John Gary Brown/Creede Repertory Theatre
When Beatrice Stockwell, a fictional Grande Dame of the stage, belts out “As We Stumble Along,” it’s meant to be inspirational. She’s the title character in the witty parody of 1920s musicals, “The Drowsy Chaperone.” It took Broadway by storm in 2005-06 and won more Tony awards than any musical in history.
If you want a dash of tart lime with your gin and tonic this summer, drive to Creede and sip this contemporary highball. “Chaperone” opened last weekend and promises to entertain audiences well into August.
From an odd-opening blackout to a high-energy finale, “Chaperone” is a romp – a loving, tongue-in-cheek tribute to early – and silly – Broadway musicals.
During the first few minutes, a Man in a Chair (the droll Chad Afanador) chats up the audience by voicing everyone’s wishes: “Let the show be good, short and keep the actors out of the audience.”
Soon he reveals his love for ’20s musicals and his favorite, the fictional “Chaperone.” Throughout the evening, he plays a beloved old recording, commenting on the plot, music and once famous performers as the show-within-a-show comes to life in his living room, aka his imagination. It’s a concept that works.
Our Man in Chair even warns us when overacting will occur or when a particularly stupid lyric almost swamps a lovely tune. He’s a passionate and forgiving armchair critic who walks us all through the show.
The plot of “The Drowsy Chaperone” centers on a famous Broadway star, Janet Van De Graaff (a winning Emily Van Fleet) on the verge of marrying a wealthy, but dim, American hunk, Robert Martin (the talented, tap dancing M. Tyler Horn).
Her producer Feldzeig, a perpetually flustered impresario (the inimitable character actor John Arp) needs to keep his star in his show and tries to prevent the wedding.
A raft of other characters fill in the crazy quilt cast: Two gangsters, an English butler, a ditzy dowager, a doubly ditzy chorine and a nerdy best man. A quirky deus ex machina wraps up all the loose ends, the strangest you’ve ever seen since Greek gods fell from the sky.
Pure nonsense. But with Man in a Chair as a slightly satirical, knowing guide, we see everything through 21st-century glasses. That’s the twist that makes “Chaperone” so much fun.
Director Jessica Jackson has cast her players well; they all zestfully chew the scenery. An off-stage band led by Joe Montelione supports the singers throughout with jaunty ’20s style music that instantly makes you smile.
Scenic Designer M. Rey Duran and Costumer Tatyana De Pavloff create jazz-age frou-frou with splashes of outlandish cultural mishaps such as a mistaken moment from something resembling “Anna and the King of Siam.” Choreographer Dianna Dresser deserves credit for turning small gestures into meaningful moments, a blind-fold roller-skating number that has to be seen to be believed, and fresh, big, show-stopping ensemble pieces.
Creede Rep will run a total of eight productions this summer in their two performance spaces. The 2012 season will run through Sept. 22. With a mix of matinees and evenings, “Chaperone” will have its final performance Aug. 25.
By the way, substitute “tipsy” for “drowsy,” and you’ve got the secret to the inspirational anthem “As we stumble along.”
Judith Reynolds is a Durango writer, artist and critic. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.