume designer Carol Whaley, lighting and sound designers Kelly Prow and Verrell J. Abella, for making this show look and sound good even without a live orchestra.

Another plus is the small size of the venue, which actually works better for this “conversational” piece than the bigger houses in which it usually plays.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is intentionally over-the-top entertainment that actually does just that.

The details

“The Drowsy Chaperone” plays through Dec. 4 at Coronado Playhouse, 1835 Strand Way, Coronado.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

For tickets call (619) 435-2856 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.