Tuesday, June 25, 2013
Theater review: Sherman Community Players’ act up in The Drowsy Chaperone
Totes worth the drive up north.
SHERMAN Last Friday, I traveled north to Sherman, Texas and enjoyed the opportunity to watch a very good production of The Drowsy Chaperone by the Sherman Community Players. This was my first visit to Sherman. Prior to driving there, I had asked someone if I needed a passport or to learn a new language before going to Sherman. The reality is that Sherman is about the same driving distance from downtown Dallas as it is to Denton, Cleburne, or Aledo.
I first saw The Drowsy Chaperone several years ago. It quickly became one of my favorite musicals with the play-within-a-play concept, campy and very funny dialogue, tap dance numbers, stereotypical characters that are supposed to be over-played, song and dance numbers such as “Monkey on a Pedestal,” “Toledo Surprise,” “Cold Feet,” and “Accident Waiting to Happen.” The entire show is narrated by Man in a Chair, abbreviated to MIC, who is outside of the play but obviously an integral part of the play.
Directed by Anthony Nelson, this production of The Drowsy Chaperone successfully hits many of the elements that make this a show worth the drive to Sherman.
When I first sat down and looked at the stage, my initial thought was, “This stage is small. How are they ever going to include all of the elements of this show?” After all, there is an airplane in the show and the interior of the apartment needs to transform into the performance space of a musical.
Webster Crocker designed a set that is creative, functional and fun. It makes maximum and creative use of minimum space. The opening scenes include the interior of an apartment you would expect to see in any older apartment building. An old record player, bookshelf and red wingback chair dress the set as well as a telephone that rings at inopportune times and interrupts the show. No worries, this is part of the show and helps create some of the comic timing. The audience can see the skyline of the city through the window of the upstage apartment wall. With the effective use of the fly system, the set of the apartment opens up to become the performance space for a 1920’s musical including an airplane coming out of the rafters. When the play within the play is over, the apartment is restructured back to the apartment. All of this really should be seen to be believed. I did not think it was possible in that space until I saw it happen.
The costuming design by Tina Ross is also creative and consistent. MIC is costumed in a conservative sweater and slacks. His costuming is intentionally non-descript in order to bring more emphasis to the costumes worn by the cast in the musical that comes alive in the living room of his apartment.
The characters that appear are appropriately dressed in tuxedoes, sequined evening gowns and suits. The gangster/pastry chefs wear white uniforms complete with aprons and hats while also wearing shoes with spats. The visual contradiction makes the scene even funnier. During the musical number “Monkey on a Pedestal”, several members of the ensemble wear costumes to resemble a wind-up monkey wearing a red coat and playing cymbals.
Harris Tooley as Adolpho is wearing the perfect scarf, wig and cane to look believably look like the lothario that is Adolpho. The costuming of this show is challenging and Ross pulls it off very well.
The choreography by Amy Wallace and Ilona Nogarr also deserves recognition. All of the dance numbers are fun to watch and amazing in how the limited space is used so well. The tap dance number for “Cold Feet” is very energetic and well-timed between the dancers. There are two scenes in which characters Janet and Robert are acting in front of a mirror. The choreography has them talking to themselves in the mirror while another actor/actress is “reflected” in the mirror on the other side. While this is a creative idea, it really did not work for me as I found my attention on the actor or actress in the mirror, noting the differences in the movements between the two. I find this more distracting than beneficial to the scene.
The sound design by Jim Barnes is very adequate and includes well-timed special effects such as a tea kettle, a telephone ringing, the scratching sound of the phonograph needle across a vinyl record and many other sounds integral to this show.
Lighting design by Liz Banks includes simulating the interior of an apartment. When the apartment then becomes the performance area for the musical, multiple spotlights are used on various actors and action areas on stage and the city skyline changes hues with the action and time frame of the scene. The choices for the lighting and the transitions in which they happen are so smooth that they are hardly noticeable throughout the musical.
Darrah Dunn as the Man in Chair (MIC) presents a character with whom the audience can fall in love.
Dunn delivers a down to earth portrayal of MIC, along with a wit and humor that is a part of his line delivery and an in-the-moment believability.
His conversational tone and passion for cast recording that he plays on the record player is consistently apparent in his tone, face and voice throughout the show.
Aaron Adair as Robert Martin brings a constantly high level of skill and energy to this production. Martin is a spokesperson for the Allbrite Toothpaste company. Adair playfully and skillfully incorporates his big, white, toothy, commercial smile throughout the show, thereby allowing the audience to believe in his character. His tap dancing with George in “Cold Feet” and the roller skating in “Accident Waiting to Happen” show Adair’s athleticism on stage.
Allison Minton as Janet Van De Graft presents a character that is the leading lady in the play-within-the play. Minton has a wonderful voice that is clearly heard and enjoyed throughout the theatre. She handles all of the choreography beautifully, the exception being the dual mirror number. It is obvious that Minton is highly talented. However, the acting choices she makes and the interactions that she has with the other characters, gives me the feeling that there is not a strong connection to this character. Nor, does it feel like there is a strong connection between this character and other characters with whom she interacts. For much of the production, Minton plays Janet with what appeared to be a lack of emotion in her eyes and face during many of the scenes while her body movements, choreography and blocking are correct for each scene. A depth of feeling and passion seems to be lacking in many of the scenes. An exception was the scene in which she is singing “Monkey on a Pedestal”. The sincerity that she pours into it helps make the absurdity of the scene that much more enjoyable.
Blake Rice plays the role of George very well. Rice brings the right amount of energy, enthusiasm and seems to understand the balance of earnestness, frustration and semi-organization, after all, he does use strings on his fingers to remember his to-do-list, to make this character charming and endearing. The applause that Rice receives from the audience for his energy and skills on the tap dance number in “Cold Feet”, are well deserved.
Paul Jordan as Gangster #1 and Hunt Tooley as Gangster #2 are a fun duo to watch.
Their differences in acting styles and characterizations emphasize that these characters are not the pastry chefs they initially appear to be. Jordan is livelier with his vocals and emotions while Tooley is more restrained. Visually they are fun to watch. The physical differences between each add to the humor of the characters.
The “Toledo Surprise” number transitions from a comedic scene to a song and dance number is performed with the right energy and timing.
Lisa Avila plays the always clueless but sweet Mrs. Tottendale and Gil Nelson plays Underling, her longsuffering servant. Avila and Nelson have a connection and timing that work well together onstage. Their reactions to each other and their understanding of the comic situations make all their scenes together stand out as especially entertaining.
Bill Wheeler as Feldzieg really looks like the stereotypical producer from the 1920s.
Wheeler is able to present a personality for Feldzieg that is alternately assertive and condescending with those characters that Feldzieg considers his subordinates while also trying to find a way to save his productions from losing money.
Leanne Duigan as Kitty is one of the characters that illuminates the stage when she is there. Duigan realistically uses her accent and believable persona to make the audience believe Kitty really is the ditzy blonde that she appears. A running gag throughout the show has Feldzieg coming onstage through an upstage door being followed by Kitty. Duigan plays this consistently which makes the gag work successfully. At times she reminds me of the ditzy blonde roles that Marilyn Monroe played.
Lynda Lewis as The Drowsy Chaperone has a wonderful voice and the physical appearance to be believable in her role. While her character has a drink in her hand through most of the production, there seems to be a lack of increased inebriation. Lewis is most fun to watch in the scene where Aldolpho shows up in her room and a mistaken identity creates confusion.
Harris Tooley as Aldolpho is another actor who constantly adds energy to each scene he is in. He plays Aldolpho to adorable and lecherous, larger than life perfection. Aldolpho is the Latin lover in the play-within-the play, as well as the Asian ruler in a mistaken identity scene. Tooley enters every scene with high energy even when he is trying to be quiet. In order for this role to have the comic impact it needs, the actor must immerse himself into this role and simply have fun. Tooley does this to the absolute delight of the audience. In a particular seduction scene in which Aldolpho is singing about himself, Tooley’s considerable vocal, acting and comic talents abound.
There were several things about that evening that were an absolute pleasant surprise, not the least of which was finding that quality theatre is alive and well in Sherman, Texas and very much worth the drive to see the production of The Drowsy Chaperone by the Sherman Community Players. I am very impressed with several elements of this production, including the set and costume design and some very, very good acting.
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