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HCTO's 'Drowsy Chaperone' an expert homage to heyday of musicals

By Blair Howell

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Aug. 20 2011 3:00 p.m. MDT

The cast of Hale Center Theater Orem's "Drowsy Chaperone," a charming romp through the madcap world of musicals, at Hale Center Theater Orem through Oct. 1.

Pete Widtfeldt

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” Hale Center Theater Orem, through Oct. 1, 801-226-8600 or www.haletheater.org.

OREM — Feeling blue? Or maybe, like Man in Chair, do you need a remedy from feeling “a little self-conscious anxiety resulting in nonspecific sadness?”

The narrator-host of Hale Center Theater Orem’s expertly crafted show has the cure. “The Drowsy Chaperone” will shake the blues away — and you’ll leave the theater feeling “wonderbar.”

The intimate theater is the perfect venue to enjoy this slapstick farce that is also a tribute to the golden era of musicals. The audience feels as if it is lounging on a well-worn sofa across from the nebbish Man in Chair as he starts to play the original cast recording of his all-time favorite madcap musical from the 1920s.

Under the watchful care of director-choreographer Dave Tinney, each performance tops the last. This highly polished cast has a winking knowledge of the cardboard cutout, summer-stock characters that spring to life in Man in Chair’s apartment, and the actors play the roles with delectable glee.

As the debonair millionaire oil tycoon Robert Martin and his ever-attentive pal George, David Smith and Alex King slide easily into the shoes once filled by Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor, with King eagerly making the character his own. Their impressive “Cold Feets” song and tap dance as the groom-to-be and best man-wedding planner deal with nuptial jitters is well-sung and executed with precision. But just wait for the roller-skating antics of Smith while blindfolded in “Accident Waiting to Happen.” (There aren’t any!)

In a case of stage life imitating “42nd Street,” understudy Kelly Coombs stepped in for the ailing Equity actress to play Janet Van De Graaff at the “Drowsy Chaperone” performance reviewed here. A gifted singer and actress, Coombs does not disappoint. Her portrait of the conflicted ingenue about to give up the stage for marriage is charming and pitch-perfect. During the signature “Show Off” number, Coombs does indeed show off with lightening-quick costume changes, vaudeville trickery and smooth entrances/exits through the stage’s trap door.

Marcie Jacobsen’s deadpan performance as the titular character is a comic tour de force, especially in her blowzy anthem “As We Stumble Along.” As her suitor, the self-crowned “king of romance,” Darick J. Pead is a hoot. As the two actors begin canoodling on her fainting couch in “I Am Aldolpho,” side-splitting hilarity follows.

The function of the remaining characters… Well, they figure into the paper-thin plot one way or another. There’s the cigar-chomping producer (Nathan M. Jensen); a ditzy chorine (Brittni Bills Smith); Trix, the aviatrix (Mackenzie Seiler); and the befuddled dowager (Jayne Luke) and her exasperated servant (Mark Pulham). Also adding much to the merry antics are the pun-happy gangsters doing double duty as pastry chefs (the winning team of Chase Ramsey and Wes Tolman).

As Man in Chair, Brett Merritt doesn’t have a razor-sharp sense of comic timing, but he’s still able to start the audience laughing before the stage lights come up. Merritt is loony but endearing as he interjects trivia about the show and where-are-they-now updates on the fictional actors.

Credit for assistance with the superb singing goes to Korianne Orton Johnson as music director and for assembling the luscious costuming, Maryann Hill. The audience is able to fill in the blanks on the nearly bare stage to imagine the elaborate musical. But there are oh-so-wrong Broadway posters in Man in Chair’s apartment. For a theater fanatic who lambastes helicopters landing on stage and crashing chandeliers, why are there window cards from “Miss Saigon” and “Phantom of the Opera”?

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” one of the most ingeniously written musicals in recent memory, does just what Man in Chair promises. The charm-filled HCTO production transports “you to another world, and it gives you a little tune to carry with you in your head for when you’re feeling blue.”

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