Beautiful girls, tap-dancing guys, lavish production numbers, and a whole LP's worth of silly songs - "The Drowsy Chaperone" has everything you could ask for in a vintage 1928 musical, except that it doesn't exist.
Well, of course, there is a show called "The Drowsy Chaperone," which opened in a sprightly touring production last night at the Opera House. But the real "Drowsy Chaperone" - the one that doesn't exist - is an absurd bit of fluff that is, literally, too ridiculous to be true. On tour as on Broadway, where it won five Tony Awards, it exists only in the mind of a character identified simply as Man in Chair.
Fortunately for us, however, Man in Chair has an extremely vivid imagination - so vivid that, as he plays his scratchy LP of the "show" for us, the whole thing springs to life onstage. Chorus girls pop out of his closet, the Murphy bed folds down to reveal a couple of dancers, and the swoonworthy leading man swaggers out of the refrigerator. Before you know it, we're transported to another world.
That, argues Man in Chair, is exactly what musicals are supposed to do: transport us to another world. And it's hard to fault him for wanting to escape our relatively dull environs, even if he is a bit of a nut.
He's a sweet nut, though, and "The Drowsy Chaperone" is a sweet, delightful - and short! - show. With music and lyrics by Lisa Lambert and Greg Morrison, and a book by Bob Martin and Don McKellar, it pulls off the tricky balance between making fun of a dated style and making that dated style an awful lot of fun to watch. It's ridiculous, it revels in its ridiculousness, and yet it makes us love it, too.
Jonathan Crombie gives Man in Chair just the right mix of obsessive devotion and nervous twitter; he can hardly contain his delight at sharing his adored artifact with us, and even as we're laughing at his fastidious devotion we're developing a devotion of our own. Besides, who could fail to love a musical that features Georgia Engel, reprising her Broadway role, as a dotty matron who's played by a former vaudeville star named Ukulele Lil? Engel's voice is as girlishly goofy as ever, and what it may lack in singing power it makes up for in comic charm.
We get a lovely pair of lovers, too: an amusingly dim groom, Mark Ledbetter, and a twinkling Andrea Chamberlain as the bride who's giving up her fabulous show-biz career for love; her "Show Off" farewell to fame is a priceless hoot. Special praise to Megan Nicole Arnoldy, who had to step in halfway through last night as the ditzy Kitty to replace an ailing Marla Mindelle; the transition was seamless.
And the drowsy chaperone herself? Nancy Opel wields her martini glass, and her sharp wit, like a true pro. If "The Drowsy Chaperone," with its gaudy-gorgeous costumes, its confectionery sets, and its gentle nuttiness, had ever actually existed, she could have played this part for years.
Louise Kennedy can be reached at email@example.com.