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The Drowsy Chaperone

Tony winner leaves audience joyous

If you adoringly hum refrains from the American musicals of Cole Porter and George and Ira Gershwin, you will be charmed and delighted by the frolicking, play within a play “The Drowsy Chaperone” currently on stage at SHN’s ornate Orpheum Theater. If you prefer baseball to musical theater you may not understand
some of the shows self-referential humor, but you will still have a damn good time.

“The Drowsy Chaperone” is a nostalgic comedy that opens with the anxious and sorrowful Man in a Chair (Jonathan Crombie) who happily recalls the pleasures of his favorite play, the 1928 Gable and Stein musical that shares the titular name. The man’s modest apartment transforms into a lavish 1920s show palace, and the audience journeys with our narrator into the world of the show, where a Broadway darling is about to let the lights go dark on her stage career to marry her love. In the interim, we experience a send-up of everything from vaudeville gimmicks to slapstick spit takes.

The musical is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, with dramatic award-winning set design and beautiful 1920’s costumes by David Gallo and Gregg Barnes, respectively. The cast members include Mark Ledbetter as the toothy and love struck Robert Martin and Andrea Chamberlain, who steals the stage as actress Janet Van De Graaf. Her character muses, “I don’t want to show off no more,” but Chamberlain is a talented and seasoned performer who honed her skills in the role as the Broadway understudy. Nancy Opel plays Janet’s chaperone, who shrugs her responsibilities to oversee the actress and chooses instead to fall in love with her own pseudo-Latin lover all while imbibing liquid lunches, even in the days of prohibition.

Television fans will recognize Georgia Engel, who received two Emmy nominations for her role as Georgette on the “Mary Tyler Moore Show,” as the ditzy maid, Mrs. Tottendale. Engel, who originated the role in New York, uses her broad comedy training to lampoon the archetype of her character in the show.

"The Drowsy Chaperone", which has songs by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison and a book by Bob Martin and Don Mackellar, comes to San Francisco after debuting at the Toronto Fringe Festival in 1999 and receiving 13 Tony nominations and 5 wins, including Best Book of A Musical and Best Original Score, when it premiered on the Great White Way in 2006.

A short musical, at an hour and forty-five minutes, you’ll leave “The Drowsy Chaperone” joyous and awake - rejuvenated by the escapism of the theater and ready to return to the humdrum reality of the outside world.

"The Drowsy Chaperone” runs with no intermission at the Orpheum Theater through August 17th with performances Saturday evenings at 8pm and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2pm. Tickets are $30 - $99.