"I hate theater!"
Any play that opens with that line, especially when underscored by an offstage flushing toilet, is likely the work of people deliriously in love with theater. The Drowsy Chaperone, a 2006 Broadway hit and multiple Tony award winner, manages to skewer the silliness of the Jazz Age musical while simultaneously snuggling up with it under a big cozy blanket of nostalgia and joy. In Sixth Street Playhouse's new production of The Drowsy Chaperone, that sense of warmth and affection is everywhere.
With cleverly crafted songs by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and a smart, surprising book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, The Drowsy Chaperone was first conceived as a musical-skewering skit for the 1997 bachelor party of theater lover Martin, who then helped reshape the material into a hit show for the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival. Six years later, the show debuted on Broadway, an instant standout in an arena largely populated by revivals and adaptations of popular movies, and it ended up running for over a year and a half.
Using a clever spin on the show-within-a-show format, Chaperone begins with a shy, musical-loving agoraphobic known only as the Man in the Chair (an excellent Jeff Coté), sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of obscure Broadway shows by playing his favorite vinyl recording of a 1927 musical called The Drowsy Chaperone. As the disc spins on his turntable, and the Man in the Chair describes the plot of the show, its characters spring to life in his living room, popping out of the refrigerator or the chest of drawers. As our host adds background details on the actors who sing on the record, the outrageously improbable story unfolds around him.
Fluidly directed by Gene Abravaya, the plot is a typical comedy of errors, as popular actress Janet Van de Graaff (a delightful Taylor Bartolucci) prepares to leave the stage and marry a tap-dancing oil tycoon (Trevor Hoffman, who roller skates blindfolded!). Attended by a sauce-swilling "chaperone" (the pitch-perfect Dani Beem), Janet's marriage is threatened by a parade of obstacles, from pun-dropping gangsters to a pompous would-be Latin lover.
Abravaya is renowned for his ability to build shows to the talents and varying experiences of his casts. The Drowsy Chaperone is a perfect example, a bit of highly entertaining theatrical fluff, performed by players whose love of theater is clearly on display and thoroughly infectious.
'The Drowsy Chaperone' runs Thursday–Sunday through Feb. 5 at the Sixth Street Playhouse. 52 W. Sixth St, Santa Rosa. Thursday–Saturday at 8pm; 2pm matinees on Sunday and on Feb. 4. $5–$35. 707.523.4185.