Old Lyric: 'The Drowsy Chaperone' delights in old, new ways

By Jay Wamsley

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, July 1 2013 5:58 p.m. MDT

"THE DROWSY CHAPERONE," Caine Lyric Theatre, 28 W. Center, Logan; tickets: https://arts.usu.edu/lyric; running time: 115 minutes (one 10-minute intermission)

LOGAN — “The Drowsy Chaperone” is a production unseen and unknown by many Utah theater patrons. The short synopsis for those unacquainted, then, is that this is a new musical about an old musical. And it fits perfectly on the Old Lyric Repertory Company stage.

“Chaperone” is a valentine of sorts — oh, let’s go ahead and call it a funny valentine — to the big, overdone musicals of the 1920s and '30s. It is a parody of the styles, stereotypical characters and music from that golden era of Hollywood musicals.

Early into the production, the third offering of the summer OLRC season, audience members might be forgiven if they almost expect Danny Kaye, Mickey Rooney or Esther Williams to pop on stage at a moment’s notice. Instead, they are treated to Latin lovers, ditzy blondes, gangsters, a bride and groom second-guessing their marriage decision, a butler, and, oh, and a drowsy chaperone (supposedly chaperoning the bride-to-be, and drowsy because she is prone to enjoy a strong drink at all hours of the day).

“The Drowsy Chaperone,” which opened on Broadway in just 2006, begins with Man in Chair sitting in front of the Caine Theater curtain, far to the right, and his narration becomes the thread that ties the whole show together. While W. Lee Daily, 16-year veteran of the OLRC, has held many shows together over the years, rarely has a role been such a perfect fit as Man in Chair.

Daily’s character is a middle-aged musical theater lover — or, at least, a lover of their soundtrack LPs — who introduces the audience to “The Drowsy Chaperone,” a supposed big musical from 1928. As he listens to his record player next to his easy chair, he describes his favorite musical numbers from the show, his mother’s favorite characters and analyzes scenes he thinks are silly from “Chaperone.” As he gives the back story, the characters appear in his apartment — on the stage — and work in sync, so to speak, with his running commentary.

The best lines are Daily’s, no doubt, but listen close, because as pastry chefs throw puns around like buns and a European lover tangles with his accent and the English language, laughs come from all sides and at all moments.

There’s even tap dancing — true to the show’s 1928 musical roots — for Robert Martin (groom-to-be, played by Casey Elliot) and sidekick George (Tim Roghaar). And though Elliot wasn’t born to it, he took right to it and managed it well. He was even better on roller skates — yup, roller skates.

Taking over the stage whenever they are called to action by Daily’s narration are Aldopho (Lego Louis with just enough ham to give several laugh-out-loud moments); Janet Van De Graaff (a big-time actress debating whether she can leave the spotlight for her newly found beau, played and sung terrifically by Ashley Gardner Carlson); and, of course, the drunk — er, ah, drowsy — chaperone (Camille Van Wagoner, who is solid from start to finish). Watch for Van Wagoner’s “rousing anthem” as she gives her best Ethel Merman, by way of Martha Raye. From his vantage point, listening to the soundtrack, Man in Chair admits many of her rousing anthems didn’t seem to fit in her shows. But that is just part of the fun and laughter built into this show.

In the periphery of the action on stage, Daily is a subtle delight as he mouths the words to his favorite songs and gently taps his toes, just as a big fan, alone in his room battling what he calls “a non-specific sadness,” would do.

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